Mats Zuccarello can’t stop producing since returning for Wild

Mats Zuccarello is back in a big way after an arm injury that hindered him last season.

Following his season debut Feb. 16, Zuccarello has three goals and nine points in five games. The last four of those have been Wild victories, which improved their record to 10-6-0 with a .625 points percentage, good for second in the West Division.

Zuccarello’s late start to the 2020-21 NHL season was due to off-season surgery on his right arm. It was originally injured in his first game with the Stars following the 2019 trade from the Rangers. He played a total of 15 regular season and playoff games in Dallas before signing a five-year deal with Minnesota that summer. 

Coming back to play didn’t stop that arm from bothering Zuccarello, however. He played 65 regular season games with the Wild in 2019-20, recording 37 points, his lowest since in seven seasons.

Before returning last week, Zuccarello skated on his own to prepare for the coming season. That work is paying off as he’s been impactful since his first game back in the lineup.

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“Sometimes, some games, the puck sits on your stick and you feel good,” Zuccarello said after Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Ducks. “Some games, you struggle. I think the first three games I’ve had the puck a little bit and felt good. Playing with good players, that helps, and like today, [Victor Rask] and Kirill [Kaprizov] are holding onto the puck, that makes it easier. Obviously, I worked out a really long time, and I feel like I’m in really good shape.”

The production continued as Zuccarello scored and assisted on another during Wednesday’s 6-2 win over the Avalanche. His two points puts him at 401 for his NHL career, the most by a Norwegian-born player.

“Feels good when the puck finds you,” Zuccarello said. “That’s a good feeling. And it obviously feels good to help contribute to a win. I feel like the whole team is playing the same way, there’s chemistry on all the lines … that makes you feel good.”

It’s not just Zuccarello alone doing damage. His linemates are making it a dangerous trio every time they hop over the boards. Kaprizov, a Calder Trophy candidate, has a goal and five assists in his last three games. Rask has two goals and five points over that same stretch.

Wild head coach Dean Evason put the three together for the first time during that big win over Anaheim. At even strength, they’ve combined for five goals in 32:06 of ice time and have created 13 scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick.

“They’ve got a lot of confidence,” Evason said Tuesday night. “But what we’re happy with is, we started them in the D-zone as well a couple of times and they did the right things to get out of our zone, using their skill up the ice to produce offense, but they’re also exiting our zone very well.”

The Wild came out of their two week COVID break slow, dropping a 4-0 defeat to the Kings. But now they’ve reeled off four road wins a row and head home for a back-to-back with LA. March doesn’t get any easier. Four of their first six games next month are against the division-leading Golden Knights.

It’s been a complete effort for the Wild during this streak. Kaapo Kahkonen has a .944 even strength save percentage in four games and the offense has scored 20 times. Everything is clicking right now for Minnesota.

“Everybody is playing,” said Evason. “So everybody feels a part of it and everybody is contributing. It’s awesome. We talked about it this morning, but you want to score goals. Players want to score goals, they want to have fun, and when you score goals, it feels real, real good.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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