With only one game played Wednesday night there weren't many goals to choose from, but this camera-shattering shot by Joffrey Lupul takes the cake.
With only one game played Wednesday night there weren't many goals to choose from, but this camera-shattering shot by Joffrey Lupul takes the cake.
Jarome Iginla's best days are behind him, but he'd be willing to waive his no-movement clause to join a club that would give him one last shot at a Stanley Cup.
The constant trade speculation surrounding Colorado Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog pushed the trade status of veteran teammate Jarome Iginla to the sidelines. The Denver Post's Terry Frei reports Avalanche GM Joe Sakic won't reveal his intentions leading up of the March 1 trade deadline, but will continue listening to offers. That includes those that might come in from playoff contenders for Iginla.
Now 39 and reaching the end of his 20-year NHL career, Iginla is willing to waive his no-movement clause to join a club that gives him one last shot at winning the Stanley Cup. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cites a source claiming the Los Angeles Kings discussed the merits of acquiring the veteran right winger, who played his best seasons for Kings coach Darryl Sutter during their years with the Calgary Flames.
According to LeBrun, Iginla's $5.33-million salary-cap hit could be a sticking point for the Kings. For a possible deal to take place, he believes the Avalanche would have to pick up part of it.
LeBun doubts the Avs are getting many call for Iginla. While he remains a well-respected player and leader, his best days are well behind him. With only seven goals and 15 points in 55 games, he's on track for his worst performance in a non-lockout NHL season since his 13-goal, 32-point sophomore campaign in 1997-98.
A playoff-bound club seeking experienced depth and leadership at right wing could take a chance on Iginla. Perhaps getting away from the moribund Avalanche for one last shot at that long-elusive championship might improve his production. The Avs, however, shouldn't expect to get much in return. At this point, they could be fortunate to receive a third-round pick.
BRIAN BOYLE A SOLID ALTERNATIVE TO MARTIN HANZAL
Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal is frequently mentioned as a possible target for clubs seeking size and two-way skills at center. A more affordable option, however, could be Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brian Boyle.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports several playoff clubs are interested in the 6-foot-6, 244-pound Boyle. Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli scouted the 32-year-old during a recent Lightning game against the Minnesota Wild. Friedman also said the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs could be among the suitors.
Like Hanzal, Boyle is eligible for UFA status in July. However, he has several advantages over the Coyotes' center.
A versatile checking-line forward, Boyle can play all three forward positions and can even skate on defense when needed. He's not a scorer but is on pace this season to reach 20 goals and he's had a healthier career than the oft-injured Hanzal.
Most importantly, Boyle has considerable recent playoff experience. He reached the Stanley Cup final with the New York Rangers in 2014, returned to the final the following season with the Lightning and helped them reach last year's Eastern Conference finals.
CURTIS LAZAR LIKELY LOOKING FOR TRADE
Trade speculation is growing over young Ottawa Senators center Curtis Lazar. A first-round selection by the Sens (17th overall) in the 2013 NHL draft, he was projected to become a quality two-way forward.
Now in his third NHL season, Lazar's career hasn't unfolded as expected. He tallied 15 points in 67 games as a rookie in 2014-15 and 20 points in 76 games as a sophomore in 2015-16. This season, the 22-year-old played in 30 games with only one assist to show for it.
Lazard was a healthy scratch in several recent contests, prompting some pundits to suggest he could become a trade candidate. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch cites TSN's Darren Dreger saying he wouldn't be surprised if the unhappy young forward asked to be dealt.
Garrioch said the Lazar camp hasn't requested a trade, but will meet with Senators GM Pierre Dorion on Saturday to discuss options for his future. A trade will likely be among them. If Lazar is shopped before the deadline, Garrioch thinks Dorion could seek a high draft pick in return.
That might appear as an unrealistic asking price, but this year's draft isn't a deep one and some clubs could be willing to move their first rounders. Lazar could benefit from a change of scenery and a rival GM could take the gamble.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Patrik Laine. Image by: Getty Images
The origins of Patrik Laine’s lethal shot lie buried in his family’s backyard. And imagine, if it weren’t for his father, Laine would still be stopping pucks instead of shooting them.
