The Minnesota Wild announced this afternoon that they have reassigned rookie winger Jason Zucker and goaltender Matt Hackett to the Houston Aeros, the team’s minor league affiliate. In addition, goaltender Darcy Kuemper and gritty depth forward Jake Dowell have been recalled to meet the team in Dallas for an evening matchup with the Stars tomorrow night.
If you’ve been following the team closely, none of these moves come as a real big surprise. Jason Zucker has been a stud in top-6 duty with the Wild this season, however, an injury incurred by Anaheim’s Corey Perry kept him out of the lineup for two games and Pierre-Marc Bouchard leapt at the opportunity to reclaim his spot on the second line. With Bouchard scoring at over a point-per-game pace since his return, there was just no room for Zucker, who is by no means a fourth line grinder. The Wild brass knows this, which makes the call up of Dowell an obvious choice, and gives Zucker the chance to receive top minutes in Houston.
This is the exact same reason for the goalie swap, which I unwittingly called in yesterday’s article, which you can read here. When backup goalie Josh Harding dropped out of the lineup with MS medication issues, Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher wasted no time in calling up big 6’5” Kuemper for his NHL debut. Why not Hackett? Well, according to Fletcher, Kuemper had been the best goalie in the AHL for the past month prior to receiving the call-up. Kuemper showed no signs of slowing down in the NHL, either—posting a 1-2-0 record with a .924 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average.
However, the stellar play of franchise starter Niklas Backstrom relegated Kuemper to very little ice time, forcing Fletcher to swap him with Matt Hackett to keep both of his promising youngsters sharp in net while receiving ample amounts of playing time. While Hackett certainly deserved the call-up, he never saw a second of ice time, as Head Coach Mike Yeo rode the hot hand of Backstrom. With that it mind, it was time for another swap.
The only question mark in this whole situation is whether Bouchard will now be moved before the trade deadline or not. If nothing else, the spot that he currently holds on the second line is his to lose. Does Fletcher make a hockey trade, a top-9 winger for another top-9 winger? I doubt it—Zucker could just as easily fill his spot on the second line. With the Stars’ Brenden Morrow now switching conferences to join Pittsburgh, fans can expect to see the pace of the NHL’s trade season to really start picking up.
The trade watch now turns to Calgary and Jarome Iginla; if he goes soon, all heck could break loose as teams scramble to find plan B, C or D. Butch could easily be one of those options for teams looking for a skilled top-9 winger. Fletcher’s MO has always been a hockey trade but, if he can’t find a situation that instantly improves Minnesota in the now, he’ll likely look to stock up on draft picks or prospects. But, then again, like I keep saying, he could just as easily decide to keep Bouchard if he thinks the oft-injured winger is vitally important to the team’s playoff run. If nothing else, as teams start making moves, Bouchard starts looking more and more like a viable option for teams in the playoff picture. It could be an interesting week and a half, folks; stay tuned.