ST. PAUL - Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker has been moved up and down the lineup early in the season.
After starting the season on the fourth line, Zucker has seen his ice time vary significantly over the first month as coach Bruce Boudreau has explored different ways to use the speedy winger.
While Zucker has seen a few shifts in Minnesota's top six, Boudreau had him in a red jersey in practice on Wednesday skating next to Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle.
The hope is that Zucker's speed will mesh with Staal and Coyle's size and ability along the walls, which will create more offensive zone chances.
"His history has been that he's a goal-scorer," Boudreau said. "Maybe [Staal and Coyle] can get him the puck."
Zucker said he is feeling more confident in his game as he has seen more consistent ice time.
His comfort level in the new system has also been on the rise.
"I still think there are things to work on every game and make sure I am improving at, making sure it's moving in the right direction," Zucker said. "I definitely think it's going in the right direction, but I still have some work to do."
As a guy who has found himself in a scoring role most of his career, playing on the fourth line was a bit of an adjustment for Zucker. It's not that he didn't get chances to score while playing there: it's that those opportunities were fewer and further between from an ice time standpoint.
But Zucker said he understands why it had to be that way, at least at the beginning.
"That's just the way that it fell this year," Zucker said. "I think I put myself in that position, to be honest, after last year. For me, it was all about making sure that I just played the right way and making sure I was playing the way I know I can play, and being good defensively."
Practice makes perfect
For the first time in a while, the Wild had a full and physical practice on Wednesday.
Injuries and illness have robbed the Wild of numbers in recent days while a stuffed road schedule has limited the amount of work Minnesota has been able to accomplish on the ice.
With a full set of players available on Wednesday and a hole in the game schedule, in addition to a team day off on Thursday, Boudreau was able to put the team through a much-needed rigorous practice.
"We haven't had a good, hard practice where we sweat," Boudreau said. "So when you do a compete practice, you get a good sweat going and you battle hard. It's the one thing we can get better as a group ... battling on the boards. We do a lot of good things defensively, but I think the board battles is something we can improve on."
The Wild certainly got their work along the walls. Practice concluded with one net at each end of a faceoff circle. Players were divided into teams and battled for the puck in a small area. In such a tight space, shots were at a premium.
"We talked as coaches and our thoughts today were [that] we have a day off tomorrow. So if we're going to push them, now's the time," Boudreau said. "They hadn't had a good skate in a while."
Consistency for Coyle
While attempting to post better offensive numbers, Coyle said during training camp that he wanted to become a more consistent player.
While he has looked the part of an improved player during portions of the first few weeks, Boudreau said he wants to see Coyle play to his ability all of the time.
Too often, Boudreau said, he's been left feeling wanting more.
"That's exactly what I told him today. I said, 'You're teasing me,'" Boudreau said. "He does have the ability in every aspect, from size, speed, shot, stick handling to be a great player. It's just up to his determination to how great he wants to be."