ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Wild youngster Jason Zucker’s promotion from Iowa of the American Hockey League led to veteran Dany Heatley’s demotion to the fourth line Tuesday in practice at the Honda Center.
When the Wild visits the Ducks on Wednesday night, Zucker is slated to skate on the left side of the second line with fellow 21-year-olds Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter and the struggling Heatley will move to the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Justin Fontaine.
Heatley, a minus-9 this season, is minus-8 the past 11 games.
Coach Mike Yeo met with Heatley on Saturday to discuss his neutral-zone turnovers. Heatley was minus-3 in a 4-0 loss Friday in Columbus. But in Sunday’s game against San Jose, Heatley also committed a few near-costly turnovers.
“[It’s] not just him,” Yeo said. “I think our entire group, this was a focal point for our [video] meeting before [practice]. 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.”
Heatley declined to comment, but Yeo said he plans to work Heatley onto different lines at even strength and onto the second power-play unit.
Yeo has been critical of the second line the past few games, but he said he’s not moving Coyle to the fourth line because the team needs him at center with Mikael Granlund hurt and “Nino’s … been one of our strongest players in the last 10 games. I just don’t think he deserves it.”
The third line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Torrey Mitchell has played well, so he’s not putting Heatley there.
“This is not new to us,” Yeo said of moving Heatley to a fourth-line role. “We’ve seen it earlier in the year. We saw Heater help that line a lot. We saw a couple games where they were contributing offensively. At that point, he really started to find his game.”
Zucker, who was born in nearby Newport Beach, has no points in six games this season and seven points in 32 regular-season games.
“Every time that we’ve called him up, we’ve tried to surround him with players that can give him a chance to succeed,” Yeo said of the fast, skilled winger. “If he’s going to come up, he’s going to have a role in our offensive game. That’s what we want him to do. We want him to contribute.”
Dumba traded in WHL
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said the Wild hasn’t decided if defenseman Matt Dumba will return to the Wild or the Western Hockey League after the World Junior Championships, but the Portland Winterhawks are certainly hoping the Wild returns him to juniors.
On Tuesday, Winterhawks coach and GM Mike Johnston acquired Dumba’s WHL rights from Red Deer. It’s the type of move that could actually sway the Wild to return Dumba to juniors if Minnesota is healthy once the 19-year-old returns from Sweden, where he’ll compete with Team Canada, in early January. Portland is currently the top team in the WHL, so Dumba would likely get a long playoff run.