Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher made another round of player exchanges with AHL affiliate Houston in what has been an open door season for the two clubs. On Sunday, Fletcher announced an exchange of forwards and goaltenders.
Twenty-two-year-old goaltender Darcy Kuemper will be rejoining the NHL squad, while Matt Hackett will be headed to the Aeros. With Niklas Backstrom playing the way he is for the Wild, Hackett did not get the nod from head coach Mike Yeo during his stay with the NHLers. Backstrom started his 11th straight last night in Dallas.
The move makes sense for the Wild; Hackett needs to keep his pads and glove hand sharp with game action. Keumper is 3-1 in his last four starts for the Aeros, and showed he can be counted on to back up the rock-solid Backstrom when called upon, as he did in his last tour with Minnesota.
Forward Jake Dowell was also recalled from Houston to join the Wild, making a switch with Jason Zucker. Zucker looked like he had found his stride with the Wild, but a nasty Shanaban-eliciting hit from Corey Perry took him out of his groove. During Zucker’s brief absence, Pierre-Marc Bouchard was inserted back into the lineup and showed that he is still the player Minnesota fans know he can be.
PMB’s return to top-form is great for the Wild, but put a little damper on Zucker’s chances of skating with the Wild. A first-period injury to Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck in the first period of last night’s game might afford Zucker a chance for a quick return should Yeo need another forward and should the injury keep Clutterbuck out of a few games.
Clutterbuck’s potential absence will also be a chance for Dowell to prove his worth. The 28-year-old Eau Claire, Wisc. native can’t be called a rookie; he’s skated in 154 NHL games with the Blackhawks and Stars, tallying 33 points and 133 PIM. He’s also tangled with some of the NHL’s tough crowd in on-ice conflict resolution, including bouts with Danny Carcillo and Brandon Prust. Dowell can bring energy to his team with some heavy-bodied hits, as well, as Nikita Nikitin found out.
For Dowell to be successful in Minnesota’s lineup, he’ll need to fill a role that the Wild have been filling quite successfully so far this season – a hard forechecking fast-paced game with enough edge to keep opposing defenders looking over their shoulders instead of at their passes.
Dowell’s size (six-foot, 200+ lbs.) will be an asset to his game as Minnesota will look to get tough and protect its players down the last 17 games of the 48-game season. The Wild are a hard-skating team right now, and Dowell will need to jump onto the ice in stride to keep up. Having played 154 NHL games in his career, that shouldn’t be too much of a concern.
The Aeros continue with the second of a 10-game home stand tonight against the rival Texas Stars. With Zucker and Mikael Granlund on the ice and Hackett returning to the crease, Houston is set to see some high-quality hockey from top-caliber players.
Clutterbuck returned to action in the Dallas game; Dowell won’t be filling his spot, and Zucker will sharpen his skills in Houston until space becomes available on the Wild roster.