Jason Zucker’s first practice with the Wild since he broke his leg last month looked similar to the sessions he participated in before he got hurt.
He worked on the left side of the top line, took reps on the power play and was a threat to score in the drills that planted him in front of the net — all signs Saturday morning at TRIA Rink in St. Paul that Zucker is nearing a return from the fractured right fibula he suffered Dec. 15.
That injury was supposed to sideline Zucker for four to six weeks, but despite having surgery barely three weeks ago, Zucker is considered a game-time decision for the Wild’s next game Sunday afternoon against the Canucks at Xcel Energy Center.
“It was a good step today being out there with the team,” Zucker said after Saturday’s workout. “I haven’t been able to do that, obviously, so that was great. It felt good. It was good to get some battling in a little bit, get some gamelike drills.”
Zucker just recently resumed skating, logging four or five days before rejoining the Wild for practice.
After getting off the ice Saturday, Zucker said he hadn’t been cleared to play but felt satisfied with how the session went and called his involvement “a good step” even if the setup is different from what he’ll experience in a game.
“Unless he has something pop up that we don’t know about,” coach Bruce Boudreau said, “I would assume he would be ready to play.”
A return Sunday would come almost a week ahead of the minimum timeline forecast, but Boudreau isn’t surprised by Zucker’s progress.
“He wants to play,” Boudreau said. “He’s a tough kid, and hopefully he’s ready to play tomorrow.”
Although he was injured during the Wild’s visit to Chicago last month when he was struck with a Brent Seabrook dump-in, Zucker actually finished out that game — getting back to the action after briefly disappearing from the bench.
“I just wanted to play,” Zucker said. “Every guy in this room would say the same thing. If your team is playing, you want to be out there playing with them. It hurt. But honestly, I didn’t think it was broken.”
By the next morning, though, Zucker knew his leg wasn’t right, based on the swelling and the way he was walking.
Still, he was hopeful he could play the following day in Vegas, where he grew up, but the team sent him home and he had surgery on Dec. 20 — embarking on a recovery that’s been focused on strengthening his leg and making sure the incision heals correctly.
“Any time you get injured, it’s never fun and watching is always tough,” Zucker said. “… I’m looking forward to getting back, whenever that is, and try to help the team anyway I can.”
Without Zucker, the Wild is 4-5-1 — an up-and-down stretch in which its offense has been hot and cold. That is an issue Zucker could help resolve when he’s healthy.
Through 34 games, Zucker has 12 goals and 24 points. A chunk of that production came in the lead-up to his injury when he, center Eric Staal and winger Mats Zuccarello were rolling as one of the Wild’s most dynamic lines.
“He’s got the speed,” Zuccarello said. “I try to stay back and make some plays, and he goes and he scores the goals — him and Eric.”
Aside from potentially welcoming back Zucker on Sunday, the Wild defense also could add Greg Pateryn to its blue line. Pateryn has missed the entire season after having core muscle surgery.
When Zucker also receives clearance to return — and defenseman Nick Seeler rejoins the group from his conditioning stint in the minors — the Wild will have a full complement of players to choose from for the first time this season.
And the lineup decisions that ensue will be decided by the play on the ice.
“It’s going to be performance-based,” Boudreau said. “I was honest with them and I said, ‘Let’s be honest. There’s some guys you’re not going to sit. But at the same time, you need to get in the lineup. It’s a winning situation. We need the best players at the right times.’ ”