The Pittsburgh Penguins are in last place in the Metropolitan Division after dealing with their share of adversity this season. While there’s no time for excuses in the NHL, major injuries and COVID-19 outbreaks may make the list. But sports are a results-oriented business and, so far, the Penguins have not been good enough. If this continues and they remain outside of a playoff spot, expect management to make some changes close to the trade deadline.
If that’s the case, keep an eye on Jason Zucker. He’s a player that has underperformed and could be someone Penguins management looks to move out of town. Here are three potential trade destinations for the 29-year-old.
The Anaheim Ducks are an interesting team. Goaltender John Gibson has been solid this season, and they have surprised many. They have a 6-4-3 record and have more firepower than people give them credit for. They are third in the NHL in goals for and adding Zucker to their top-six would be a nice upgrade for a playoff push.
Zucker has three goals and three assists in 10 games this season and isn’t shy to get the puck on the net. He leads the Penguins in shots with 34 but, unfortunately, his shooting percentage is one of the worst on the team. The Ducks may be interested in the California native and vice versa, as his no-trade clause includes 10 teams, and Anaheim is likely on that list. As for the Penguins, with some major decisions to make with contract extensions for Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, they likely wouldn’t mind freeing themselves from Zucker’s $5.5 million cap hit.
The Minnesota Wild are a dominant team in the Western Conference this season, with an 8-3-0 record. Could we see Zucker reunited with Minny after the 2019-20 trade that brought Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison, and a first-round pick to the city?
Minnesota will be looking to upgrade their roster on offense and defense before the trade deadline, and adding a familiar player is never a bad idea. While the Wild don’t have boatloads of cap space next season, they could fit in Zucker’s cap hit, and maybe the Penguins will retain a small amount just to sweeten the pot.
The veteran forward spent eight and a half seasons with the Wild. While he’s not the depth center, the team needs, his ability to play both on wings, his speed, and offensive instincts could be something Wild general manager Bill Guerin inquires about throughout the season. Guerin got a close look at Zucker on Saturday when the team played the Penguins. The veteran forward played 15:10 in his first game against his former team, had two assists, and helped lead Pittsburgh to a 5-4 victory.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues are familiar with Zucker since the teams are division rivals. St. Louis now has some question marks to deal with after Vladimir Tarasenko requested a trade in September. While the Russian winger seems content, for now, a trade is still likely to happen this season, even though the Blues are in second place in the Central Division, trailing the Wild by one point.
If the Blues trade Tarasenko, they may need a top-six winger, and Zucker and his shoot-first mentality would fit the bill. He’s been a 30-plus goal-scorer in the past, and his six points in 10 games this season are a good sign after a rough introduction to the Pittsburgh market. The Blues signed James Neal during the offseason to help replace some of the offense that left via free agency. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out yet, and St. Louis may need to make some deals later in the season.
If the Penguins want or need to move players this season, expect to see deals with Western Conference clubs. Zucker hasn’t lived up to expectations in Pittsburgh, so expect him to be a prime trade candidate if the team can’t climb their way out of the basement.