Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Dany Heatley downgraded to fourth line; Dumba's WHL rights traded to Portland

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: December 10, 2013 - 7:11 PM

UPDATED

Good afternoon from the O.C., where the Wild practiced this afternoon and where I just shot Wednesday's Wild Minute poolside, you know, just to rub it in.

The Wild plays the front end of a back-to-back at 9:30 p.m. CT against the too-legit-to-quit Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim is 11-0-2 at home, the only team in the NHL without a regulation home loss. Corey Perry, who is tied for second in the league with 20 goals, has goals in a career-long six straight games. Ryan Getzlaf has points in 14 straight, although it's technically a 12-game streak because he missed time in there with an injury.

Coach Mike Yeo doesn't get last change on the road, so he said the Wild need a team effort to stop that high-flying line and the high-flying Ducks. He wants heavy minutes from "big centers" Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak and Zenon Konopka.

Yeo usually doesn't mind going top line vs. top line, especially because his top-line guys -- Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominvillle -- can all defend and spend time working the puck deep in the offensive zone. Typically though, he likes to match up Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Torrey Mitchell against top lines and obviously defensemen Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin.

As expected, the Wild has recalled Jason Zucker and as I guessed in Monday's blog and Tuesday's paper, the Newport Beach, Calif., native is indeed on the second line with fellow 21-year-olds Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. Dany Heatley, who has committed some glaring turnovers especially the past two games, has been downgraded to the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Justin Fontaine.

Heatley is a team-worst minus-8 on the road. Yeo said he hasn't talked to Heatley about the demotion, but he did talk to Heatley about the turnovers prior to the recent San Jose game and he said this is just not a Heatley thing, it's a team thing.

"I think our entire group, this was a focal point for our [video] meeting before [practice]," Yeo said. "We just can't continue to turn pucks over in the neutral zone, we can't continue to turn pucks over on the wall and expect to No. 1 win games, but to create offense, to get to the offensive zone, to draw penalties. All these areas where we’re lacking – the shots on goal, the chances, the drawing penalties -- it’s all a direct result of the neutral-zone turnovers we’ve had lately. It's a focus for everybody."

Yeo said Heatley will be worked into other lines at times, and reminded that when Heatley found his game last month, it came because he helped elevate the fourth line. Heatley declined to talk to the media today.

The new power-play units: No. 1 -- Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville (down low) with Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon up top. No. 2 -- Dany Heatley-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine with Keith Ballard and Jonas Brodin up top.

Yeo said the No. 2 unit may have Niederreiter and Zucker worked into it at times, but it needs to have Fontaine there because Heatley, Niederreiter and Zucker aren't prototypical half-wall guys and Fontaine can work the puck and distribute. The Wild also wants to have two righties on each unit. It needs Coyle on the second unit for faceoffs.

The one interesting bit of news is Matt Dumba's Western Hockey League rights have been traded from Red Deer to Portland. I don't buy that Winterhawks head honcho and coach Mike Johnston did this without a little intel from the Wild, although assistant GM Brent Flahr today and GM Chuck Fletcher the other day both said that absolutely no decision has been made as to whether to return Dumba to juniors after the world junior championships.

But as I reported a few weeks ago, it's up in the air if Dumba returns to Minnesota afterward. If the Wild is completely healthy and he's going to continue to be an extra defenseman, it makes little sense to have him eat popcorn in the press box. He has been scratched 19 times and in eight in a row (he is expected to join Team Canada in Toronto on Wednesday for camp, although Dumba does have a family situation he's tending to right now, so that may be on hold).

Portland is the best team in the Western Hockey League and a league and Memorial Cup contender.

It would be huge for Dumba's development to play there in the second half and potentially go on a long playoff run to prep him for Iowa next season (or maybe Minnesota). I believe the trade is an indication that the 19-year-old won't be coming back, although he could technically still come back if there's a Wild need and later be assigned to Portland, too.

OK, talk to you Wednesday. I should be on XM Home ice at 2:45 p.m. CT Wednesday.

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