It takes somewhere in the neighborhood of five centuries for aluminum to decompose. That means there are 490-odd years left for some archaeologically inclined Finnish hockey fans to get their hands on some precious pieces of memorabilia. The dig site is a backyard in Tampere, Finland, and soda can shrapnel is the treasure. Those fragments of old aluminum cans, bashed, battered and burst to bits by six ounces of hard-charging vulcanized rubber, are a reminder of where Patrik Laine began his path to becoming one of the most fearsome rookie scorers ever.
Laine’s shot, used to blast soda cans apart years ago, has been the talk of the NHL this season. It’s lethal, both in strength and accuracy, and it didn’t get that way overnight, which is to say it’s not Laine’s gift so much as his passion project. In his backyard, on the ice and in every moment he could spare, Laine would shoot. And when he was tired, he would shoot again. He’d shoot until his hands bled, as they did while training this past summer, and then he’d shoot some more.
“I had a net in our backyard and I spent many hours there every day, just shooting,” Laine said. “When the coaches would blow the whistle and everyone would get water, I stayed and took shots to improve it.”
Laine has long since graduated from obliterating soda cans in his backyard, moving on to dominating the SM-liiga in Finland and now to destroying the already high expectations put upon him as an 18-year-old rookie in the NHL. On his first night in the league, Laine showed off the skills built in his parents’ backyard with a laser wrist shot from the left point that sparked a Jets come-from-behind victory. He called his first NHL goal “the best moment in the world,” made more special with his family there to see it. Days later, he had a hat trick in a showdown against Toronto Maple Leafs phenom Auston Matthews – the only player drafted ahead of him last June – capped off by an overtime snipe that sent the MTS Centre into a frenzy. At the season’s midway point, only Sidney Crosby had more goals than Laine, and he and Matthews were on pace to be the first teenaged rookies to score 40-plus goals since Eric Lindros in 1992-93.
The irony in all of this, of course, is that Laine came close to spending his entire career trying to stop pucks. If Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t sent Laine’s father, Harri, a thank you card yet, he may want to get out his finest stationary and draft up something special, because if it weren’t for him, Laine might still be plying his trade as a goaltender somewhere in Finland. He didn’t give up the position until he was 12.
“I would have kept going but then my dad decided for me, and I went being a forward all the time,” Laine said. “I was a better goalie than a forward, but I think I’m good with his decision.”
That position change came only six years ago. Imagine what Laine could be capable of had he focused all his energy on scoring goals instead of stopping them from the outset. But there may be something to the connection between Laine’s goaltending days and his current goal-scoring ways. Facing Laine’s shot hundreds of times already in practice, Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson made note of a trait Laine has that few players, be it rookies or veterans, possess – the ability to use a goaltender’s understanding of a shooter’s tendencies against them.
“He doesn’t just pick the top corner every time,” Hutchinson said. “A lot of kids, especially at 17 and 18 with a shot like that, want to come in and just shoot the puck as hard as they can and try to go bar down and blow one by the goalie every single time. He’s not like that. He has no problem shooting for a rebound to get his teammates a goal, shooting for five-hole or picking a low corner over the pad. That’s maturity beyond his years.”
And impressive maturity given how swift his progression has been from goaltender to goal scorer. Laine is used to progressing quickly, though, because his six-year rise to becoming one of the world’s best teenage players was preceded by a year-long skyrocket up the draft rankings.
“I was a better goalie than a forward, but I think I’m good with his decision.”
In The Hockey News’ Future Watch and Draft Preview issues in 2015, Laine was nowhere to be found among the projected top 10 for 2016. Instead, a panel of scouts deemed the likes of Logan Brown and Kieffer Bellows as top-10 selections, with fellow Finn Jesse Puljujarvi considered the shoo-in second-overall pick behind Matthews. By the start of 2015-16, however, the winds of change were blowing fiercer than a blustery chill at Portage and Main. Laine had vaulted up the charts, projected to go as high as fourth, with Matthew Tkachuk and Jakob Chychrun often separating Laine from the top three. It was following the 2016 World Junior Championship that Laine completed his rise up the draft board.
“A year ago him and Jesse Puljujarvi were more or less even,” recalled NHL director of European scouting Goran Stubb. “But after Christmas, and after the world juniors, Laine just took off and was unbelievable.”
