First-year players have had a huge impact on the Minnesota Wild’s 2013 campaign – from defenseman Jonas Brodin’s mind-blowing minutes logged to forward Charlie Coyle’s understated first-line role and beyond, Minnesota has benefited from the young legs and eager minds of its rookie talents.
That benefit was most evident in Game 3 of Minnesota’s series with Chicago on Sunday when rookie forward Jason Zucker netted the game-winning goal in overtime, sending the full house at the Xcel Center into absolute pandemonium and the young winger into a board-shaking celebration.
Zucker nearly helped the Wild take Game 1, as well, when he fired a quick draw from centerman Matt Cullen off the crossbar, well behind Blackhawk goaltender Cory Crawford’s glove hand.
While Brodin was snubbed for the Calder Trophy and Coyle’s scoring numbers aren’t eye-popping, Zucker’s OT winner against the heavily favored ‘Hawks was enough to gain him the national limelight. NHL.com correspondent Dan Myers let the national audience in on the secret to Minnesota’s rookie development: great mentors.
Myers’s article focuses on Cullen’s influence on Zucker – how the two are constantly conversing between games and between shifts, the younger skater learning from the veteran.
“More than you guys even know, he’s been unbelievable all year. I have to give him a ton of credit for my development,” Myers’ quoted Zucker as saying of Cullen.
While the NHL.com-featured article is certainly a well-deserved recognition of one of the Wild’s most crucial players, the humble northern Minnesotan leader Cullen, is the same not true for other Wild rookie standouts too?
Brodin skates with Ryan Suter, a Norris Trophy finalist and superb mentor. When the two are off the ice (which isn’t very often) Suter and Brodin are in a two-man huddle, discussing plays, pinches into the offensive zone, passes and their opposing forwards.
Head coach Mike Yeo made it clear when discussing Brodin’s atrocious exemption from the Calder finalists – he’s an outstanding defenseman, and the Wild simply would not be where they are without him.
As a totally-deserving Norris finalist, Suter is easy to peg as a veteran mentor for a young defenseman – but no one could have asked for a better student than Brodin, who has sponged up Suter’s style of play at an incredible rate during the lockout-shortened season.
And then there’s Coyle. Watching Wild games on FSN, it’s hard not to notice every time the cameramen spot Coyle on the bench, he’s sandwiched between Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, the trio gesturing across the ice to talk go over plays, plan their next attack, and improve the rookie’s understanding of the game.
Sitting between Koivu and Parise, it would be hard for a rookie to not get a first-class education in all things hockey. Koivu is the Wild’s captain and a consummate leader on and off the ice. Parise, well, he might just be the NHL’s Captain America. Coyle couldn’t ask for better line mates or better mentors, and their influence is paying off.
The real key to the success of the Wild’s rookies is in their teammates. Top flight players like Cullen, Parise, Koivu and Suter are passing their game on to the up-and-comers, and the rookies are wisely absorbing that influence.