Each time Wild winger Jason Zucker made the 245-mile drive from the Twin Cities to Des Moines after getting demoted to the American Hockey League as an up-and-coming pro, he would vent.
“I’d call everybody in my phone and tell them how mad I was,” Zucker recalled.
These conversations happened quite often. Zucker was assigned to Iowa and recalled to the NHL 10 times during the 2013-14 season — enough travel for Interstate 35 to be dubbed I-35Z.
While the back-and-forth upset him at the time, Zucker eventually realized it was helping his development and he believes the same can happen for rookie Jordan Greenway, who was assigned to Iowa on Friday only nine games into his first full-length season in the NHL.
“It hurts right away,” Zucker said. “You want to be here. You had such a taste out of camp and everything. All that’s great, but I think it’ll benefit him a lot. I know it definitely benefited me a lot. It’s something that obviously you have to learn the game a different way. When you get back up here, you appreciate it just a little bit more. I think that’s a big part of it, too.”
This is Greenway’s first stint in the AHL.
After leaving Boston University in March to turn pro, he chipped in an assist in six games with the Wild before flexing his strength and skill during the playoff series against the Jets — a five-game set in which Greenway scored a goal.
That impact was enough to suggest the 50th overall draft pick in 2015 by the Wild would be a mainstay with the team this season, and while he was penciled into the top-nine for every game thus far, Greenway managed just one assist and eight shots on net while averaging 11 minutes, 22 seconds of ice time.
The plan is for the 21-year-old to log heavy minutes with Iowa on Friday and Saturday and then rejoin the Wild for its road swing through Western Canada next week, although that could change.
“If he does well, he can gain confidence and come back where he wants to shoot the puck a little bit more than he’s been shooting it right now,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I don’t think it ever hurts a first-year player basically  games into his pro career to go down and get a couple games.”
At 6 feet, 6 inches and 227 pounds, Greenway’s size is an asset for the Wild — especially when he lines up at center — and while he has used it to occasionally to win puck battles and exploit open ice, that physical edge hasn’t produced much offense.
“He’s just a little tentative,” said Boudreau, explaining that Greenway was receptive to the idea of reporting to Iowa. “Not that the American league is easy but if he played more and got to kill penalties — because we want him to kill penalties here — and got on the power play because eventually we want him on the power play here, these are things that can help for a couple of days.”
Forward Joel Eriksson Ek is poised to take Greenway’s spot in the lineup Saturday when the Wild will attempt to stretch its season-high win streak to five games against the Avalanche. Boudreau said Eriksson Ek is ready to return after missing six games because of a lower-body injury.
Eriksson Ek also spent time in the minors during his first full season in the NHL a year ago; so have other past prospects with the organization. Zucker talked to them about the experience, and he hopes Greenway feels comfortable reaching out, too.
“In the moment, it was hard,” Zucker said. “You’re feeling so many different things. …
“You get motivated. You get down. You get motivated. It’s kind of a whole bunch of different things. Realistically, the good part for me was when I went down, you could feel whatever you wanted for practice and other days. But when it came to game day, you were playing hockey. Even practice days, you’re playing hockey. It’s not that bad. I think it’ll be really good for him. I really do.”