Jason Zucker

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Looking at the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota Wild

Record: 35-27-7 (69 games), sixth in Central Division, 10th in the West
Leading Scorer: Kevin Fiala – 54 points (23 goals and 31 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Traded Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison, 2020 conditional first-round pick.

Season Overview

To call this a strange year for the Wild would be an understatement.

Minnesota came into this season with a new general manager, Bill Guerin. But he was hired late in the off-season after Paul Fenton was suddenly fired after free agency. What that meant was that head coach Bruce Boudreau would be on his third GM which almost never happens in hockey.

Fenton signed veteran forward Mats Zuccarello to a big free-agent contract, which indicated that he thought the team could win right away. Guerin came in and didn’t really do a whole lot heading into the season because his hands were tied given the roster he had at his disposal.

The Wild started the year with four consecutive losses and they dropped six of their first seven. They didn’t beat a team currently in a playoff spot until Oct. 22 when they took down the Oilers (nine games into the 2019-20 season).

So you can certainly forgive those of us who wrote them off early on. But to their credit, they were able to get the season turned around. Starting on Nov. 14, they managed to put together an 11-game point streak.

Heading into the pause, the Wild managed to rattle off eight wins over their last 11 games. Despite the success they had after their sluggish start, Guerin still decided it was best to trade veteran Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh and to fire Boudreau.

Why would he get rid of his veteran coach?

Well, general managers like picking their own head coaches, so when Boudreau started having success again, Guerin probably wanted to cut ties with him because he didn’t want to have to keep him after an impressive turnaround.

The Wild continued to have success under interim bench boss Dean Evason, but they still weren’t locked into a playoff spot at the pause. As of right now, the Wild were one point behind the Nashville Predators for the final Wild Card spot in the West and two points behind Winnipeg for the other one (they have two games in hand on the Jets).

Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Eric Staal and Devan Dubnyk are all household names, but it was two under-the-radar players that helped fuel Minnesota’s success. Forward Kevin Fiala and backup goalie Alex Stalock have been the keys to that turnaround.

No matter what happens to this season, the Wild are at a bit of a crossroads. Do they try to build on this momentum by adding more veterans this summer or do they continue shipping out their older players in an attempt to get younger?

Highlight of the Season

Captain Mikko Koivu is on the downside of his career, but there was a special moment that occurred this season against the Dallas Stars.

On Dec. 1, Koivu played in his 1,000th NHL game (all with the Wild). He managed to score the shootout winner in that game.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Flames land top NCAA free agent; Rielly wins in transition

Flames land NCAA free agent Connor Mackey, Colton Poolman, Morning Skate
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Flames recently signed two NCAA players to bolster their defense: Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman. Frank Seravalli goes into detail on the Flames’ “two-year pursuit” of Mackey. Seravalli deemed Mackey the No. 1 NCAA free agent available this spring, making Mackey quite the get for the Flames. (TSN)

• Oilers GM Ken Holland spoke with Mark Spector about resolving the situation with Jesse Puljujarvi, which will be a challenge whenever there’s an actual chance to address it. In that same piece, Ken Hitchcock praised Puljujarvi as at least a useful third-line type player, while admitting he isn’t sure Puljujarvi will end up being more than that. (Sportsnet)

• Lou Lamoriello answered fan questions on the Islanders website, which meant a lot of Lou-like non-answers, sometimes comically so. (Yes, he even briefly discussed his fascination with lower jersey numbers.) Later on Sunday, we’ll ponder Lamoriello saying the Islanders would match a Mathew Barzal offer sheet. There’s other noteworthy information, though. The Islanders expect Johnny Boychuk and Casey Cizikas back if play resumes this season/playoffs, while Adam Pelech should be ready for training camp before 2020-21. (Islanders)

• Could the Penguins actually keep their first-round pick from the Jason Zucker trade if the season isn’t completed? Pensburgh goes over that, and in doing so, lays out some of the tricky questions the NHL would face if COVID-19 forces more than just a pause for 2019-20. (Pensburgh)

• Helene St. James hands out best and worst awards for the Red Wings. In doing so, St. James posits that Justin Abdelkader will be waived and sent to the AHL in 2020-21. (Detroit Free-Press)

• Steve Simmons went looking for a phone number in an old phonebook, and found himself pausing to remember several names from the past. (Steve Simmons)

• How Malcolm Subban and Brendan Perlini could make strange history for the Blackhawks. Could Subban end up having the shortest “career” with the Blackhawks ever? (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Andrew Berkshire takes a look at defensemen who excel at that transition game, with Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly leading the pack. (Sportsnet)

• Fun 2020 NHL Draft angle from McKeen’s Hockey: the most polarizing prospect from each region, starting with Antonio Stranges in the OHL. (McKeen’s Hockey)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Face-Off: Hart’s splits; Kase’s impact on Bruins

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It’s Monday which means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off. We’ll look at different storylines from around the NHL and we’ll also break down certain trends that apply to the upcoming week.

