Mats Zuccarello was the most significant addition the Wild made to its roster over the summer, and not just because of the five-year, $30 million contract he signed as a free agent.
Zuccarello’s established ways as a playmaker were regarded as an intriguing and much-needed skill set — especially for a slumping offense like the Wild’s.
But since the regular season opened last week, Zuccarello hasn’t been able to tap into that strength.
“I feel like I don’t see anyone out there,” he said.
Not only has an 0-2 debut magnified the trouble spots the Wild needs to address before resuming action Thursday at Winnipeg — like poor starts, untimely defensive breakdowns and the aforementioned scoring shortage — but the losing streak has also made it clear Zuccarello is still very much settling in with a new team.
“It’s two games in, but I’ve got to be better,” he said. “I’ve been terrible for two games, and we lost. It’s not all my fault. It’s just how I assess myself. I didn’t help the team out in the way that I could.”
Although this is Zuccarello’s third team in the past eight months, he’s used to being in one place.
After making his NHL debut in 2010, the Norwegian right winger spent nearly nine years with the Rangers organization before getting moved to the Stars before last season’s deadline.
In New York, he played with the same cast of characters — Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.
Joining the Wild was always going to be an adjustment since he’d have to develop chemistry with new linemates, but Zuccarello doesn’t peg that as an excuse for his play.
“I’ve got to be better,” he said. “It’s simple plays that I normally do that right now are difficult for me. … You want to come in and just find your spot and find your place in the team. Where can I fit? Where can I help? I think I’m getting there off the ice. Now it’s just on the ice I’ve got to be better, and I’ve got to make plays — just make the easy plays.”
Aside from going pointless through two games, a stretch in which Zuccarello was a minus-4, the Wild hasn’t generated much when he’s been skating.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Wild made seven shot attempts when Zuccarello was on the ice at 5-on-5 and created just six scoring chances. On the flip side, the team gave up 17 shots and 11 scoring chances during Zuccarello’s shifts.
“You expect more from yourself,” said Zuccarello, who’s posted at least 30 assists in a season five times. “I don’t expect to score every game or have a point every game because there’s only a handful of guys that can do that in this league. It’s a good league. It’s more help the team play. So get the puck out, get the puck in, make the two-foot passes that are in front of you. It’s just those plays that I need to get back to. Just help my teammates more.”
That Zuccarello’s transition is ongoing isn’t a surprise.
“It’s just going to take him time to learn,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
While it doesn’t matter to Zuccarello who the difference-maker is on a nightly basis so long as the Wild wins, he isn’t satisfied with his lot on the team if the game ends in a loss — like it has the last two times out.
And that’s a feeling only he can fix.
“It just comes down to me,” Zuccarello said. “It’s nothing with my teammates or anything. It’s straight up me.”