Laine had seven goals and 13 points in seven games at the world juniors en route to winning gold with Finland. He then returned to the Finnish League and scored at a torrid pace, dominating the post-season with 10 goals and 15 points in 18 games as Tappara, his hometown team, captured the league title with Laine taking playoff MVP honors. His unpredictable rise continued at the World Championship in May, where he scored seven goals and 12 points in 10 games on his way to a silver medal and yet another MVP honor.
“His understanding of the game is exceptional,” Stubb said. “He always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. What people also forget is he’s also a very good playmaker. It’s not only the shot.”
Laine had come a long way from being that petulant kid sent home from the 2014 Ivan Hlinka tournament following a highly publicized dispute with his coach. Petteri Lehto, Laine’s European agent who has grown to know both Laine and his family the past four years, said the incident was overblown and taken out of context. But instead of stirring up the controversy more, Laine, on the advice of Lehto, stayed quiet in hopes the story would go away. And eventually, it did.
“It was very tough for Patrik and his family,” Lehto said. “But it probably helped him to understand that when you’re a good player, media is a part of it and you better watch yourself.”
Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
The same passion that got Laine into trouble earlier in his career has now become one of his greatest assets, according to Kimmo Vaha-Ruohola, his former coach. When Laine came under Vaha-Ruohola’s guidance, first in the under-20s and later for two seasons with Tappara, his all-consuming desire to score often led to frustration and distraction. Vaha-Ruohola and Laine would talk honestly about what happened after each outburst, and learning to harness his passion led to a rocky road that required a benching from time to time. Laine grew to understand how he could handle his emotions and channel them to help his team. That continued into the men’s league.
“He had to analyze his game, every game, mental-wise,” Vaha-Ruohola said. “How did it go? Did he lose his temper and at what cost? How did he try to handle it? And so on. That process took two-and-a-half years.”
It’s clear how hard Laine can take the difficult moments, though, as evidenced by his gaffe in a December game against the Edmonton Oilers. Defending in his own zone, Laine inadvertently shot a loose puck into the Winnipeg net, for what ended up being the game-deciding goal. He looked distraught as captain Blake Wheeler comforted him on the bench. It was an impressive show of maturity post-game when Laine sat in his stall and answered questions, owning up to his mistake, but the sight of him on the bench following the goal was a reminder that this dynamic scorer who has set the NHL ablaze in his first few months in North America is still a teenager.
"The thing that often divides good players and top players in the world is how eager they are to learn and how fast it happens.”
It’s sometimes forgotten that Laine is still a kid, and it’s easy to see why. At 6-foot-5, 206 pounds, he’s a teen in a grown man’s body. And if it’s not Laine’s size that makes us forget how young he is, it’s his outspoken confidence that does.
In a sport filled with braggadocios boasting about the merits of humility, Laine has never shied away from being upfront about the fact he’s a talented player. He openly stated he believed he had what it took to be the first-overall pick ahead of Matthews, he turned heads with his stick-twirling celebration and he has outright said he knows how good he is. That’s a rare quality found in a small handful of players, and it has only increased his appeal.
It’s all about how Laine expresses that confidence, however. It doesn’t come across as if he’s gloating. There’s a truthfulness in the way he says it, an almost Honest Abe-like inability to tell a lie. It’s more endearing than anything, as are the other aspects of his personality, like his dry, subtle sense of humor.
For instance, Laine calls his father, a plumber, a “beer-league” player in Finland. When asked about his living situation, he glowingly refers to his mother as his roommate, remarking around the holidays how she did the decorating because that’s not really his thing. And he’s more than willing to take playful jabs at teammates. When asked about a scoring drought plaguing Nikolaj Ehlers, Laine’s road roommate and one of the teammates he’s closest to off ice, Laine quipped it was similar to the struggles that haunt Ehlers during their Playstation battles in FIFA. Ehlers shakes his head and chuckles in Laine’s direction when it’s brought up.
“He’s a great guy on and off the ice, and he’s a pretty funny guy sometimes,” Ehlers said, later comparing the duo to an old married couple. “We do chirp each other in a healthy way.”
Despite his steady growth both on and off the ice, Laine isn’t a finished product. He understands there’s room to improve, specifically on the defensive side of the puck. Even in Tappara, he was striving to be better defensively, sharpening his skating in order to be in the right place at the right time in his own end as often as he is when on the attack in the other direction.
