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Squabbling Siblings: Is Jason Zucker Top 6 Material?

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The first round of JS and Emilie's bickerings. The topic? Jason Zucker.

I still think he looks like James Franco
I still think he looks like James Franco
Harry How

Hello and welcome to round one of our new debate feature. As you recall, this whole idea started when Emilie almost booted me out of HW just to see if she had the power to do it. We've been at war ever since. (Well not really, but just go with it!). Nathan, playing the role of papa bear, told us he'd turn the Internet around if we didn't play nice. That's why we decided to call this Squabbling Siblings. Emilie and I are the HW kids, brother and sister, Nathan's the dad, Bryan's the creepy uncle.

For the maiden voyage of the S.S. Moose Rips Sunshine A New One, we discuss Jason Zucker. Drafted 59th overall by the Wild in 2010, he's been turning heads ever since his end-of-season stint with the Wild in which he supplied a jolt of energy along with 2 assists in 6 games to start his NHL career. He's currently second on the Aeros in scoring with 18 points (11G, which leads the team, and 7A) in 16 games. Justin Fontaine has a one point lead with three more games played. Those 18 points also put him third in AHL rookie scoring. He's most likely the Aeros' best player in Mikael Granlund's absence. He's also the most improved Wild prospect, along with Tyler Graovac in my opinion.

The question up for debate? Is Jason Zucker top 6 material?

Emilie is saying YES, I'm saying NO.

The way we've decided to do this is that we each wrote our main points, then we sent what we wrote to our adversary and we made counterpoints to go against what they've written. It goes point/point, counterpoint/counterpoint. We'll try it this way for now, maybe we'll find a better way later.

Now, we've put up a poll for you to vote on the debate's winner. This isn't simply a popularity contest like every other political debate ever. We actually want you to vote for the person you feel won the debate. The person with whom you agree. The person that is right. Don't vote for me because you like me better. Vote for me because I whooped Emilie's butt (Be warned, there WILL be trash talking in these posts). What good are bragging rights if you don't win correctly?

By now, you probably know who is who, so vote when you're done reading. You have until the stroke of midnight on Sunday, which means 2 AM on Monday over here in New-Brunswick...Yes, I'm from the future! Oooooh!

Anyhoo, here we go!

JS's initial arguments

Zucker displays a ton of speed and energy each time he comes on the ice. It seems to me that if the Wild want to run 3 scoring lines, Zucker would be the best player to build that 3rd line around. He wouldn’t be quite as effective if he had to play 15-20 minutes per game. Our very own prospect expert, Dan Chan, had this to say in Bryan's Let’s meet Jason Zucker post last March:

Plays with a lot of hustle and tons of energy. Has solid offensive abilities all-around; possesses a very good wrist shot. Willing to make the hit, go into the dirty areas and go into traffic. A very good skater with impressive speed. Extremely versatile. Has a solid build to play his style of game. Extremely confident.

Our buddy Dan Shrader from First Round Bust classified Zucker as a tweener, meaning he could easily be juggled from 2nd to 3rd line. (Think Cal Clutterbuck right now, except better). The thing is though is that there’s a reason they’re tweeners: they’re not quite full-fledged 2nd liners. Zucker has the scoring chops, sure, but his main asset is speed and it’s hard to maintain that speed over 2nd line minutes.

Another thing is competition. Right now, there’s Parise, Heatley, Clutterbuck, Setoguchi, Coyle, Granlund (if he shifts to wing) and Bouchard (if he comes back). Sure, Heatley and Bouchard are likely going away soon, but they’ll be replaced either by free agents, the other prospects the Wild have now or other prospects they will draft. That’s a lot of competition for Zucker. Now I’m not saying he can’t rise to the top of the pack, but it would seem wasteful to me to put Coyle or Granlund on the third line, or even Setoguchi.

Zucker will do fine as an injury replacement on the top 6, but his real spot should be on the third line, with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck. Let your mouths water at the thought of seeing that third line go. If worse comes to worse, Zucker’s versatility also makes him one of the best trade chips the Wild possesses.

Emilie's gibberish

One of my favorite parts of the lockout has been the ability to closely watch the Aeros games and watch our prospects develop without being totally thrown into the fire. Out of all of the guys down there, Jason Zucker has by far been the most impressive. I'll be honest; I was pretty impressed with his game when he played for the Wild at the end of last season. He didn't look out of place at all, although with the team that we had on the ice towards the end of the season was pretty damn horrible. There was a lot of discussion on here about what Zucker's role would be with the Wild, with a lot of people believing that he would be a third line agitator. I disagreed then, and I disagree now.

Here are just some of Zucks stats right now

-Second for the Aeros in scoring, first on the team in goals scored

-Third in the league for a rookie in scoring (behind Schultz-OKC and Sgarbossa-LEM)

-He has 11 goals already this season (Same as Justin Schultz by the way). He's tied for 5th place in goals scored.

-He has only played 16 games, and score 18 points. The next highest scoring person that has only played 16 games only has 14 points. Most of the people ahead of him in terms of scoring have played 20 or more games. He is averaging 1.125 pts a game, which means that he would have about 22.5 pts if he had played 20 games. That's good enough for 5th place in points in the AHL.

