Justin Fontaine

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Wild extend Zucker — two years, $4 million

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Despite a tough campaign, Jason Zucker has gotten a vote of confidence from Minnesota — and a nice raise to boot.

On Wednesday, the Wild inked Zucker to a two-year, $4 million extension, one that carries at $2M average annual cap hit. It’s a nice pay bump from the $900,250 he was making annually on his old deal, yet it comes after a season in what some considered to be a setback.

After scoring 21 goals in just 51 games two years ago, Zucker only found the back of the net 13 times. It was a tough season all-around. Zucker was made a healthy scratch by former head coach Mike Yeo, placed on IR with a concussion following a devastating hit from Michal Rozsival and, at the end of the year, got called out by interim bench boss John Torchetti.

“He has to have a way better year next year,” Torchetti said after the Wild’s season-ending loss to Dallas in the playoffs, per the Morning-News. “That’s the bottom line.”

It’s important to remember that Zucker is only 24 years old and, given his offensive abilities and skating prowess, could be a nice fit under new head coach Bruce Boudreau. There could be more opportunities at forward with the likes of Thomas Vanek, David Jones and Justin Fontaine either all gone or likely gone, though it still remains to be seen who GM Chuck Fletcher will bring in via free agency.

Kuemper blanks Kings as Wild end five-game losing streak

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Zach Parise scored Minnesota’s first power-play goal in January, Darcy Kuemper made 32 saves in his seventh career shutout and the Wild snapped their five-game losing streak with a 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.

Erik Haula added a short-handed goal for the Wild, who pulled out of their tailspin with a gritty effort against the Pacific Division leaders. Charlie Coyle scored on a breakaway during a solid offensive performance by a team that had scored just one goal in its previous nine periods.

Jonathan Quick stopped 25 shots for the Kings, who lost in regulation for just the third time in 13 games since Christmas. Los Angeles was shut out for just the second time in 43 games since the opening week of the season.

Minnesota thrived with big performances on special teams. Parise started the scoring off a pass from Thomas Vanek, ending the Wild’s 0-for-25 drought across 12 games since Dec. 28 on the power play.

Los Angeles then gave up a 2-on-1 short-handed rush early in the third, and Haula converted Mikko Koivu‘s pass for his second short-handed goal of the year.

Jordan Nolan had the Kings’ best scoring chance late in the second, but Kuemper stopped him at point-blank range. Kuemper looked sharp in his first victory and second appearance for the Wild since Dec. 22.

Minnesota forward Jarret Stoll played at Staples Center for the first time since the two-time Stanley Cup champion left the Kings as a free agent last summer. The Kings honored him with a video tribute during a first-period break, and Los Angeles fans rose for a standing ovation.

Stoll was a dependable two-way center and a Kings leader, but his offensive production declined sharply before his departure, and the Kings didn’t re-sign him after he was arrested and eventually charged with two misdemeanors relating to alleged drug possession in Las Vegas shortly after the Kings’ season ended last April. He struggled with the New York Rangers this year before getting waived and catching on with the Wild.

Coyle scored with 13.6 seconds left in the second period after a Kings defensive change and an alley-oop pass from Marco Scandella left him alone on Quick. Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter used his challenge to argue Coyle was offside, but the play stood.

Related: As Wild’s offense goes dry, Parise feeling the pressure to produce

Wild to healthy scratch Fontaine, who needs to ‘take a step in his career’

Justin Fontaine‘s tough season will take a difficult turn on Monday night — one that leads directly to the press box.

Per the Star-Tribune, Fontaine will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season, after a stretch in which he’s failed to score a goal in nine straight contests.

“I want to see him take a step in his career because we have a lot of confidence what he can do and what he can be as a player,” head coach Mike Yeo explained. “He’s shown signs of it from game to game. In certain games, it’s just a matter of making sure the consistency is there night after night, shift and shift.

“That’s what he has to discover in his game.”

