Because Jason Zucker is the first Las Vegas-raised NHLer in history, some feel he is destined to be the player the Wild will lose in next June’s expansion draft.
“I’ve had 50 friends or people that I know say, ‘Hey Vegas, you’re going, you’re going,’ but there’s so many different situations that can happen that you can’t predict,” Zucker said. “From a marketing standpoint, a lot of people are assuming just because I’m a kid from there that it makes sense, and I get that, but [Vegas GM] George McPhee, I think, is a smarter guy than to just grab somebody because he’s a Vegas kid.
“It’s not something I’m worrying about … I’ve got to play hockey and the cards are going to fall where they fall. If they want me that bad, it’s probably going to happen. But there are a million scenarios that could happen.”
One thing of which Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is certain: “We’re going to lose a good player. That’s the way the system is set up.”
The Wild, like 29 other teams, can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie.
First- and second-year pros and unsigned draft choices are exempt, so that includes players such as Mike Reilly, Joel Eriksson Ek, Alex Tuch and Luke Kunin. Players with “no-move” clauses — forwards Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and defenseman Ryan Suter — must be protected.
So if the Wild chooses the 7-3-1 scenario, the Wild can only protect four more forwards of a pool that includes Zucker, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula; and two more defensemen of a pool that includes Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Gustav Olofsson and Christian Folin.
Because goalies Darcy Kuemper and Alex Stalock are pending unrestricted free agents and Steve Michalek and Adam Vay are exempt, the Wild would have to, as of now, expose Devan Dubnyk. But the Wild has time to make sure that doesn’t happen by acquiring another goalie or extending the contract of Kuemper or Stalock.
“It’s just too premature [to know who we’d expose],” Fletcher said. “We have to see how some of these players progress. ... There may be injuries, there may be a great trade opportunity down the road that changes the complexion of our team, so a lot of things can happen between now and then, team performance probably the most important.”
It’s anticipated McPhee will have a window to make trades where he can either not select certain unprotected players in exchange for an asset or even select an unprotected player from one team and eventually trade that player to another.
“We’ll have an opportunity to speak to Vegas, and maybe there’s different things that can be put together that may help us in the short-term and help them in the long run,” Fletcher said. “But you can’t protect yourself completely. You have to expose some players.”