But outside of his shot, Laine’s other great weapon is his ability to adapt and learn at a rate few others can.
“His development is probably the bigger thing for me as a coach,” Vaha-Ruohola said. “He’s not just scoring goals and being good offensively, but it’s how much he wants to learn and how quick he learns. The thing that often divides good players and top players in the world is how eager they are to learn and how fast it happens.”
It’s a skill of Laine’s that Vaha-Rouhola compared to Crosby, adding he believes Laine had the capability to be that kind of two-way forward. And it’s in his playmaking skill and ability to “take you out of your pants” that Lehto, who had a brief stint playing with a rookie Mario Lemieux, sees flashes of a young No. 66. For Stubb, there will always be the parallels drawn between Laine and great Finnish scorers like Teemu Selanne and Jari Kurri. And every time Laine unloads a one-timer from the top of the circle on the power play, there will be inevitable comparisons to his childhood idol, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. Yet Laine sees things differently.
“I don’t have to compare myself to anybody,” Laine said.
“Everybody is different, and I want to be me. I don’t have to think about what everybody else has done. People can say what they want, but I just want to be me and create my own path.”
Dale Hawerchuk's letter to Patrik Laine.
Jesse Puljujarvi is starting to find his game at the pro level during his stay in the AHL, and he’s not the first top-10 pick to need some seasoning in the minors before attempting to make an impact in the NHL.
Jesse Puljujarvi’s stay in the NHL dragged on much longer than it should have. There’s not going to be many arguments about that. Drafted fourth overall by the Oilers, he came into the lineup, scored in his first game of the campaign, but was back watching from the press box by the Oilers’ fourth contest. He bounced in and out of the lineup into early January, and it wasn’t until Jan. 9 that Edmonton pulled the trigger and shipped him down to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
The move has been good for Puljujarvi, too.
In his first game with the Condors, Puljujarvi netted an assist. The next game, he added another, followed by a third assist in his third game in the minors. He kept his point streak going with a goal in game No. 4 in the AHL, doubled his goal total with another tally in his fifth game with the Condors and now, 15 games into his tenure in the AHL, Puljujarvi has five goals and 11 points. He’s coming off of a three-game goal streak, and in a recent outing against the Ontario Reign, Puljujarvi set a season-best when he registered six shots on goal. It’s safe to say he’s starting to find his game at the pro level.
While Puljujarvi’s tough time in the NHL may have disappointed some, especially as Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Mitch Marner rip it up in their respective rookie seasons, that the 18-year-old is producing in the AHL is a good sign, and it could be the absolute best thing for his development. At his current pace, Puljujarvi is on pace to finish the season with a respectable 13 goals and 29 points in 39 games in the AHL. And if come next season the Oilers decide Puljujarvi could use a bit more time in the minors, at least they know it won’t hurt his confidence when it comes to his ability to produce.
There’s nothing wrong with spending some time in the AHL, either, as past top 10 picks have proven that sometimes a bit of seasoning in the minors can provide big returns. Here are five top-10 picks who have turned AHL development into success in the NHL:
5. Mikko Rantanen
Rantanen, like Puljujarvi, went straight from the draft to professional hockey. The difference, however, is that it didn’t take nearly as long for the Avalanche to make the decision to demote Rantanen, the 10th pick in 2015, in his rookie season. Six games into his stay with Colorado to start the 2015-16 campaign, he was sent down to the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage and the move paid off.
When he went to the minors, Rantanen was a force. In 52 games, he scored 24 goals and 60 points and finished second in scoring by a rookie despite the fact he took nearly two weeks off to head to the World Junior Championship and captain Finland to a gold medal. Altogether, only eight players of any position, age or status finished with more points than Rantanen.
Rantanen would have been a no-doubter to start the season in Colorado in 2016-17 if he hadn’t injured his ankle, but after a short four-game stint with the Rampage, he was back with the Avalanche. Now 48 games into his rookie campaign, he’s third on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 25 points.
4. William Nylander
There’s an argument to be made — and probably a good one — that Nylander’s stay in the AHL should have ended before this season. However, no one’s about to argue with the results, and the Toronto Marlies were sure glad to have the shifty Swede for close to 100 games over the past two full seasons.
