Penguins’ Jason Zucker Off to a Good Start

Forward Jason Zucker joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in February 2020 via a trade with the Minnesota Wild. Since his time in Pittsburgh, he has struggled to stay healthy and, therefore, has not been a huge contributor. However, the Penguins are hoping this season he will turn things around.

Zucker’s Potential

Through no fault of his own, Zucker’s career has been plagued by injuries. He broke his collarbone in 2015, and his fibula in 2019. Since joining the Penguins, he has undergone the second core muscle surgery of his career, the first in 2017. Immediately after returning from that surgery, he suffered a serious leg injury. Since he was added to the Penguins’ roster in 2020, he has missed 38.5% of regular-season games. He has logged a total of 94 games in Pittsburgh with 23 goals and 24 assists. 

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The Penguins had the opportunity to trade Zucker during the offseason, but they chose to hold on to him instead. This was in part because most offers called for him to be packaged with a first-round draft pick in exchange for future considerations. General manager Ron Hextall would not part with his first-round picks and made it clear that he is trying to build something in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the second reason the Penguins have kept Zucker is his potential to be a great player. 

It was clear after the Penguins’ first preseason game on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets that Zucker has worked hard to improve his game over the summer. His speed and agility were on full display, and fans are hoping his game-winning goal in overtime is a sign of what’s to come.

Jason Zucker Pittsburgh Penguins
Jason Zucker, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Zucker skates on the second line to the left of center Evgeni Malkin with Bryan Rust on the right wing. It is easy to see why the Penguins are optimistic about this line. Both Zucker and Rust are dangerous forecheckers with a lot of speed, and combined with Malkin’s dangerous shot, they will be a threat to any opponent. 

Zucker also has the ability to be a very versatile player. In his early days with the Penguins, he was paired with captain Sidney Crosby, and the duo found immediate chemistry. His fast-paced game was the perfect complement to Crosby’s style of play. He has the ability to play well not only along the boards but also in the corners and behind the net. This gives the Penguins even more options, which is always a good thing. 

Zucker’s Future 

Zucker has proven that he is a good player when healthy. He is in the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. The Penguins will be paying close attention to him as the season progresses to see if he will be a part of their future. 

If he can manage to stay injury free, there is no reason he can not score upwards of 20 goals in 2022-23. He is a strong player and a hard worker. After his injury last season, he had to re-learn to skate in a different way than he was used to and, essentially, had to change his whole game and learn to think differently. The biggest hurdle that he must overcome is finding a way to stay healthy, and as long as the Penguins know they can keep him on the ice, good things will happen.