Before the fireworks on the 4th of July, the Minnesota Wild started their free agency moves small. They knew they would be in on the big fish, and did not go crazy looking to land a mediocre player for too much money. Instead, they signed a couple guys that are good, solid depth players that add grit and toughness to the third and fourth lines. One of those men is Zenon Konopka.
A few around here know who he is from his days with the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, or Ottawa Senators. Most know him as a fighter with a bit of faceoff skill, but what else do we need to know? Does he fear clowns? Is his favorite color beige? Who knows, but we do know how to introduce a player, and that's what we do today.
Let's meet Zenon Konopka.
For our expert take on Konopka, we turn to our good friend Peter Raymaakers at our sister site Silver Seven, covering the Ottawa Senators. Take it away, Peter:
Watching Zenon Konopka for all of last season left me really thinking one thing about him: He's surprising. It seems like most Minnesota Wild fans are looking at the signing as a liability or a bad acquisition, and most Sens fans--at least those in the Silver Seven community--felt the same way prior to last season, when he signed in Ottawa. A few loyal members of the Konopka Army (we have those in Ottawa, mostly leftover from his time with the OHL's Ottawa 67's) were around, though, and they virtually guaranteed us that we'd warm up to Konopka as the season went on. Oddly enough, most Sens fans did warm up to the guy, and I'd wager most Wild fans will get to like him, too.
Last year, Konopka spent a good portion of the season as the thirteenth forward, and was actually passed on the depth chart by a couple of AHLers with low expectations (Jim O'Brien and Kaspars Daugavins) before the season really got started. Despite playing just 55 games, though, he still managed 18 fights, tied for fourth in the NHL, living up to his reputation as a one-dimensional fighter. It was unusual, though: He hasn't got the size to be a true heavyweight in the league, and often seemed to settle for tying up his opponents even after seeking out and instigating the fight. It didn't make much sense to us, really, and few saw much value from Konopka through the regular season. He was superb at faceoffs (finished the regular season at 58.9 per cent), but didn't offer much else.
Things just went nuts in the playoffs, though. Konopka played six of seven games in the first round (more than anyone would have predicted) and managed to score two assists in those games (matching his regular-season assists total). His faceoff prowess improved to an absolutely ridiculous 70.7 per cent (think about that for a second; it's insane. He won 53 faceoffs, and lost just 22), his TOI/G went from 7:50 in the regular season to 11:17 in the playoffs--due in no small part to an increased role on the penalty kill, where he played 2:48 per playoff game (up from 0:50/G in the regular season). And he only had 2 PIM in the playoffs, so he managed to avoid being a liability. I'm guessing the Wild brought him on board (and gave him that 32 per cent raise) after his very, very impressive playoff performance rather than the other facets of his game (although those can be valuable, too, depending on your perspective).
There's also his sense of humour, which makes him popular among everyone--teammates, fans, and even media members. If your team does player videos or anything like that online, you'll get a good taste of it. Konopka's one of those 'glue guys' who helps keep a dressing room in good order.
One potential hiccup to Konopka's faceoff abilities is the new rule brought in by the NHL where a player using his glove to win the draw is assessed a two-minute penalty. That was a tactic Konopka used periodically last season, so it could very well negatively impact his faceoff performance. Time will tell. Should he find a way to maintain his play through the playoffs, though, I've got every reason to believe that Konopka can be a serviceable fourth-line role player for the Wild.
Plenty of video available over at YouTube, to be sure.
Where He Slots In
This one is easy. Konopka is most definitely the fourth line center. He'll get limited minutes, but he can pull a regular fourth line shift. The fourth line has been a trouble spot for the Wild in the past. With Konopka in the mix, the checking line got a whole lot tougher. Don't count on much of anything else from him, as Peter explained, but Konopka is good for what he is for. No reason to doubt that.