Nylander was taken eighth overall by the Maple Leafs in 2014, and by the middle of 2014-15, he had been loaned to Marlies. Over the course of his first 37 games in the league, Nylander scored 14 goals and 32 points, and when he returned to Toronto for the start of the 2015-16 season, he took his scoring in the AHL to a new level. In 38 games, he registered 18 goals and 45 points. It was enough to earn Nylander a call up by the end of February, and he stuck with the Maple Leafs through to the end of the 2015-16 season.
Now, in his rookie NHL campaign, Nylander has pieced together a 14-goal, 36-point season and is on pace for a 20-goal, 50-point year. It took longer for him to become a full-time NHLer than most would have expected given his AHL production, but Toronto’s patience is paying off.
3. Logan Couture
The Sharks did some nifty maneuvering on draft day in 2007 to climb the draft and grab Couture, but just because they wanted him so badly didn’t mean they were about to rush his development. That’s why, across the 2009-10 season, San Jose had no issue sending him up and down, bouncing him between the NHL and AHL.
By the time the 2009-10 campaign ended, Couture had been recalled by San Jose and subsequently assigned to Worcester, which housed the Sharks’ AHL team, six times. The first recall came on Oct. 25, 2009 and the final time he was brought up was on March 18, 2010. It worked, though. In the AHL, Couture scored 20 goals and 53 points in 42 games, and by the time he became a full-time NHLer in 2010-11, he was ready to contribute.
Couture scored 32 goals and 56 points in his rookie season with the Sharks and he finished second in Calder Trophy voting, only narrowly defeated by Jeff Skinner. Only four players from the 2007 draft have scored more goals and the only players with a greater points per game are Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn.
2. Karl Alzner
Comparing a defensive defenseman to a potentially explosive winger like Puljujarvi isn’t easy, but it’s worth mentioning Alzner this high on the list because he was a fifth overall pick in 2007 who didn’t become a full-time NHLer until 2010. Once he did, though, Alzner became a staple of the Capitals’ back end and one of the most consistent players in the organization.
The road to Washington, however, went directly through Hershey, and Alzner’s time with the Bears wasn’t short. He first suited up in Hershey to start the 2008-09 season, and if you thought Couture’s up-and-down period with the Sharks was a lot, get a load of Alzner’s. From October 2009 to April 2010, Alzner was sent back and forth between the AHL and NHL 11 times. Seven of those came during the 2009-10 campaign, too.
By the time Alzner was finally a full-timer in the big league, he had played more than 100 games in the AHL, scoring four goals and 41 points along the way. But since the start of the 2010-11 campaign, Alzner hasn’t missed a single game in Washington, playing more than 500 games in a row. He’s one of the key cogs on the blueline for a team in position to really take a run at the Stanley Cup.
1. Bobby Ryan
Ryan was never going to get a fair shake in the seasons that immediately followed the draft because no matter how well he played, he wasn’t Sidney Crosby. It couldn’t have been easy going second overall in the 2006 draft behind arguably the best player of the modern era. And the scrutiny surrounding Ryan was even higher when, come the 2007-08 season, Ryan wasn’t able to crack the Ducks roster on a full-time basis.
Ryan started the 2007-08 season in Anaheim, but after four games he was back in the AHL. It would take more than two months for him to get back into the NHL, that stint ended in less than three weeks, and he wasn’t up again until there were only four weeks remaining in the season. The hope was he’d be a full-time NHLer to start the 2008-09 season, but that wasn’t the case to start the year. Instead, he played 14 games in the AHL before getting the call up.
He took off from there, though. Ryan scored 31 goals and 57 points in 64 games to finish second in Calder voting. The next season, he chipped in 35 goals and 64 points and proceeded to notch at least 31 goals in each of the next two seasons.
Ryan’s scoring ability made him the poster child for patient development through the AHL. Between the regular season and playoffs, Ryan played more than 100 games in the Ducks’ farm system, and it paid dividends. His first four full seasons saw him score 131 goals and 249 points in 309 games. Only nine players scored more goals during that four-year span.
While Ryan’s play has since dropped off, there’s no denying that his time in the AHL certainly didn’t hurt his development.
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The Wild have a potential Vezina winner, coach of the year and a workhorse top defenseman, but come the post-season, opponent’s should most fear Minnesota’s depth.
