DALLAS – Not only is Thomas Vanek starting to play better, he's becoming more vocal in the locker room and on the bench.
The Wild veteran admits this has been a conscious decision.
"When I went to the two new teams last year [Islanders and Canadiens] from Buffalo, at least I'm not the type of person to go in and have my opinions right away," Vanek said before Saturday's 7-1 pounding from the Stars.
"I need a good grasp of what kind of team this is. I feel I have a good handle of it now, and that's why I decided to become a little more vocal."
After the Wild's 3-1 victory Friday over Toronto, coach Mike Yeo said he has witnessed Vanek subtly take on more of a leadership role on not the most vocal of teams.
"I would stand up here and talk for a very long period of time about the great leadership that we have starting with our captains [Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter]," Yeo said. "All three guys have the kind of leadership that I would prefer. They're going to go out and do it rather than talk about it.
"We do have some guys that will talk. [Matt] Cooke, him not being in the lineup [from Oct. 30-Dec. 17], he's definitely a talker. But with that, we also have a lot of young guys that probably don't feel that they're comfortable enough or have enough of a place in our locker room yet to talk.
"A lot of times things get quiet, so for another guy to come along, a veteran guy, to bring a little more, that's extremely important."
Vanek understands the Wild's so-called kids don't yet feel they can speak up. But when Vanek and Jason Pominville were coming up in the Sabres' organization, Vanek said Chris Drury, Mike Grier and Daniel Briere were in the "front row but made us comfortable enough to play hard and speak our opinions. That's kind of my message. I think the veterans need to lead, but also the young guys need to follow and speak up as well."
Bickel sets PIM record
Looking for physicality from the fourth line, Yeo dressed Stu Bickel. The Wild was 2-0 in Dallas this season with Bickel in the lineup.
Down 5-0, Ryan Carter threw defenseman Trevor Daley on goalie Kari Lehtonen. Madness ensued with Carter fighting Vernon Fiddler and Bickel taking on not only Jason Demers but also Daley. Somehow Daley didn't wind up with a third man in penalty.
Bickel got 37 minutes of penalties for the incident, including two game misconducts and an aggressor, and finished with a team-record 39 penalty minutes, besting Matt Johnson's near 13-year record by two minutes.
Zucker back in action
Jason Zucker, who missed the past four games because of a stomach illness, returned against the Stars. Rookie Tyler Graovac and Justin Fontaine were scratched. Brett Sutter missed his second consecutive game because of a stomach bug.
Barring injury, there's a chance Graovac will be reassigned Sunday with Zucker healthy. He was reassigned Thursday for less than 24 hours until Sutter got sick. He logged only 6:31 of ice time against the Maple Leafs.
"Roller coaster of emotions for him," Yeo said. "Getting sent down and then recalling him the next day, so it was a pretty difficult game for him to play. And then with some of the special teams, he kind of lost his way as far as ice time, so we didn't use him toward the end of the game. But nothing has changed for me. I still have very positive feelings for where this kid is going and what he can bring for us."
The Wild, in the market for a left-shot defenseman, may have thrown in a waiver claim on Arizona Coyotes defenseman David Schlemko and didn't get him.
The Dallas Stars, one position ahead of the Wild in the waiver priority order because of Minnesota's victory the night before over Toronto, claimed the depth defenseman instead.