From the Rink: Surreal day for Zucker, Haula, Tuch as Wild, Vegas clash
Game Thursday in St. Paul marks the first ever meeting between the franchisesby Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com
ST. PAUL -- It's a historic day at Xcel Energy Center as the Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild play for the first time.
The matchup pits the NHL's two newest teams, with Vegas coming online officially this year and the Wild -- along with the Columbus Blue Jackets -- beginning play in 2000, the last time the NHL expanded.
For Las Vegas native Jason Zucker, the only Nevada-raised player in the NHL, playing his hometown team will be a surreal experience.
"It feels a little weird, saying we're playing Vegas today. It's definitely a little different knowing that Vegas in town," Zucker said. "I definitely never thought this day [where Vegas has an NHL team] would come, but it's definitely exciting knowing that they do and that they're doing well. It should be a fun game tonight."
Zucker, whose family has season tickets to the Golden Knights, has been a role model for hockey players in Las Vegas and in Nevada since breaking into the NHL in 2012. Now, he has plenty of company in that department as the Golden Knights embark on what has been a surprisingly successful first season.
Vegas enters the game tonight tied for first in the Pacific Division with the Los Angeles Kings, although the Golden Knights have two games in hand.
While Vegas has transformed its T-Mobile Arena into an incredible home-ice advantage, they've also seen their fair share of success on the road, posting a 6-5-1 record away from the desert.
How have they accomplished it?
"Just even keel," said former Wild forward Erik Haula. "We focus on the next game and we've had some success from everybody; we've gone through five goalies, and like I said, it's different lines at different times and we just keep battling and giving ourselves a chance every night."
For Haula, who was selected by Vegas in the Expansion Draft last June, it's been a sort of homecoming. The Finn played his prep hockey at Shattuck St. Mary's in Faribault, then collegiately at the University of Minnesota.
A seventh-round pick by the Wild in the 2009 NHL Draft, the 26-year-old Haula essentially grew up in the state.
"It's weird, trust me, staying at the St. Paul Hotel and walking over, it's really weird but it's exciting as well," Haula said. "I'm going to be really excited to play and looking forward to tonight."
In Vegas, Haula is on pace to play a career high in minutes and already has seven goals and 13 points in 19 games. He scored a career-high 15 goals last season with the Wild and 34 points two seasons ago, when he had 14 goals and was a plus-21.
Haula is expected to skate alongside another familiar face, Alex Tuch, a 2014 first-round selection of Minnesota who made his NHL debut with the Wild last season and played in six games.
"That was one of my goals when I got picked up was to challenge myself to be a top-6 forward and getting those minutes up," Haula said. "They gave me the opportunity, now it's just not being satisfied and keeping it going."
Tuch has also made the most of his opportunity with Vegas, scoring five goals and 10 points in 19 games after going scoreless in all six he played last year.
"When I got traded I kind of saw an opportunity for myself so I dug down deep and worked even harder this summer and made the team right off the bat," Tuch said. "I was sadly sent down for a few games but have been here every since I got called up and it's been a lot of fun."
After the Wild completed its morning skate on Wednesday, the team announced that it had claimed former Wild defenseman Nate Prosser from the St. Louis Blues.
An Elk River native and former Colorado College Tiger, Prosser played in 282 games with Minnesota from 2010 until last season. He signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Blues during the summer, but played in just one game with St. Louis this season on Oct. 25.
Kyle Quincey, placed on waivers by the Wild yesterday, went unclaimed.
Here are the projected lineups:
Marcus Foligno - Eric Staal - Nino Niederreiter
Daniel Winnik - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund
Jason Zucker - Charlie Coyle - Chris Stewart
Tyler Ennis - Matt Cullen - Zack Mitchell
Ryan Suter - Matt Dumba
Gustav Olofsson - Jonas Brodin
Mike Reilly - Ryan Murphy
Reilly Smith - William Karlsson - Jonathan Marchessault
James Neal - Erik Haula - Alex Tuch
Oscar Lindberg - Cody Eakin - Brendan Leipsic
Stefan Matteau - Pierre-Édouard Bellemare - Tomas Nosek
Brayden McNabb - Nate Schmidt
Shea Theodore - Deryk Engelland
Colin Miller - Brad Hunt