As the Wild made its pitch to free agent Mats Zuccarello, the team illustrated the state of the organization, explained how Zuccarello would fit in and asked what he was seeking.
And while Zuccarello expressed confidence in the current roster and how he could help when describing why he signed a five-year, $30 million contract Monday, he also made it clear he felt coveted — a message the Wild was able to convey during the interview period leading up to the start of NHL free agency.
“Minnesota was one of the teams that I felt wanted me the most, and I’m a guy that when you show me that you really want me that’s humbling for me,” Zuccarello said. “That means that it’s a good chance for me to go there.”
This was the seventh summer teams could chat with free agents before the signing season, and the Wild wasn’t the only one that appeared to capitalize on the opportunity.
In the hour after the window for business opened, a flood of signings became official — a nod to the discussions that happened previously.
“You have so many teams call you, and you feel like you’re the best person, best player in the world,” Zuccarello said. “Every conversation you’re in, you’re like, ‘Damn, I’m good.’ But the reality is that it’s the business from everyone’s part. The strong feeling I had with Minnesota is that they were really, really on me from Day 1.”
What also appealed to the Oslo native was the Norwegian population in Minnesota — the American Community Survey said 14.6% of Minnesotans reported Norwegian ancestry in 2017 — and the passion of the fan base.
He kept tabs on the Wild when his favorite player growing up, Marian Gaborik, was with the team.
“It’s the state of hockey,” Zuccarello said. “I’m a hockey nerd. I really enjoy the fans around. They are really buzzing and are interested in the team. It’s a really good opportunity for me to come there and be a part of that.”
Zuccarello said he had already heard from a handful of Wild players — including captain Mikko Koivu and alternate captains Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
He’s familiar with defenseman Jonas Brodin and briefly played with center Eric Staal when their careers overlapped in New York with the Rangers. Zuccarello plans to continue working out in Norway before settling in the Twin Cities.
Adding Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman didn’t just fill out the right side of the Wild’s lineup.
It also brought in two more special-teams options, a potential boost for a power play unit that ranked near the middle of the pack at 20.3% last season.
Of Zuccarello’s 40 points in 2018-19, 15 came with the man advantage — nearly 40%. Throughout his career, almost 30% (99 of 355) of his points have been registered on the power play. Most of that production was on assists.
“He’ll be a good distributor,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He doesn’t have a big shot, but he’s a pass-first kind of guy. I’ve seen him play the half-wall many times.”
Hartman’s aggressive style as an agitator could help the Wild get on the power play.
Since his first full-length season in the NHL in 2016-17, Hartman has drawn 74 penalties, according to Natural Stat Trick. Only five players have drawn more over that span.
And the amount of penalties Hartman has committed in that time (52) is way less than the number he’s drawn.
“That should be positive,” Boudreau said.
Bitetto to Winnipeg
Former Wild defenseman Anthony Bitetto signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets. Bitetto played 18 games with the Wild last season after getting claimed off waivers from the Predators.