The Wild’s fourth line has become one of its most experienced.
Winger Jason Zucker was the latest veteran to be shifted down the depth chart last week, joining captain Mikko Koivu and winger Ryan Hartman.
Zucker switched to the fourth line last Thursday in a win over the Canucks. He remained there Friday against the Stars, and that’s also the spot he started in Sunday, when the Wild hosted the Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center.
“I’m playing for my teammates, and that’s it,” Zucker said when asked where his head was at with the assignment.
In his first 10 games back from a broken leg, Zucker scored twice — including a game-winner Jan. 22 vs. the Red Wings — and chipped in three assists.
“Eventually he’s going to get back up,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We want to get his game to where it was and capable of being, and then I’m sure he’ll move back up in a hurry.”
By game’s end Zucker was on the second line.
These developments for the 28-year-old come while Zucker’s name continues to be a fixture in the rumor mill leading up to the Feb. 24 trade deadline. That was also the case in the offseason and before the deadline last season, with the Wild nearly trading Zucker on two separate occasions.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Zucker said. “I’m done dealing with it. I’m done worrying about it.”
A move to the fourth line wasn’t the only unique development last week for Zucker.
He also had his first NHL fight in the regular season on Thursday, a scrap with Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen after Zucker dished out what he felt was a clean body check. Zucker also fought Simon Despres in a 2014 preseason game against the Penguins.
“Zucker had an awesome fight,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “Nobody really saw that coming. That’s just stuff that builds a team. It seems like after that everybody kind of got up. If anyone were feeling kind of down or didn’t have the right legs, they got up after that.”
That’s been a trend for the Wild throughout the season; after some type of physical dust-up on the ice — whether it’s a big hit or someone drops the gloves — the team seems to become galvanized.
“I think guys like to see emotion, and it rubs off,” Foligno said. “I’m a big believer in that type of style of play. It can spark some guys and get guys playing a little more comfortable and sometimes settle some guys that maybe are a little bit hesitant and afraid. When there’s a fight out there, I think guys feel encouraged — especially seeing Zucker do it.
“He’s known for goal scoring, not that. He had some good throws in there. The guy was just a little bit bigger than him. It’s all good. That really ignited us.”
Defenseman Carson Soucy was back in the lineup Sunday after missing the previous two games because of illness.
To accommodate Soucy’s return to the blue line, the Wild scratched Brad Hunt and kept Greg Pateryn on the third pairing next to Soucy.
“It’s not a coin toss or anything,” Boudreau said. “This is a heavy [Avalanche] team, and Soucy’s a big strong guy. Sometimes you get going against the MacKinnons of the world and the Landeskogs, you need those heavier guys to be able to move some of them out.”
During his 1,000th game Friday in Dallas, winger Zach Parise was recognized by the Stars during a break in the action — acknowledgment that Parise said he wasn’t expecting.
“I thought it was a really nice gesture,” he said. “I thought it was really awesome.”