Feb 17, 2013; St. Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker (16) carries the puck during the third period against the Detroit Red Wings at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Red Wings 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Has Jason Zucker Earned a One-Way Ticket to the NHL?

Today, Gone Puck Wild takes a look at stud rookie winger, Jason Zucker. Because, well, there isn’t a lot of other Minnesota Wild news, and, as everyone knows, Mr. Zucker is just too darn good not to talk about right now. This is especially true, considering how desperately Minnesota could use him–or a goal scorer like him–in the lineup.

Jason Zucker, the third of Minnesota’s three second round picks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, has been a dominant player at every level of play he has faced. Drafted out of the USHL’s U.S. National Development Program, Zucker took the NCAA’s WCHA by storm, winning the WCHA Rookie of the Year award while potting 23 goals and adding 22 assists for 45 points in 40 games in his first year of collegiate hockey with the University of Denver Pioneers. He also served as captain of Team USA during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship–a tournament that saw fellow Wild prospects Mikael Granlund (FIN) and Johan Larsson (SWE) captain their teams, as well.

Zucker spent an additional season with the Pioneers, scoring 22 goals and adding 24 assists for 46 points in 38 games. After two seasons dominating the collegiate ranks, Zucker turned pro, finishing out the season with a six game stint with the big club. In those six games, he looked real solid and notched two assists playing on the Wild’s third line. This season, in 46 games with the Wild’s minor league affiliate in Houston, Zucker has scored 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points, 43 penalty minutes and a negative-8 rating. Zucker was also an AHL All-Star and notched a goal and an assist in Team West’s 7-6 victory over Team East.

Finally, Sunday night saw the season debut of Jason Zucker, and the NHL debut of Johan Larsson. Zucker made an explosive play, undressing Valtteri Filppula and sniping one past Detroit’s Petr Mrazek while on a 2-on-1 with Devin Setoguchi. In all honesty, Minnesota hasn’t seen a play like that since the days of Marian Gaborik. However, I don’t think a lot of people would compare his game to Gaborik so much as Minnesota Wild star left winger Zach Parise. You look at the way they play, and it’s quite easy to mistake one for the other. They both play an aggressively physical, offensive style of game and both are players ready to explode at any moment. It’s that explosiveness that makes every shift they take that much more fun to watch.

With the uncertainty surrounding the futures of Setoguchi and Pierre-Marc Bouchard in the Wild organization, Zucker could certainly play his way onto the permanent roster quite easily. It also doesn’t hurt that the kid is one of few Wild players more than willing to shoot the puck on what has historically been a pass-happy team. While he doesn’t have the size of Charlie Coyle, or the pure skill and talent of Mikael Granlund, Zucker has the mental maturity and resolve, and an overwhelmingly contagious drive to succeed, that far exceeds that of many of his teammates. Drafted 59th overall in 2010, Zucker was picked as more of a depth player for Minnesota. I don’t think the Wild brass anticipated him to explode like he has in his short, yet quite promising hockey career.

Jason Zucker clearly has his heart, mind and soul set on the NHL, and it’s certainly not out of the question for him to play a key role in Minnesota’s top-6. The bottom line is—Minnesota’s not going to mess with anything that’s working in favor of the team’s success. As long as Zucker keeps playing his game and scoring goals, there will always be a spot for him in the Wild lineup.

Tags: Devin Setoguchi Jason Zucker Johan Larsson Marian Gaborik Zach Parise

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