ST. PAUL, Minn. — A day after taking a scary hit from Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry, Minnesota Wild rookie forward Jason Zucker returned to the ice and said he feels “all right.”
Perry, Anaheim’s second-leading scorer, is probably feeling differently after the NHL suspended him four games for the hit. The NHL said Perry’s hit was late and illegal. It’s Perry’s second NHL suspension. He was suspended for three games in 2007-08 for elbowing Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux. Perry will lose $115,135.12, which will go to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
“After Zucker reverses the puck to his defenseman, Perry continues on his path and hits the Minnesota winger nearly a full second after he released the puck, making significant contact with Zucker’s head,” said Rob Blake of the NHL’s department of player safety in a video released by the league. “In spite of the fact that all players need to be aware of their surroundings, it is perfectly reasonable that Zucker should no longer expect to be hit this long after possession. Furthermore, although all plays develop quickly, Perry has enough time to avoid this violent check or, at the very least, minimize it more significantly. While we accept Perry’s assertion that there was no malicious intent to hit Zucker’s head, the fact remains he does recklessly make significant contact to the head of a player who was ineligible to be checked.”
Zucker, 21, skated on his own shortly after Minnesota’s optional practice Wednesday, an indication the speedy forward has likely avoided a concussion. During the second period of Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Ducks, an unsuspecting Zucker took a blindside hit from Perry, whose elbow connected with Zucker’s head. Zucker laid on the ice for several minutes before being assisted off and missed the rest of the game.
“Yeah, I feel all right, just trying to get better,” Zucker said after skating Wednesday. “You’re always fortunate that you don’t get hurt. Overall, I’m happy I’m standing here right now.”
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said he was encouraged by Zucker’s being able to skate only hours after the hit. Zucker would say only that he had an upper-body injury.
“Certainly, it’s a very good sign,” Yeo said of Zucker’s presence at practice. “I liked the way that he’s been playing, the last couple of games especially. He’s upped some levels of his game, and obviously he’s a threat to score every night. We’re encouraged that he’s feeling good today, that’s for sure.”
Zucker had passed the puck forward to defenseman Tom Gilbert in the Wild’s defensive zone and didn’t see Perry closing in on his left side. Perry’s hit came late, clipping the side of Zucker and knocking him to the ice.
“I was committed to the hit,” Perry said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s one of those things. I didn’t change my path of direction. I was committed. I tried to let up. It’s hard. It happens so fast. It’s unfortunate.”
Perry received five minutes for interference and a game misconduct. He said he had watched the video of the play a few times and said he didn’t intentionally target Zucker’s head.
“No, I don’t go out there looking to hurt guys,” Perry said. “That’s not the way I am. It’s not me as a person. It is what it is.”
Yeo said he’s gone back and watched the play again but didn’t want to offer much more comment Wednesday.
“I’ve looked at it for sure, but I’d prefer not to comment on it a whole lot,” Yeo said. “Again, you hate to see one of your players get hurt, so I’m going to look at it probably a little bit differently than other people will.”
Zucker’s status for Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche is still unknown. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has been scratched the past three games, will play Thursday if Zucker is unavailable.
“It’s day-to-day,” Zucker said. “I’ve got to figure it out. Tomorrow morning, I’ll see how I am and talk to Coach Yeo and talk to everybody and see how it goes from there.”
Zucker, who made his NHL debut with six games late last season, has scored four goals with one assist in 11 games this season.
“He’s been working very hard,” Yeo said. “I feel like some areas of his game have started to improve, and they have to continue. We have to make sure with young players that consistency is there. But, one thing, he’s got the speed, but you look at where his goals are coming from, he drives the net, goes to the net hard, and his speed is a factor because of that.”