Ondrej Kase‘s impact on Bruins

The Bruins acquired Kase from the Ducks for a first-round draft pick, but they also got to shed a good chunk of David Backes’ salary (that alone has a significant amount of value). But how was Kase fit in with his new team?

Well through five games, he’s picked up one assist and four penalty minutes while averaging 14:21 of ice time per game. It’s a small sample size, but the offensive side of his game hasn’t kicked in just yet.

Here’s what Joe Haggerty thinks:

Let’s compare and contrast his advanced numbers from 2019-20 (via Natural Stat Trick):

With Anaheim:
CF%: 54.66, FF%: 53.31, XG%: 49.55, HDCF%: 51

With Boston:
CF%: 48.78, FF%: 52.87, XG%: 49, HDCF%: 47.62

There’s a few things to keep in mind here. Again, it’s only five games. It’s the first time in his career that he gets traded, so it might take him a little bit more time to adjust to his new team. Give him some time.

Carter Hart‘s home/road splits:

Hart is having a terrific year for the Flyers. He’s a big reason why they’re in the hunt for top spot in the Metropolitan Division. But his home/road splits are so different.

In 24 games at home: He owns a 20-2-2 record with a 1.61 goals-against-average and .944 save percentage.

In 18 games on the road: He has a 4-10-1 record with a 3.81 goals-against-average and a .857 save percentage.

How is that going to work come playoff time? There’s a decent chance that they’ll have home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so maybe it doesn’t affect the team as much, but what happens as the playoffs keep rolling? It’s going to be an interesting story to follow.

Will they split time between Hart and Brian Elliott in the postseason?

Here’s a tweet from last week that’s still somewhat relevant today:

Alex Galchenyuk finally comes through for Minnesota: 

Galchenyuk has played for four different teams over the last three seasons. He went from a long stint in Montreal, to a one-year term in Arizona, to a 45-game stint in Pittsburgh, to Minnesota.

He was part of the trade that sent Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Galchenyuk is on an expiring contract and he may or may not be brought back in Minnesota. If the season doesn’t end well for him, what happens to him? Does he get another chance in the NHL? probably. But he’s running out of those.

The former third overall pick is still just 26 years old, but it seems like teams aren’t interested in keeping him around very long.

He didn’t exactly get off to a hot start in Minnesota, as he had four points in his first 11 games (two came in the same game). But he’s started making a little bit more of an impact on a team that’s hoping to make the playoffs.

Last night, he registered the primary assist on Mats Zuccarello‘s game-tying goal (1-1) and he added one of his own in the third frame to give his team a 4-3 lead (they eventually won in overtime).

He also scored a big second-period goal in last week’s 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Can he find a permanent home in Minnesota?

• Which Wisconsin first-rounders will go pro?

Cole Caufield, K’Andre Miller and Alex Turcotte. Will they be leaving the University of Wisconsin? Now that the team’s disappointing season has come to an end, we can finally start discussing whether or not these players will leave the Badgers.

Miller is two years into his career at Wisconsin, Turcotte and Caufield both wrapped up their first year.

Miller, a 20-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 18 points in 36 games this season. He already has NHL-ready size, as he’s listed at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds. The Rangers made him the 22nd overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“I would guess that both (Miller) and [Flyers’ seventh-rounder] Wyatt (Kalynuk)  are going to have offers there for them,” head coach Tony Granato said, per Madison.com. “On (Turcotte) and Cole, I don’t really know. There might be a couple other guys that have opportunities. That’s something that we’ll look into talking about as the week goes along.”

Turcotte, who was Los Angeles’ fifth overall pick in 2019, had nine goals and 26 points in 29 games at Wisconsin this year. The 19-year-old also had two assists in five games for Team USA at the World Juniors this year.

The Kings won’t be good anytime soon, so you’d think that they’d want to take their time developing one of their high-end prospects.

And Caufield actually led the team in goals (19) and points (36) in 36 games this year. Those are impressive numbers for a freshman, but he’s also listed at 5-foot-7, 162 pounds. He also wasn’t much of a factor at the World Juniors (one goal, one assist in five games).

According to Pierre LeBrun, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin will meet with his 2019 first-round draft pick at some point this week. The Habs are already loaded with small players, but they don’t have an elite scorer. How quickly can Caufield become an effective player at the NHL level?

