NASHVILLE – Jason Zucker is back, and his one-week stint in the minors didn’t even last until Iowa’s opening night.
Still, the left winger said it was enough time to learn his lesson after being the final cut of the Wild’s training camp.
“I have to be better,” said Zucker, who is expected to make his season debut Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators as the Wild begins life without Charlie Coyle for up to a month.
“I didn’t have a good enough camp and I take full blame for that and full responsibility. I have to be better. It’s the NHL. You can’t just come in and expect to be on a line or on the team. You’ve got to come and perform, and I didn’t do that.”
Zucker, 21, said his promotion is “bittersweet” because it comes by way of his friend and roommate, Coyle, spraining his knee. Zucker is expected to play on the left side of Mikael Granlund, who assumes Coyle’s second-line center position.
Coyle won that job outright early in camp, so Granlund played the first two games as right wing on the third line with veterans Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. He began last season as the Wild’s second-line center but was eventually replaced by Matt Cullen, now with Nashville, after Granlund, 21, proved not to be ready.
“I think I’m ready [now],” Granlund said.
The Wild sure needs him to be. Forward depth will now be tested for the 0-0-2 team.
“[Coyle’s] a big part of our team, but we should be the type of team that could overcome [his loss],” coach Mike Yeo said. “Now’s our chance to prove that we have more depth. This is something we’ve been talking about, saying that our team’s better and one of the reason why is because we feel that we have more depth.”
Yeo told the speedy, offensive-minded Zucker that he is “going to get a good chance.” Zucker, who scored four goals and an assist in 20 regular-season games (no points the last 10 games), was outperformed in camp by Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, Yeo said.
The team was willing to put the older Justin Fontaine, 25, on the fourth line, but “Zucks’ development is too important.”
“Every game from here on to the end of my career has got to be consistent,” said Zucker, who scored in overtime of the Wild’s only postseason victory in May. “You’re going to have bad games. It happens, but it’s how you bounce back and you never have two in a row. You’ve got to limit those bad games.”
Granlund and Zucker, who had good chemistry during last year’s NHL lockout in Houston, will play on a line with veteran Dany Heatley, while Niederreiter will take Granlund’s spot with Cooke and Brodziak. That line impressed Yeo during an exhibition win at Columbus.
The Wild leads the NHL in faceoff win percentage. While Yeo said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Granlund on defensive-zone draws, he’ll likely lean toward using centermen Mikko Koivu, Brodziak and Zenon Konopka in those situations.
Granlund has impressed Yeo in the first two games of the season. He assisted on two goals opening night against Los Angeles and has shown a willingness to play physical, work hard along the wall and block shots.
But second-line center for an extended period is a whole different animal.
“It’s unfair to expect Granny to be perfect right off the hop, especially given the fact he’s played a couple games on wing now and he’s got to get back into that center position,” Yeo said. “I have no reason to believe that he won’t go in and be really good for us because that’s the way he’s been playing all camp.
“This is a good opportunity for him to bite off a little bit more.”