In Fontaine’s defense, his health has been problematic.

The 28-year-old was on the receiving end of a David Clarkson knee during the preseason, which forced him to miss the first two games of the year.

Then, in late October, Fontaine was ruled out 4-6 weeks with a sprained left MCL.

Prior to that second knee injury, Fontaine had been a pretty decent contributor with a goal and four points in eight games, averaging over 11 minutes per night.

That production came on the heels of a very solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored a career-high 31 points.

On the season, Fontaine has a respectable eight points in 21 contests, but it’s clear his offensive abilities don’t compensate for what Wild head coach Mike Yeo see as an incomplete overall game.

Hellebuyck debuts with victory as Jets best Wild

AP
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Dustin Byfuglien had a goal and assist, Connor Hellebuyck made 14 saves to win his NHL debut and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled left winger Zach Parise‘s return from a knee injury by beating the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Friday.

Mathieu Perreault added his second goal in two games and Nikolaj Ehlers‘ goal late in the third put the game away.

The Jets won on the road for the first time in their last seven tries and for just the third time in their last 11 games.

Ryan Carter scored for Minnesota, finally getting a shot past Hellebuyck that made it 2-1 midway through the third period.

Hellebuyck was college hockey’s top goalie in 2013-14 and the goaltender on the U.S. team that won a bronze medal in the 2015 world championships.

Minnesota finished with a season-low 15 shots, which was also a season low in shots allowed for the Jets.

Wild fans at the Xcel Energy Center let out a roar when it was announced before the game that Parise would start, but not even his return could spark Minnesota.

After Jason Zucker was whistled for an elbowing penalty behind the net, Perreault took a pass from Byfuglien and zipped it past Devan Dubnyk to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead with 3:34 left in the second period.

Byfuglien made it 2-0 early in the third when his odd-angle shot hit Dubnyk in the back of the skate and went in for his seventh goal.

Carter’s goal bounced off of Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart and past Hellebuyck to give Minnesota some momentum.

The rookie didn’t get rattled, however, stopping a big shot from Jason Pominville with 3:11 to play.

Just 11 seconds later, Ehlers got loose on a breakaway and put the game away.

Winnipeg’s defense came into the game ranked 29th in goals allowed, but had little problem preventing Minnesota from generating quality scoring chances.

The Wild have just one win in their last six games. Parise was Minnesota’s leading scorer when he sprained a knee ligament on Nov. 5.

NOTES: Wild F Justin Fontaine missed his 11th game with a sprained MCL, but has a chance to return for Saturday’s game against Dallas according to coach Mike Yeo. … The Wild went 4-3-1 without Parise. … Jets RW Blake Wheeler had an assist and now has points in 18 of 24 games.

Wild times: Fontaine (knee) out 4-6 weeks, Graovac undergoes surgery, Sydor returns after DUI

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Busy day in Minnesota.

First, the club announced that forward Justin Fontaine would miss the next 4-6 weeks with a sprained left MCL.

Then, it announced center Tyler Graovac underwent successful bilateral core muscle surgery, a procedure that would sideline him for six weeks.

Then?

The club welcomed the return of assistant coach Darryl Sydor.

Sydor is back with the club after a two-month absence following a drunken driving charge. The former NHL defenseman had a mandatory 15-day jail sentence and, per the Star-Tribune, served two long weekends at a local area workhouse last month.

“We missed Darryl,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s an important part of our coaching staff.”

On that note, the Wild will likely miss Fontaine over the next month (or, month and a half). The diminutive forward had been a good producer so far, with a goal and four points in eight games, and had averaged over 11 minutes per night.

Fontaine is also coming off a career-high 31 points in ’14-15.

As for Graovac, his season got derailed just as it was getting started. After making the team out of camp — something of a surprise — the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder appeared in just one game before getting hurt.

With these injuries, the Wild recalled Jordan Schroeder from AHL Iowa over the weekend.