ST. PAUL -- It was a career season for Jason Zucker. Now, the Wild forward hopes to secure his long-term future, potentially as soon as this summer.
In Zucker's mind, where the future lies isn't really up for much debate. Asked if he hopes to return to Minnesota next season -- and beyond -- the pending restricted free agent left no doubt.
"100 percent, yeah," Zucker said during the team's locker clean out day last month.
With the Wild's front office in flux and a new general manager hire still to come, Zucker's future remains cloudy for now. But the speedy winger did his part to prove his worth, posting career bests in goals (33), assists (31), points (64), power-play goals (7), power-play points (16) and game-winning goals (7). The final number was equal to his total from the past three seasons combined.
Ultimately, however, it's the ending of the season that will stick in the minds of some, including Zucker, who was critical of himself for his performance in the Wild's postseason series against the Winnipeg Jets.
Minnesota lost the series in five games, ending its season in the First Round for a third consecutive year, a big reason why owner Craig Leipold chose not to renew the contract of former general manager Chuck Fletcher.
"It's very frustrating. It's definitely not the way I wanted it to be, the last bit. For me, I pride myself on trying to step up when we don't have guys in, trying to be a leader when I can and really step up in those situations, and I didn't do that this year," Zucker said. "It's very disappointing, and I take full responsibility for that. It's no one else's fault except for mine. That was definitely tough, but at the same time, I know I had a good regular season. But when it mattered, I didn't come to play."
Even after a disappointing playoff performance, Zucker's regular season numbers showed the kind of player he can be. Zucker said he believes there is even more he can give in the future.
"I feel I still have room to grow, which is great. I still feel I can be a better player," Zucker said. "So, during the season, after the season, talking to family and (Zucker's wife) Carly and friends, I still already have found ways to be better and I know I will be next year and I'm excited for that. It'll definitely be a good summer."
Zucker's good summer will commence back home in Las Vegas next month after he was named a final-three finalist for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership both on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community.
The Zucker family, through it's #GIVE16 initiative, donated nearly $1 million to Masonic Children's Hospital for the Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio.
It's Zucker's way of giving back to his adopted home, a place he hopes this summer, becomes a permanent one.
"I'll be involved. I'll definitely be involved. I'm not one that likes to sit back and say, 'here you go.' So I'll definitely be involved as much as possible," Zucker said. "For me, the goal and the plan is to be here and I will do everything I can to make sure that it happens."