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Zucker, With New Contract, Expecting More

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Though Jason Zucker said it's hard to pin down specifically what went wrong during the 2015-16 season, he said, "There were a lot of things that I did and that happened that were unacceptable."

On Wednesday, Zucker, a restricted free agent, re-signed for two years with the Minnesota Wild, the team that drafted him, and the organization he's been a part of his entire professional career.

He also vowed to improve on his 2015-16 performance, and not turn in a repeat year.

"For me, I just need to make sure that I have a good offseason like I know I can, and then come in for training camp ready, and better than I ever have," Zucker said. "I'm expecting nothing less than that."

The start of the season went well for Zucker, skating on a line with Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter. He had six goals and 14 points through the first 18 games, averaging over 18 minutes time on ice.

But Zucker had five goals and six points over his next 35 games, and saw his average ice time decrease by nearly three minutes.

"It's one of those things that you have to attribute to a lot of things, and say, for us, the team started losing a few games, and guys were trying to do a little too much, and guys were cheating, and guys were worried about points," Zucker said. "It goes on, and on, and on, and every guy went through a little bit of everything there, and it's tough to get out of it sometimes."

Zucker hasn't shied away from being critical of his 2015-16 season.

"It's tough because it's one of those things that you can't really put your finger on exactly one thing that caused a bit of a lull in the year," he said. "Everything dried up."

Zucker, who broke into the NHL in 2011, and has played all 169 games and five seasons of his career in Minnesota, said it was a no-brainer to re-up with the Wild, the team that selected him in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft.

"Obviously it's something that I've wanted to get done for a little bit, and I've been trying to get it done," Zucker said. "It's nice to finally not have to worry about it anymore, and be focused on my training the next few months, and come back in ready in camp."

Now, Zucker said, he's excited to work with a new head coach in Bruce Boudreau, like the rest of his Wild teammates, and make a deep run in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Zucker said while Boudreau has a reputation for being an offensively minded coach, he's proven himself to be an all-around effective bench boss.

Over the past two seasons, Zucker has scored 28 5-on-5 goals, and is 16th in the NHL with 1.06 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes of ice time.

"[Boudreau] definitely has that track record, and that's something that a lot of players do want to play for," Zucker said. "It’s a lot of fun to play in that type of a system.

"I know I’m definitely excited to get there, and get to know him, and learn his systems, and learn how to play under his style."

Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has brought Zucker's name up on several occasions when discussing potential fits for the Wild's top-six forwards.

"We expect a guy like Jason Zucker to bounce back, and be a better hockey player this year," Fletcher said prior the NHL Draft, and prior to Zucker re-signing with Minnesota.

Zucker said with the opportunity there, he doesn't want an external candidate filling a featured role he knows he capable of excelling in.

"That's obviously the plan," he said. "For me, it's one of those things that — and I should say for any player — you never want them to bring another guy in to take a spot you can possibly take. For me, I want to come in, take that spot, and run with it."

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