Bergevin’s job doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy heading into next season, but you’d have to think that next year will be his final opportunity to get his team into the postseason. At the same time, he’s also mentioned repeatedly that he won’t jeopardize the team’s future for immediate results.

This should be an interesting one.
What’s coming up this week?
• Playoff Preview? Tampa vs. Toronto, Tue. Mar. 10, 7 p.m. ET
Shea Weber vs. Nashville, Tue. Mar. 10, 7 p.m. ET
• Second-Round Playoff Preview? Boston vs. Toronto, Sat. Mar. 14, 7 p.m. ET
Joe Pavelski revenge game: Sharks vs. Stars, Sat. Mar. 14, 9 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN:
• Bruins vs. Flyers, Tue. Mar. 10, 7 p.m. ET
• Predators vs. Wild, Sun. Mar. 15, 7 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey: 
• Sharks vs. Blackhawks, Wed. Mar. 11, 8 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL Power Rankings: The Philadelphia Flyers’ wild ride

NHL Power Rankings
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If you are a Philadelphia Flyers fan, how do you do it?

How do you deal with the dramatic swings and the complete unpredictability that your favorite sports franchise throws in your direction every season without being driven completely mad? At any given time you could see a 10-game winning streak, or a 10-game losing streak, and neither one would ever shock you because you just have to think, “yeah, that streak makes sense.”

Take this season for example. The Flyers have already lost four games in a row on three different occasions. The only other teams in the league that have done that are Anaheim, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Ottawa, and San Jose. That is a collection of the league’s worst teams and one bubble playoff team (Columbus). That many extended losing streaks should completely bury a team.

But not the Flyers. Not this team. They enter this week with one of the league’s best records (sixth-best points percentage), are currently on a six-game winning streak, and are just three points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division. It all just kind of happened out of nowhere.

That run puts them back in the top-five of this week’s NHL Power Rankings. Where do the rest of the teams sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Boston Bruins. The Bruins may not have the NHL’s longest current winning streak, but they have the league’s best record (by far) and are 17-5-2 in their most recent 25 games.

2. St. Louis Blues. Since snapping a five-game losing streak that slowed them down in mid-February, the defending champions have ripped off seven wins in a row. The only reason it has not created more space at the top of the Central Division is because of the next team.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Even with all of their injuries (Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Philipp Grubauer, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert) they are still rolling. They have won five in a row, have points in six straight, and are 13-4-3 in the past 20 games.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. A healthy Carter Hart could be a game-changer here.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. This team has been a sleeping giant all season. They were never as bad as their early season record indicated and they are now starting to distance themselves in the Pacific Division race.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning. Hopefully for their sake the Steven Stamkos injury does not linger too far into the playoffs.

7. Dallas Stars. I don’t know how good the Stars are overall as a team, but I do know their goaltending should put the fear of god into any potential playoff opponent.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs. You know, for all of the “sky is falling” mayhem that oozes out of Toronto every time this team loses a game they are 26-13-4 under Sheldon Keefe. That is a 107-point pace over 82 games. Calm down.

9. Washington Capitals. They still have the inside track on another Metropolitan Division crown but they have two absolutely massive upcoming games with the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins. This is their first six-game losing streak since the 2011-12 season. They followed that streak by immediately winning seven games in a row. Let’s see what they do this time.

11. Edmonton Oilers. Leon Draisaitl has a real shot at back-to-back 50-goal, 100-point seasons. The most recent players to accomplish such a feat are Alex Ovechkin, Dany Heatley, and Mario Lemieux.

12. Nashville Predators. They are in a three-way tie for the second wild card spot, but have three more games to play than the two teams they are tied with. They would really have to screw this up to miss the playoffs.

13. New York Rangers. It may not result in a playoff appearance this season (losing Chris Kreider is a big loss), but they have definitely made it interesting and the future looks to be in good hands with this core.

14. New York Islanders. They should make the playoffs, but this has been a very ordinary team since the end of November. They are just 19-18-6 in the 43 games since November 24.

15. Carolina Hurricanes. I like all of their trade deadline moves, but let’s face it: Not having Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce is a problem. They also need one of their regular goalies back.

16. Minnesota Wild. They traded one of their best players in-season (Jason Zucker), they fired a really good coach when the team was starting to turn things around, and they still might end up making the playoffs.

17. Calgary Flames. They could end up with home-ice in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs or they could end up sitting on their couches in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

18. Vancouver Canucks. They can find ways to overcome the injury to Brock Boeser. The injury to Jacob Markstrom is the one that is going to hurt in the short-term.

