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Zucker Nearing His Chance

by Natalie Dillon / Minnesota Wild

Minnesota Wild fans have heard a lot about the inventory of young talent that has Minnesota Wild prospects ranked second in the National Hockey League according to ESPN Insider. By now, many of them probably know the name Jason Zucker.

He’s that University of Denver sophomore that has ranked among the top point scorers in the nation all season. He’s the rare kid from Las Vegas, Nevada that is viewed as a top NHL prospect. He’s the leader that just skated for Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championship for the third straight year and wore the “C” on his left shoulder.
The Wild drafted Zucker in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. By then, he was already known for being one of two Americans to deliver the United States three gold medals in the same calendar year, including victories at the 2010 World Juniors and the 2009-10 World Under-18 Championships.

But he’s shown his best hockey was still waiting. As a freshman at DU, Zucker ranked second on his team with 45 points and tied for the team lead with 23 goals. He helped the Pioneers to within a game of the Frozen Four by scoring a goal in the second overtime of Denver’s NCAA first round victory over Western Michigan.

Minnesota Wild Director of Player Development Brad Bombardir said sometimes freshmen are able fly under the radar and find success because other teams don’t know their strengths. This doesn’t seem to have been the case for Zucker.

“Players know that he’s a good player. They know his assets and what he does well on the ice, and he’s still able to have a successful year so far,” Bombardir explained. “We’re very happy with him and his progress.”

Now in his sophomore year, Zucker is well on his way to posting even bigger numbers. So far, he has 33 points on 14 goals and 19 assists in his 24 games, tied for 14th in the nation in scoring. He leads the Pioneers in shots and has racked up six power-play goals. Already, he has 10 multiple-point games.

Not bad for a kid born and raised in the Mojave Desert. In fact, Zucker is the first Nevada-raised player to be drafted in the NHL. But no player with determination like Zucker’s would let geography slow him down.

Bombardir said Zucker’s mentality is as close to a professional’s as a player his age can be.

“He’s very focused and he’s very disciplined,” Bombardir said. “If he continues to work the way he has, he’s got the mental setup to continue to improve and hopefully play for us in the National Hockey League one day.”

He said the World Juniors allowed Zucker to show the world his strengths. Combining speed, playmaking ability, shooting and fierce competitiveness, Zucker notched seven points in 2012.

“Those are his key strengths that got him to the level he is at now and will get him to the next level,” Bombardir said.
Zucker, who grew up idolizing Wayne Gretzky, points to his speed and his shot as his biggest assets.

“I try to use them to my advantage,” he said. “I try to shoot the puck whenever I can and use my speed in all aspects of the game.”

So far it’s working for him, but Zucker said there are areas he needs to improve on before he can move to the next level. To prepare for the physical demands of professional hockey, he works daily with trainers to grow bigger and stronger.

Bombardir said Zucker’s competitive nature bodes well for his future.

“He wants to get better. He wants to play at another level. He wants to play in the National Hockey League,” he explained.

For now, Zucker is focused on the months ahead. Denver currently ranks fourth in the WCHA standings and is within close reach of an NCAA playoff spot come March.

“The team’s been working hard and playing well,” Zucker said. “[A National Championship] is something that we’re working towards.”
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