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Zuccarello provides Wild with one of NHL's top playmakers

Minnesota locks 31-year-old right winger in for next five seasons

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Wild General Manager Paul Fenton spent the final day before the start of free agency fishing on Mille Lacs Lake as part of Wild on the Water.

On Monday, he reeled his biggest catch yet as GM of the Wild, inking right wing Mats Zuccarello to a five-year deal worth $30 million.

The highest-scoring Norwegian-born player in League history, Zuccarello tallied 12 goals and 40 points in just 48 games last season. Prior to last year's injury-marred campaign, Zuccarello had been incredibly durable, playing in at least 77 games in five-straight seasons.

He will be counted on to help Minnesota's 27th-ranked offense and get the Wild back to the postseason after missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

During that span, Zuccarello tallied at least 53 points four times, finishing with 49 points in the other. The best season of his career came in 2015-16, when he scored 26 goals and 61 points. 

Video: Highlights: Mats Zuccarello

That's the kind of production Minnesota hopes it is adding in the 31-year-old speedster.

"I see myself as still young. I feel better than I did five years ago," Zuccarello said in a conference call with Twin Cities media on Monday. "Working out wise, I'm stronger. The season I had, even though I broke my arm ... it may have been the best season I've had. I feel like I get better and better."

Wild General Manager Paul Fenton said he's watched Zuccarello play for a long time and was intrigued by the notion of adding his kind of playmaking ability to Minnesota's lineup. 

Video: Mats Zuccarello, Wild agree to five-year contract

"One of the top playmakers in the league, if you watch the way that he plays and dissects the offensive zone in particular ... I told him when I was talking to him that he's like a lizard, the way a lizard takes his tongue and sticks it as far as it does and retrieves what it was trying to do," Fenton said. "When you look at Mats, he's not the tallest in stature, but he uses an incredibly long stick and he reaches into piles, comes out with things, and most of the time, guys would be awkward with a stick that is as long as he uses, but he's so natural, fluid, smooth, he comes out with things and he's able to make plays."

Zuccarello became a fan favorite during his 8 1/2 year run in New York and was a valued member of the dressing room as well. The news of his trade hit goaltender Henrik Lundqvist especially hard; the two had been teammates with the Rangers for the entirety of Zuccarello's time with the club.

Tweet from @MSGNetworks: Henrik Lundqvist gets choked up talking about the Mats Zuccarello trade.We're with ya Hank. #NYR pic.twitter.com/HyyfIS1NWS

"This guy has an energy about him," Fenton said. "When you get to see him live and in person, this guy is involved in the way that our group will perform. He's going to be a great addition."

Zuccarello referred to himself as a "hockey nerd," so playing in a hockey-crazed state like Minnesota appealed to him. The fact that a sizable percentage of its population is of Norwegian descent didn't hurt either.

"I really enjoy the fans around are buzzing and are interested in the team," Zuccarello said. "It's a really good opportunity for me to come there and be a part of that."

The Wild was also a team that pursued him aggressively from the outset of the free agency talking period last week. 

"Minnesota was one of the teams, I felt, that wanted me the most," Zuccarello said. "I'm a guy that, when you show me you really want me, that's humbling for me."


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