- In the last 4 games played, he has five goals and two assists for a total of 7pts

-He just tied an AHL record for fast OT goal scored in just 5 seconds.

Keep in mind, he's done all of this while missing 3 or 4 games (I can't remember exactly how many) with a wrist injury.

Then there is his goal scoring. Please enjoy the following clips on a few of his goals

-AHL tying record goal

Jason Zucker OT goal (Nov. 25, 2012) (via AHLVideo)

- Third goal scored is Zucker's, as is the 6th, he also has an assist on the fifth goal

3- 4 OKC Barons vs Houston Aeros highlights (via Granlund644664)

- This is a compilation, but it is Aero highlights from the last 6 games. I count six Zucker goals and one Zucker assist. It also doesn't include his shoot-out goal against OKC

Houston Aeros Highlight Reel Goals (via Granlund644664)

Finally, there is the mess of what the Wild's line up would be. Assuming that the lockout goes all season, we loss Cullen and PMB before next season starts. The top line is going to be Parise-Koivu-Heatly. Second line will be someone-Granlund- Setoguchi. We've got Brodziak, Clutterbuck, Dowell, Kassian, Konopka, Mitchell, Powe and Veilleux out of veteran guys (Honestly, some of these guys are probably going to be gone too). None of them are suited to play second line. Out of wingers, Only Coyle could challenge Zucker for that spot in my opinion. Right now Zucker is adjusting to pro-hockey quicker. If you watch some of the above clips closl, Zucker is practically skating circles around the other teams (and a lot of those guys are NHL ready guys). His stick handling is sick, and the goals that he is scoring are absolutely insane. He has way too much talent to be put on a third line as an agitator. He's a beast!

JS's Counterattack

While very impressive, I'm not sure tying an AHL record for fastest OT goal gives him top 6 credentials. He shares that record with Dave Saatzer and Chris Corrinet. Corrinet played 8 NHL games with the Washington Capitals in his career. He also had less than half a point a game in the AHL. Saatzer was a brawler who played 2 AHL seasons with the defunct Nova Scotia Voyageurs, scoring 33 points in 87 games. In short, they weren't top 6 players, despite scoring quick goals from time to time.

That's another thing, he can score all he wants in the AHL, but the NHL is a different animal. AHL scoring is usually a good indicator of NHL success, but there have been many cases in which AHL stars become nobodies in the NHL and even the other way around sometimes.

The prettiness of the goals doesn't do a damn thing either. Watch Robbie Schremp or Linus Omark highlights on YouTube. Where are these guys now?

Emilie very likely has the second line down when she says ‘'someone-Granlund-Setoguchi''. However, she ignores the aforementioned possibility of new players acquired via trade, free agency or draft.

Just because he'd be a third line player, it doesn't mean he'd absolutely be an agitator. He'd be an energy scorer, an extra scoring source. Good teams usually roll 3 scoring lines, and that 3rd scoring line can provide physicality. Suppose Zucker plays with Clutterbuck and Mitchell or Brodziak, these guys can play the role of agitator AND complement Zucker as he concentrates on scoring. Being a bottom-six player doesn't mean you're not allowed to score, it means you'll have less time, but more energy to do so. Like I said, if Zucker's too tired to wheel, he won't deal.

Now, I don't want you to think I hate the guy. I love him. He's one of my favorite prospects right now. But that doesn't mean I think he should be made a top 6 player. We need to manage our expectations. I sincerely believe he'd be more effective to himself and to the team playing as an elite 3rd liner.

Emilie's attempt at a counter

Counterpoint 1

there’s a reason they’re tweeners: they’re not quite full-fledged 2nd liners. Zucker has the scoring chops, sure, but his main asset is speed and it’s hard to maintain that speed over 2nd line minutes.

I know that the AHL is different from the NHL, but he’s pulling top line minutes right now, along with PP AND PK minutes. Considering the Aeros are on the PK a hell of a lot (Saturday’s game had 8 minor penalties assessed to the Aeros), he is already pulling a lot of ice time as it is.

Counterpoint 2

Another thing is competition.

I addressed this in my original post, but I’ll expand on it more. The way I see it, if Granlund moves to wing there is no way that he doesn’t play on the top line. The chemistry that he has with Koivu is incomparable to line chemistry with any other players on the Wilds roster at the moment. But that is only going to happen if Heatly is gone, or stops producing points completely. With our salary cap mess, I highly doubt that we are going to be landing any top free agents in the next few years. Coyle is a strong contender, but he isn’t ready yet. Although a second line of Zucker-Granlund-Coyle makes my mouth water quite a bit.

Counterpoint 3

It seems to me that if the Wild want to run 3 scoring lines, Zucker would be the best player to build that 3rd line around.

Like I told JS earlier this week, when the Wild have three solid scoring lines I will finally be able to die a happy woman. But they don’t have the talent to do that right now. Maybe in 4 or 5 years they might, but in the next 2 it’s very doubtful that it will happen. It seems wasteful to put a very solid scoring threat on a line that isn’t focused on scoring.

So that's Round 1 of our new rivalry! Give us your thoughts in the comments section and your votes in the poll.