Jason Zucker has reported to the same area on the ice for Wild power plays as he has in the past: Up the middle.
But what’s been different is how he’s scoring.
After capitalizing mostly off one-timers and other shots around the net last season, Zucker’s first three goals have been deflections — an uptick the winger credits to the Wild’s passing and his positioning.
“He’s good at it, obviously,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s got three goals from there. He’s got good hand-eye [coordination].”
As the bumper, or middle man, Zucker’s chief responsibility with the man advantage is to support the puck and be an outlet for whoever has it.
This requires him to be constantly moving, which also makes him the toughest player on the ice to cover. And although there is the potential to shoot from that spot, it’s more likely that Zucker converts by tipping pucks.
“It’s all in the pass,” he said. “It has to be a hard pass. If that’s a soft pass, it’ll never go in.”
The execution — whether the puck sails in the net or stays out — is what catches the eye, but that’s not Zucker’s focus. Instead of practicing deflections, he works on his positioning, because that matters more than where the puck hits his stick.
“It’s where I’m standing,” explained Zucker, who had seven power-play tallies last season. “I’m two feet one way or the other, that changes a lot.”
And this attention to detail has been key for the Wild, with Zucker responsible for three of the unit’s first five goals.
“You need somebody in that bumper position to distribute and have the speed to get loose pucks,” Boudreau said, “and Zuck has those attributes.”
Winger Mats Zuccarello returned to action against the Oilers after missing four games because of a lower-body injury.
Already at the 23-man roster limit, the Wild shifted center Joel Eriksson Ek (lower body) to injured reserve to activate Zuccarello from it.
“It’s always frustrating to be hurt,” said Zuccarello, who was injured Oct. 12 vs. Pittsburgh. “No matter what happens, you always want to be on the ice and be with the boys.”
Zuccarello took winger Kevin Fiala’s spot next to center Eric Staal and winger Jordan Greenway. Fiala is considered day-to-day because of a lower-body injury. Same for center Victor Rask.
Show and tell
Goalie Devan Dubnyk made his 300th career start with the Wild on Tuesday, this after he secured his first win of the season Sunday.
And last week Dubnyk went viral for what happened when he was sitting as the backup in Montreal.
At the start of the third period last Thursday, Dubnyk let a young boy wearing a Canadiens jersey try on his mask — a kind gesture that was caught on camera and shared on social media.
In Montreal, the backup goalie for the visiting team sits across from the benches down a tunnel that leads to the visiting locker room — making him much more accessible to fans than when goalies usually sit on team benches.
“Right from the start of the game I could tell the kid was kind of mesmerized by my gear,” Dubnyk said. “He had a [Carey] Price jersey on, so I figured he was a goalie fan.
‘‘ … I’d catch him just staring at me every once in a while, and so I talked to him a little bit throughout the periods, and then I just remembered as a kid the painted goalie mask was always something I thought was super cool.”
Dubnyk handed over his mask, and the boy asked if he got to keep it.
“I said, ‘I don’t think the trainers would appreciate that. It’s pretty expensive,’ ” said Dubnyk, who did give the boy a stick at the end of the game. “I just asked if he wanted to try it on. I said, ‘It’s a little sweaty,’ but he didn’t seem to care that much.”