Minnesota Wild Fans Need Jason Zucker in the Lineup NOW
The time for patience with the Minnesota Wild and head coach Mike Yeo has come and gone when it comes to Jason Zucker being made an example of with healthy scratches and demotions. The reality is Zucker should be empowered by Yeo and with each slight the odds increase that the Wild will have squandered a special talent.
Zucker is a player that may never develop into a two way forward at the NHL level, his worth as an offensive player to this team surely outweighs his limitations in his own end. Zucker has improved his play in the defensive zone this year after not making the team out of training camp. Zucker’s speed and goal scoring ability justify in my mind a spot in the lineup each night and if Yeo does adjust his view point he is short changing this team and the fan base.
For Minnesota Wild fans the type of excitement that is generated by Zucker’s speed has been missing since the departure of Marian Gaborik. Each time Zucker is pulled from the lineup or sent down to Iowa of the AHL the fanbase is up in arms. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher has been critical of Zucker earlier in the season for not rising to the occasion during training camp. Zucker himself stated he needed to better but I would argue that he has not been afforded the proper opportunities by the Wild.
Zucker has since being drafted by the Wild in the second round of the 2010 draft, forced the organization to stand up and take notice. Zucker was excellent at the University of Denver in his freshmen and sophomore seasons in addition to his international play winning a gold medal on Team USA in the WJHC 2010. Zucker he proven that he is a goal scorer at every level of hockey and to see him not given consistent ice time on a team that struggled to score goals in mind boggling.
If Fletcher and Yeo have decided that Zucker is not a fit for the Wild’s system than I would argue that he needs to be featured at the AHL level and made available to trade. The honest truth is they call on Zucker to bail out stagnate play when they call him up but never empower him. Yeo is praised for his ability to coach young players but his handling of Zucker is atrocious and the fan base has been right on the money for all the criticism of Yeo and the Wild.
I refuse to have anyone try to sell me on any theory where the Wild was better served with Mike Rupp in the lineup versus the Colorado Avalanche two nights ago. Rupp is a veteran that was specifically acquired to be a veteran presence who has played within the system Yeo brought with him to the Wild from his previous experience in Pittsburgh. Rupp has literally been a liability in the Wild lineup since coming from the Rangers because his skating ability has diminished to the point that he is completely avoidable by opponents. Yeo has completely avoided that reality to the detriment of the team.
The same can be said for another underachieving veteran Dany Heatley who is blocking Zucker in the lineup on a nightly basis. Yeo has wanted nothing to do with holding Heatley accountable this year for disappointing effort most games and lack of motivation to do much more than cherry pick and pad his stats. For Heatley to have never been a healthy scratch this season it is a farce, especially when you take into account the game of yo-yo the organization has played with Zucker.
Declaration of the Free Jason Zucker Movement
It is the responsibility and obligation of Yeo and Fletcher to put their most competitive 19 players in the lineup every night and Wild fans should refuse and reject any explanation to attempts to justify Zucker not being in the lineup. Fletcher has some very pivotal decisions on the horizon as this roster returns to full health. Pandora’s Box has been opened on the young forwards there is no turning back now.
The Wild in the next 4 weeks needs addition by subtraction to solidify their identity and simplify their decision making process. Rupp needs to be put on waivers where he will most likely go unclaimed. If any team is willing to take on Heatley or Backstrom that needs to happen now as well. At minimum Heatley needs to be on the 4th line or in the press box and that should be non-negotiable. Zucker is too talented to find himself out of the lineup while Heatley, Rupp, and Kyle Brodziak are struggling and costing the team with their play.
In trying to understand the decision making process on how the Wild have handled Zucker the last two years, I came to the conclusion that he may just find himself being the centerpiece of a trade out of the organization. I often wondered why Devin Setogucci ended up the scapegoat last year when Mikael Granlund and Matt Cullen were clearly to blame for the struggles of the 2nd line last year.
Granlund is obviously larger than life so he was going to get kid gloves treatment and Cullen was asked to playing on the wing where he was not suited but Setogucci worked his tail off last year. He was scrutinized for turnovers trying be aggressive and missing net with shots but in all honesty he had a scorer’s mentality which so many of the regulars for the Wild have lacked in the past 5 years. Zucker seems to be punished for the same which is ridiculous in my opinion.
With the trade deadline approaching Wild fans better be paying close attention to what Fletcher does to improve this team and at what cost. Zucker could find himself packing his bags for a new organization but if not he needs to be playing in the top 6 for the Wild and on the power play where the 2nd unit has been anemic all season long.