Devan Dubnyk is well on his way to winning the Vezina Trophy and given the Wild have matched their win total from the past season in 25 fewer games, Bruce Boudreau is going to be in the conversation for the Jack Adams Award. He could very well take home the hardware by the time the season ends, too. There’s also going to be talk about Mikko Koivu for the Selke Trophy and Ryan Suter, as always, is going to be part of Norris Trophy discussions.
But with all the solo performances that have made this season an impressive one for the Wild, there’s more to this Minnesota club that the standout performances of single players. Rather, the best thing the Wild have going is their incredible depth, and as the playoffs inch nearer and Minnesota gears up for what looks like it could be a deep run, the way the Wild have been able to win should be striking fear into the hearts of opponents.
As of Friday, the Wild currently have the fourth-highest scoring offense in the league, but that’s a bit of a head scratcher given not a single player has hit the 20-goal plateau. Compare Minnesota’s lineup to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals — the top three offenses in the league, respectively — and you don’t exactly walk away thinking the Wild belong in the conversation. The Penguins boast Crosby and Malkin, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller are leading the way for the Rangers and the Capitals are always lethal with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. On paper, one would likely take all three offenses ahead of Minnesota’s, especially given the Wild’s current top scorer, Mikael Granlund, had maxed out at 44 points before this season.
It’s been that kind of year in Minnesota, however, with just about everyone on the team stepping up under Boudreau. Matter of fact, no team boasts a more spread out offense than the Wild, who have 10 different players to have scored at least 10 goals. That list includes Koivu, Granlund, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Chris Stewart, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville and Jason Zucker. The Capitals high-powered offense is the only other group in the league that has as many 10-goal scorers, but the Wild have two more players, Suter and Jared Spurgeon, sitting at eight goals and on pace to hit double digits this season.
One of the things that’s evident is that Bourdeau has found a way to get the most out of players who are right in that prime stage of their development. There’s no better example than Granlund, whose 16-goal, 51-point performance thus far has already seen him set dual career highs. He’s not the only one on pace to reach new heights, however. Coyle’s 44 points are a new career-best, while Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matthew Dumba, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker are all on their way to setting new bests.
And while Granlund is the best example of a guy flourishing under Boudreau, no player is quite as indicative of the way the Wild’s depth has been clicking like Zucker. The 2015-16 season was a frustrating one for Zucker and Wild fans. After coming off a 20-goal campaign in 2014-15, the belief was Minnesota had a goal-scoring star in the making. All the facets of his game were present, but none more than his ability to absolutely burn up the ice when he hit his top speed. And while he’s seen his ice time take a dip under Boudreau — he’s playing roughly a shift or two less per game — Zucker is having the season of his life while playing bottom-six minutes.
Through 57 games, he has 16 goals and 38 points, but only a single point of his has come on the power play and not a single point of his has been scored shorthanded. Instead, he’s been a stud for the Wild at 5-on-5, so much so that he’s in the same league as Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. That sounds bizarre, but it’s true.
Zucker’s managed 14 goals and 37 points while playing five-a-side this season, and the other 500-plus minute players who rank in the top five in scoring are McDavid, Crosby, Brent Burns and Mark Scheifele. That’s a select bunch as all four rank in the top six in league scoring. More impressive yet is that Crosby is the only one of those four others to have a higher points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 than Zucker’s 2.86. Of course, no one is about to say Zucker’s in the same overall league as Crosby or McDavid, but when it comes to even strength play this season, the Wild winger is sure producing like it.
The brilliant thing about a player like Zucker playing that way is that he’s exactly the type of weapon a team that has designs on going deep into the post-season needs. Every post-season run has its unsung heroes, and they’re generally players who score a clutch overtime goal or get moved up the lineup in hopes of generating some offense. With the way Zucker has played, chances are he could be exactly that type of player for Minnesota in the playoffs, and if it’s not him, Niederreiter, Haula, Pominville and Stewart have all been proving they can give that added punch.
The post-season can be as much about rolling four lines and getting some mismatches along the way as it is about high-end skill. Given that’s the case, there isn’t a team more well equipped to make an opponent’s bottom six and depth defensemen pay quite as much as the Wild. So, while Dubnyk, Koivu and Suter could be in line for end-of-year award recognition, it’s the depth, led by players such as Zucker, that stands to carry Minnesota towards the real prize they’re chasing.
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