19. Arizona Coyotes. Their 7-11-4 run over their past 22 games has not completely eliminated them from playoff contention, but given how many games in hand everyone around them has this is not going to be easy.

20. Columbus Blue Jackets. Even after losing 10 out of 11 games they are still in it. That win against Vancouver on Sunday night might be a season saver.

21. Winnipeg Jets. Connor Hellebuyck has helped them hang around this season but overall it’s just not a very good team.

22. Florida Panthers. This season started with so much hope and so much promise and it looks like it is just going to end up being more of the same. Very disappointing.

23. Buffalo Sabres. At the trade deadline they were talking about playing meaningful games down the stretch and then they followed it up by losing three games in a row to pretty much make every game the rest of the way completely meaningless.

24. Los Angeles Kings. Give them credit, with absolutely nothing to play for they are 6-2-1 in their past nine games and beaten a bunch of teams in playoff spots or fighting for a playoff spot.

25. Chicago Blackhawks. He still probably will not do enough to move ahead of top two defensemen, but Dominik Kubalik is playing his way into the top-three of the Calder Trophy discussion.

26. New Jersey Devils. It has been a rough couple of years for Cory Schneider but he has played three outstanding games since returning to the lineup.

27. Montreal Canadiens. Philip Danault has had a sneaky good season here. So they have that going for them.

28. San Jose Sharks. For as bad as this season has been I could still see this team being a contender again next season. I’m not crazy. Get healthy, fix the goaltending.

29. Anaheim Ducks. The last time the Ducks had a season this bad they were still branded as The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

30. Ottawa Senators. Bobby Ryan‘s return and hat trick was a pretty great moment.

31. Detroit Red Wings. There are loyal Detroit Red Wings fans that have watched every game of this season. I salute them. They should get an award.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Voracek leads Flyers to fifth straight win; Wild remain in wild-card race

Kevin Hayes #13, Jakub Voracek #93, and Scott Laughton #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrate
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Three Stars

1) Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Voracek dished out four helpers in the Flyers’ 5-2 win against the New York Rangers Friday. Philadelphia picked up their NHL-leading 23rd home victory and improved its current winning streak to five games in addition. Voracek had several pretty passes throughout the evening to set up his teammates. In the opening period, he fed Sean Couturier while Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith broke his stick and was unable to break up the pass. Late in the second period and early in the third, Voracek helped Claude Giroux score twice to seal the victory in favor of Philadelphia. All of a sudden, the Flyers only trail the Washington Capitals by three points for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

2) Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild

The odds were stacked against them, but the Wild are not giving up on their pursuit of a spot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stalock made 24 saves and picked up his fourth shutout of the season as Minnesota blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0. Stalock has quietly put together an impressive season with an 18-9-4 record, 2.60 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. Only two points separate the Wild from the top wild card spot in the west.

3) Tyson Jost, Colorado Avalanche

With Mikko Rantanen sidelined, the Avalanche need more offensive production from everyone in the lineup. Jost stepped up with two goals as Colorado defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 and extended its winning streak to five games. The first-round pick from the 2016 NHL Draft opened the scoring 6:34 into the first period when his shot whizzed past Anton Forsberg. Jost took a bouncing puck away from Jake Gardiner prior to the goal. He gave the Avalanche a two-goal lead when he tucked a shot past Forsberg halfway through the middle frame. Colorado has two games in hand on the division-leading St. Louis Blues and only trail by three points. Home-ice advantage in the Western Conference will be awarded to the eventual winner of the Central Division.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Pavel Francouz made 45 saves and would be in the Calder Trophy conversation if not for the outstanding play of defensemen Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes.
  • Teuvo Teravainen scored twice in the Hurricanes’ 3-2 loss and Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 14 games.
  • Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala each recorded a goal and an assist as the Minnesota Wild won their third straight game.
  • Jason Zucker recorded two goals but the Penguins fell in regulation for the fifth consecutive game.

Highlights of the Night

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog delivered a pretty cross-ice pass to set up Samuel Girard for the third-period go-ahead goal.

Artemi Panarin extended his point streak to 12 games with this jaw-dropping stretch pass to set up Jesper Fast.

Golden Knights forward Nicolas Roy converted this slick deke to even the score at 1-1.

Giroux pushed the Flyers lead to two goals with this one-timer that clanked off the crossbar before finding the back of the net.

Stats of the Night

https://twitter.com/PR_NHL/status/1233588561666039809

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2

Minnesota Wild 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

Colorado Avalanche 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Vegas Golden Knights 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

Anaheim Ducks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.