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Zucker readies for rebound season in 2019-20

Oft-discussed on the trade rumor mill over the past year, Wild forward excited to still be in Minnesota

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

EDINA -- For much of the past year, Wild forward Jason Zucker has heard his name floated publicly as a guy on the move.

Zucker, who came of age in Minnesota with Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter, watched as all three were traded mid-year last season. For whatever reason, however, Zucker, who had his name talked about perhaps more than any of those three, is the one who remains in Minnesota. 

Even after signing a five-year contract extension with the Wild last summer, it didn't stop Zucker's name from being included in any number of trade discussions. Then 26 years old and coming off a 33-goal season, Zucker became one of Minnesota's most valuable trade assets. With a new general manager in the mix ready to make his stamp on the team, Zucker was often talked about as a guy who could be dealt.

Even after the draft and the summer, Zucker's name continued to roll through the rumor mill during the season. 

His wife, Carly, a Minnesota native, was pregnant and due in March. His family had settled here. The state had become home for him as well. For his part, Zucker did a remarkable job of compartmentalizing everything during the season and not allowing it to become a distraction, at least publicly. 

But with yet another GM on his way in the coming weeks, those rumors have calmed down and Zucker, it appears, will have a chance to play out that contract in Minnesota.

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"I'm glad that it has definitely settled down here for a while," Zucker said Monday after being named the player of the game in his team's win at Da Beauty League.

The word "comfortable" is cringe-worthy for any professional athlete, but in this case, Zucker says he'll enter this season with -- at the very least -- a sense of relief. 

"You can never really have that feeling [of comfort], but I'm glad I have another four years on my contract," Zucker said. "I think this past year showed though that that doesn't matter. For me, it's about coming in ready to perform and that's it."

No matter where Zucker would have been playing this fall, he would have come into the season a motivated player. As it turns out, Minnesota is searching for a new general manager for the second consecutive summer, which means he and the rest of his teammates will have plenty to prove to another new set of eyes. 

Personally, however, Zucker didn't have the kind of season he wanted last year. Coming off his 33-goal campaign in 2017-18, Zucker scored 21 goals and 42 points, 22 fewer than the year prior. 

In April, he characterized his season as a disappointment and one that did not live up to his own standards.

Video: Locker clean out: Zucker

"Yeah, 21 goals, for me, is something I think that should be higher," he said at the team's post-season locker clean out. "I'm not satisfied with that at all. I want to be scoring 30 every year. For me, that's the mindset that I have."

Part of that was a shooting percentage that was the second-lowest of his career. Zucker was credited with just eight fewer shots on goal (in one fewer game played) than the season prior. During his career year, he scored on 14.9 percent of those shots, while he finished just 9.8 percent of chances last season.

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said last week that he counted 13 posts among Zucker's misses, which means the difference between a disappointing 21-goal season and a second consecutive 30-goal campaign was, quite literally, a matter of inches.

"Years happen like that. Everyone that's been around a little while has had a year like that," Zucker said. "For me, it's about re-focusing on this year and on my training and that's it."

It's been a busy summer for Zucker, who was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy at the NHL Awards in his hometown of Las Vegas back in June. He and Carly just returned from a vacation in California on Sunday, a trip home that signified the unofficial beginning of the hockey season for him. 

He'll spend the next month prepping for the start of training camp and a chance to prove that last season -- for both he and the Wild -- was a bump in the road.

"It's been a really long summer, but the good part of it has been, lots of time to train and get ready for this year," Zucker said. "For us, we want to be back in the playoffs. I think there are a lot of guys with stuff to prove, including myself. It's not that we haven't proven ourselves before, but it's more proving it to ourselves and our team what we are capable of."

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