The Minnesota Wild are in need of an offensive superstar.
That is the understatement of the year, but every Wild fan knows just how true it is.
Searching for Mr. Right
Ever since Marian Gaborik left in 2009, the Wild have been searching desperately for that superstar: a 30- or 40-goal scorer with the ability to propel Minnesota through the season and out of its offensive struggles. A superstar that will help this team finally go further than the first or second round in the post-season.
Many have tried, all have failed. GM Chuck Fletcher signed Martin Havlat for the 2009-10 season, Dany Heatley in 2011, Jason Pominville in 2012 and Thomas Vanek this past season. While some of them did have an impact, none became that superstar Minnesota was, and still is, looking for.
Fletcher has always tried to find this superstar by making trades and bringing a new player into the organization, but what if that player was already here? What if the Minnesota Wild’s offensive hero is Jason Zucker?
Jason Zucker’s emergence
Five years ago, the Wild drafted Jason Zucker 59th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. Since then, Zucker has split time between the Iowa Wild (the Houston Aeros during Zucker’s first season) and the Minnesota Wild, where he had played decently good hockey. Prior to this season, however, Zucker didn’t show signs of being anything close to Minnesota’s next superstar.
In 2012-2013, Zucker played his first full season of professional hockey. He began in the AHL, playing 55 games, scoring 24 goals and 26 assists before getting called up. Zucker finished that season by playing 20 games with Minnesota and scoring four goals.
In the next season, he again split time between the AHL and the NHL. In 22 games with Iowa, Zucker scored 8 goals and 5 assists. Toward the end of the 2013-2014 season, he appeared in 21 games with Minnesota, recording four goals and one assist.
Zucker’s stats stayed consistent, and he appeared to be a relatively successful draft choice for Minnesota by the end of the 2014 season. During the 2014-2015 season, however, Jason Zucker proved he has the potential to be much more than a second- or third-line spot-filler scoring five to 10 goals a season.
Over the past season, Jason Zucker flourished, scoring 21 goals in 51 games. Only Zach Parise and Nino Niederreiter scored more than he did, and each of them played over 70 games. A broken clavicle interrupted Zucker’s season in February, causing him to miss 27 games, but imagine what else he could have accomplished, had he not been injured. There’s little doubt the left wing would’ve made it to the 30-goal mark.
Luckily for Minnesota, Zucker returned just in time, helping to send his team to the playoffs with a 2-1 over the Chicago Blackhawks back in April. Although inconvenient, Zucker’s injury proved just how valuable he is to the Wild.
Not only did Jason Zucker become one of the Wild’s leading goal-scorers this season, but his all-around game improved immensely, as well. He became faster, more agile, smarter with the puck and gained the ability to make plays without any help. Zucker demonstrated consistency like never before and proved he deserves a spot as one of Minnesota’s top six forwards.
He also showed he can perform in the post-season, a time when the Wild’s top scorers always seem to go silent. Zucker scored two goals and an assist in ten playoff games, all while playing with a broken thumb. This guy came back early from what was supposed to be a season-ending injury and stuck it out through a broken thumb. Zucker has talent, and he has dedication – two things a superstar must have.
Zucker also has youth. He is only 23 years old, which means he really has a limitless future with the Minnesota Wild. He has experience, but plenty of time to improve. He also has mentors like Zach Parise and a core group of young players dedicated to making this team successful. Zucker is in the perfect place and time to succeed.
The Minnesota Wild are only going to continue to get better. If Jason Zucker can stay healthy and continue to play the way he did last season, he can easily become the superstar Minnesota so greatly needs.
If not Jason Zucker, who do you see becoming the Wild’s big, offensive talent over the offseason?
Alli covers the Minnesota Wild and has been a contributing writer with THW since August 2014. She is currently a journalism and sports management student at the University of Minnesota. For all of your Minnesota Wild news and updates, follow her on twitter: @allibaker23