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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"Really good sign" with Jason Zucker; Brett Clark arrives in Minnesota

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild player moves, Wild practice Updated: March 13, 2013 - 3:12 PM
The Wild held an extremely optional practice today at Xcel Energy Center this afternoon (more on this decision below) led by assistant coach Darby Hendrickson and goalie coach Bob Mason.
 
After practice, in a track suit, rookie Jason Zucker hit the ice for a twirl. Coach Mike Yeo said that’s a “really good sign.” Afterward, Zucker said, “I feel alright,” but wouldn’t provide the extent of his “upper body injury.”
 
“Overall, I’m happy that I’m standing here right now,” Zucker said.
 
Asked if Zucker had a concussion after getting clobbered by Corey Perry last night, Yeo said: “I don’t think he’d be allowed to be on the ice if that was the case.”
 
Zucker has had concussions before and symptoms often arise a few days after an incident. Zucker said he would see how he feels in the morning, then talk to Yeo and the medical staff before determining if he can play.
 
Perry had a disciplinary hearing with the NHL at 11 a.m. CT. He has been suspended four games. Here is the league video explaining its decision.
 
If Zucker can’t play, Yeo said Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has been scratched in three straight games, will get in.
 
Defenseman Brett Clark has arrived in Minnesota with his Oilers’ equipment bag. The Wild signed the 36-year-old veteran defenseman for the remainder of the year at a prorated salary of $900,000. He was a longtime Colorado Avalanche and a vet of four teams.
 
He had a two-week window in his contract to talk to NHL teams. The Wild called Monday. Edmonton liked him, but the Oilers have eight defensemen. He said he had a few good options, but Minnesota was the best. I hear Dallas also pursued him hard.
 
“It’s very exciting to get back up here,” Clark said. “The lockout put a kink on a lot of things, but it helped me get fully healthy and work on a few things, maybe strength wise. I went down to OK City. I was playing a ton down there and the opportunity came and it was very exciting.
 
“I knew I had to go down there and give everything I had like I was playing in the show because I’m playing for another opportunity.”
 
He’s always been a terrific shot blocker and decent puck mover. Last year was a tough one after a quality 2010-11 when he helped Tampa to the Eastern Conference Finals. He was a minus-26 in 2011-12, which ranked 890th in the NHL. He says he blocked a shot and sustained a fracture to his ankle in December. He played all 82 games but says he wasn’t the same player after the injury. The lockout allowed him the time to get completely healthy, he says. He had 199 blocked shots last year, second in the NHL.
 
He was playing in Oklahoma City and was almost a point per game player. As of now, the Wild plans to keep eight defensemen on the roster, meaning Justin Falk and Nate Prosser stay for now. I talked to Falk about the Wild’s decision to sign Clark. He was mature about it and I’ll have quotes from him in the paper in the next few days.
 
Clark will not debut against his former Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Yeo said Clark will have to get into a couple practices first, before adding with a laugh, “if we ever practice again.”
 
“I said it this morning, it’s almost like we’re in a beer league right now. just show up and play games,” Yeo joked.
(Again more on Yeo’s decision not to have a full practice below).
 
Fletcher says “you can never have enough defensemen, so this made sense on a whole host of levels.” Fletcher says all along the Wild wanted to add another veteran NHL defenseman at some point to provide depth, help in several areas, give Yeo more options and protect the team in case of injuries. Team defense for the Wild has been the least of its concerns, so this provides insurance. The Wild’s seventh-best in goals against and shots against.
 
On Clark, Yeo said, “It’s an NHL defenseman that we’re adding to our group, a veteran presence. Depth is very important. I think the defensive group has been doing a really good job for us, but this is a guy that we can add that adds veteran presence, adds puck-moving ability and has been around and thinks the game well.
 
“It adds a little bit of internal competition, which is not a bad thing. It puts the pressure on you to make sure you’re ready to be at your best every night.”
 
Yeo said Clark “can play the power play, he distributes the puck well, he thinks the game well. He adds some poise. He’s been in situations and knows how to handle them.”
 
Basically, this adds experience at a cheap price. A lot cheaper than say Steve Montador at 2.5M. He got through waivers from Chicago the other day.
 
“You realize how quickly things can change in this league,” Yeo said. “We’ve been fortunate – knock on wood – but things can change very quickly, so to have depth is very important.”
 
After last night’s 2-1 loss to Anaheim – a game the Wild basically gave away because it’s power play was so dreadful – Yeo said the power play looked like a power play that hasn’t had any practice time lately, and that’s because it hasn’t.
 
Then Yeo made the decision today not to have a full practice? Odd, to say the least.
 
I asked Yeo to explain, and he said, “Believe me, I would love to practice. I love practicing, I love the feeling going into games that you’ve covered all the things that you need to cover. But when you talk to the guys and even when you watch the third period, you can tell that we didn’t have the energy that we needed. Coming off three in four games with travel, coming off very emotional, very hard games, we needed this today.”
 
I watched the game again in the wee hours of this morning. It’s still amazing the Wild didn’t win. I had the chances after two periods at 20-3. That’s crazy. So you just knew something bad was going to happen when you don’t capitalize on so many chances.
 
Yeo said, “Even with that game, there’s an opportunity to grow. A lLot of good things to take out of that game. Overall lately, I feel like we’re a really good team right now. That’s what we have to stay focused on. It’s so difficult not to get so wrapped up in each and every game and the result of it and what the implications of what that result are, but where we want to get to, you just have to keep marching on.”
 
On Bouchard, Yeo said, “He’s a player that we have still a lot of faith in what he can do and what he can add to our team. It’s not the ideal situation that he finds himself in right now. The next time he comes in he’ll get a very fair chance. It is what is. It’s a game to game thing right now. We have a lot of good players.”
 
Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Tom Gilbert, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Clayton Stoner, Charlie Coyle, Prosser and Falk skated today with goalies Darcy Kuemper and Matt Hackett. With Kuemper healthy he was returned to Houston on Wednesday.
 
Scary incident in the practice. Somehow radio play-by-play Bob Kurtz, with an entire arena empty and the only one sitting in a lower-bowl section, took a puck to the left side of the head. He sustained a deep gash and huge knot to his forehead. Dany Heatley guessed 10 stitches would close the wound. He was right on the money.
 
He was in great spirits afterward, which might mean he has a concussion (ha). “This gives you something to blog about. Day to day with an upper body injury,” he said.
 
Konopka on the incident: “It’s not funny, … but it’s funny.”
 
Poor Kurtzie.
 

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