What a Difference a Week Makes! 4-3-2012
Last week, I discussed how the current losing streak that the Minnesota Wild were on could drop them to 14th in the West and possibly give them the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Since then the boys in Iron Range Red have won 3 out of 4, including wins over division leaders Florida and Los Angeles. If the Wild win out, which looks possible if they keep scoring at the rate they are, they could finish 10th in the West, something I would not have thought possible last week. Last week the Wild also started the long awaited future, signing and playing prospect Jason Zucker.
Jason Zucker was the Wild’s 2nd round pick in 2010. Since then, he has been playing college hockey at Denver University, and captaining the U.S. team at the World Juniors. Zucker was seen as a third line energy guy when the Wild drafted him, but has developed into a good offensive threat in his time at DU. His first game with the Wild was last Wednesday against the Panthers, and he didn’t look out of place. He had a few shots on goal, and was definitely feeling out the game, but he looked good. He has great speed, and may be the fastest guy they have at this point. He scored two assists in his second game on Saturday against the Kings. This experience looks like it could be invaluable to Zucker going into training camp next season. The Wild will have all of its major prospects turning pro next season, and Zucker may have a leg up on the other guys coming into camp (I will be discussing this in the offseason, probably more than once J). The move to get Zucker signed, and the decision to have him play in the NHL immediately, has offered Wild fans a nice sneak peek at what the future holds for the franchise, which has worked out very well.
Lastly, Wild head coach Mike Yeo has been asked a lot lately about tanking and the team’s draft position. He’s repeatedly answered the way you would expect- he cares about winning and culture not the scouts and the draft team. While I personally think it would be better long term to get the best pick possible, if anyone is complaining about their team playing well and winning, they are insane. I understand and agree with the argument for tanking, but most teams, and especially this group of Wild players that has had such a rough run of it the last three months, need to win and get that momentum and feel back. If the Wild can win out (yeah I know, just go with it for second) these guys will be more excited and pumped up to get back in the summer than they would have been had they limped into the offseason like we all thought they were. Again, this is just a thought, and I am very excited and intrigued to see what training camp will look like next year with all the young talent the Wild are bringing into the fold (and that’s not counting the draft prospects of this year- for all intensive purposes they could lose out, win the draft lottery, and have a great pick- we’ll see). I’m also excited to see what Yeo can do with healthy players, fresh young talent, and healthy competition. Despite the results of this year, I think Chuck Fletcher and the Wild hit a homerun with hiring Mike Yeo. With all of the aforementioned traits at his disposal this summer, I think he can get the Wild where they need to go.
Some closing thoughts-
-Tom Gilbert has really come around over the last week or so. He has played 30+ minutes in 2 of the last 3 games, and has really looked strong as he has learned the Wild players and the system. He made an amazing pass to spring Mikko Koivu for a break away to win the game last Wednesday in overtime. He looks better every game.
-Niklas Backstrom returned last week, and has looked pretty good in his return. His play, and his injuries, should make it very interesting when it comes to whether or not to re-sign Josh Harding.
-The top line of Heatley-Koivu-Setoguchi has looked pumped and energized since Zucker got into the lineup. I really think his exuberance and excitement has gotten the Wild going again. They pranked him in his first game by making him skate around in warm ups by himself. He got two laps in before anyone ever came out… Awesome.
I hope everyone has a good week. I will be back on Friday with some thoughts on the Wild season, and the upcoming playoffs.
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