Wild winger Jason Zucker is aware his contract will expire soon, as restricted free agency looms this summer.
But the 26-year-old has kept his focus between the boards — unlike in the past, when his impending status change consumed his thoughts.
“I was worried about it more,” he recalled. “ ‘I gotta do this. I gotta score five goals in the next 15 games to be on this pace.’ It was too much, too much worrying about it and too much going on. And I think it was all myself. It wasn’t anybody else putting pressure on me.”
The shift in perspective has worked for Zucker.
By Game No. 53, he’d already matched his career-high goal output from last season at 22. And with the chance to approach 30 for the first time in his career, he’s demonstrating the growth that no doubt merits a raise from the $2 million he’s pocketing in the final season of his current two-year, $4 million deal.
“I’m really excited to be able to stay here for a long time,” Zucker said. “I hope when contract time comes we’ll figure that out and talk about it. In the meantime, we’re just worried about winning games and playing hockey, which is really nice.”
Defenseman Matt Dumba is another soon-to-be restricted free agent. General Manager Chuck Fletcher said he feels the team will have the ability to re-sign both, with the plan to ignite talks once the season concludes.
“They’re both having nice seasons,” Fletcher said. “How we finish team performance is going to have a lot to do with what their value is, too. It makes sense if you’re a good player on a team that has a lot of success, that’s more valuable than a good player on a team that doesn’t have success. I think at this point, it makes sense to just wait for everybody, not to complicate the matter, just let them focus on doing what they do best and that’s helping our team win.”
Searching for depth
After acquiring defenseman Viktor Loov in a trade with the Devils on Thursday, an addition that helps the Wild and Iowa Wild’s depth, the organization could make another addition, and assistant general manager Brent Flahr said it’ll probably look to add a forward to improve Iowa’s offense.
Although the Wild’s playoff pursuit soaks up much of the focus, team brass feels a competitive American Hockey League affiliate is an encouraging sign for the entire organization.
“Last year especially, we kind of took their legs out at the trade deadline trying to build up the big team,” Flahr said. “It’s not a fun thing to do. Obviously we had a goal in mind to try to win a Stanley Cup, and the coaches down there understood. Players, I think, understood the big picture. But we fell short, and we were probably to blame.
“We don’t want to do that this year. We have a really good group and a lot of young players are getting better. I think just playing in playoff games and even playing every game right now is a playoff-style game. For us at that level, like it is up top, it’s healthy, but we certainly want to keep helping them and add if we can and give them the resources they need to succeed.”
Before suiting up for the 4-3 overtime loss to the Coyotes Thursday, winger Zach Parise and his wife Alisha welcomed their third child and second son, Theodore Jean-Paul.
“The middle name is pretty self-explanatory,” Parise said, referring to his father of the same name — J.P., who was a former North Star and died in 2015 after a battle with lung cancer. “We had that picked out way before any of it. We were just looking for a first name that flowed with it. But I don’t have to explain how important my dad was to me and to our family. So that was, like I said, a no-brainer.”
Loov was scratched Saturday against the Blackhawks, a day after he was recalled from Iowa, as coach Bruce Boudreau rolled out the same defensive pairings used Thursday. “He’s had one mini practice with us,” Boudreau said. “It’s hard to step in right away.”