Kurtis Gabriel might be a gym rat and might have done everything this past summer in an attempt to improve his skating and not be so straight-legged, but part of the rookie’s determination to become a full-time NHLer is nutritional awareness.
He counts every calorie and cooks food to bring on the road with him during minor league trips.
“Not up here. There’s food everywhere,” Gabriel, 22, said. “[My diet is] constantly changing because I’m constantly learning more about my body. I’m not really an explosive guy. Kind of a longer, leaner body type. I’m a good runner, not really super strong or anything. So you kind of tailor your diet to your body type, so I’ve played around with it and get help from nutritionists.
“It’s just another thing to help me. You’ve got to be on top of every aspect. I need all the help I can get to get up here. … As you get older, your metabolism starts to slow down a bit. You can’t eat pizzas after the game. It’s just carbs before and after workouts and then it’s really just protein, veggies and good fats.”
Gabriel, who got into his first NHL fight with Chris Thorburn during his NHL debut Tuesday night against Winnipeg, has gotten into 16 minor league fights after 31 junior fights. He never thought he would be a so-called tough guy who’s also willing to scrap.
“I didn’t get drafted to the [Ontario Hockey League], and they told me if I wanted to play at the next level, I had to be physical,” Gabriel said. “I always hit, but I never realized I could do it more. So I started hitting and realized I like it. It fed my game and it got me going and it took off from there.
“I’m an aggressive guy naturally.”
Still, coach Mike Yeo wanted Gabriel to play smart hockey Tuesday. The Wild entered with one fight all season (Ryan Carter) and had the second-fewest penalty minutes in the NHL (6.1 per game) because of two or fewer minor penalties in eight of the past nine games.
“We’re obviously not a team that likes to run around and take stupid penalties, so this will be a good test [for Gabriel],” Yeo said before Tuesday’s game.
Zucker, Coyle move up
With Zach Parise hurt and his No. 1 power-play unit replacement Marco Scandella away from the team due to a family matter, Jason Zucker assumed Parise’s spot on the No. 1 unit. Zucker, who got limited power-play time last season, played up top to the right of Ryan Suter.
“He’s there to be a shooter, that’s for sure,” Yeo said.
Zucker had been playing with the No. 2 unit off the flank on his forehand, so he was going to have to make an adjustment.
But Zucker can let the puck rip and played this role at University of Denver, although in a different power-play setup.
“All those guys on that unit are great players, so this is a great opportunity for me,” Zucker said.
Charlie Coyle took Zucker’s spot on the second unit.
Yeo said this is an “earned opportunity” for Coyle, adding: “I keep trying to find a way to increase his ice time. He’s been earning more and more penalty kill time.”
• Nate Prosser, who missed Saturday’s game vs. Tampa Bay because of a sore back, took Scandella’s spot on the left side of Christian Folin. Prosser, a right-shot defenseman, played the left side much of last season. He said the only big adjustment is in the neutral zone.
• Yeo said defenseman Matt Dumba recently had a CT scan on his left foot and is fine. Word of Dumba’s injury circulated Monday night when Dumba was photographed wearing a walking boot by a clothier. The photo was then posted on Instagram.