South St. Paul native Alex Stalock was claimed off waivers by the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, ending his five-season tenure with his hometown Wild.
When the 33-year-old Stalock was placed on waivers Sunday, the Wild hoped he would clear so they could move him to the taxi squad or assign him to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League.
That didn’t happen, because the Oilers saw something in Stalock, who won a career-high 20 games for the Wild last season, serving as the No. 1 goaltender for the first time in his career as another former Wild goalie, Devin Dubnyk, dealt with family issues. Stalock finishes his Wild career with a 37-30-11 record, 2.77 goals-against average, and .908 save percentage in 89 games.
The move will free up nearly $500,000 in salary cap space for the Wild.
Asked about what the team will miss most about Stalock, good friend Zach Parise, another Twin Cities native, talked more about the person Stalock is off the ice more than the player he is on it.
“He’s such a good guy and a great teammate,” Parise said. “He’s a funny guy. Just a good person to be around. When something like that happens, and we lose a guy like that, the guys are pretty sad about it.”
The reason Stalock was placed on waivers in the first place has everything to do with the recent emergence of rookie goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen. In 12 games with the Wild this season, the 24-year-old from Finland has proven to be a competent backup and then some, putting together a 8-4-0 record .2.41 goals-against average, and .915 save percentage.
Some would argue Kahkonen has performed so well this season that the Wild should give him more playing time despite starting goaltender Cam Talbot finally being healthy and returning to the ice. There’s a chance the Wild might opt for something close to a 50-50 split with playing time between Kahkonen and Talbot for the rest of this season.
“We’ve been real happy with all our goaltenders,” coach Dean Evason said. “Our goaltending has been real good. We are very happy with that. We think in a given night whoever we put in there will give us an opportunity to have success.”
As for Stalock, it’s an unfortunate way for his time in the Twin Cities to come to an end. After working so hard to earn his keep throughout his career, Stalock has missed the entire season to this point with an upper-body injury. Though he recently returned to the ice, his comeback will continue with the Oilers, not the Wild.
“Hopefully he’s going to get a chance to play and play as well as he did for us down the stretch and in the playoffs last year,” Parise said. “Hopefully he will get the opportunity to show that. It’s just unfortunate the way it all shook out here with how good of a person he is.”
Mats Zuccarello has been named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week after stuffing the stat sheet in his return to the lineup. He had two goals and six assists in four games last week as the Wild’s winning streak reached six games.
His most impressive play came in Saturday’s dramatic overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings. With the final seconds ticking away, Zuccarello feathered a perfect pass to Matt Dumba, who scored the winning goal with 0.3 seconds on the clock.
“He’s been absolutely terrific in all areas,” Evason said of Zuccarello. “He’s competing away from the puck. He’s obviously making sound plays offensively. Not only his vision and his ability to find people and share the puck, he’s shooting the puck.”
Johansson stays home
Veteran forward Marcus Johansson, in his first year with the Wild, did not travel with the team as the 30-year-old from Sweden continues to recover from a lingering upper-body injury. While his creativity has been missed, the fact the Wild are among the hottest teams in the NHL right now has made it easier to bring Johansson along slowly.
“Our goal is to get him 100 percent,” Evason said. “When he is, then we will put him in the lineup. If he’s ready tomorrow, then we’d have to have a discussion about what our lineup looks like. As it sits right now, he’s not, so when that time comes we’ll make that decision.”