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Jason Zucker: Soon To Be Wild?

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Jason Zucker is having a great rookie season with the Houston Aeros, but is it enough for a roster spot of the Minnesota Wild 2013?

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

We all know that Mikael Granlund has a 98% chance of being a Minnesota Wild player this 2013 season. We also know he has about a 85% chance of being the Wild's second line forward, barring a disappointing training camp performance.

But what about Jason Zucker?

If the season started during 2012, it was expected that Jason Zucker would be playing in Houston and the Wild would be on its way to playing itself into a playoff position by the end of the season (yeah, I said it!).

But it has been a few months into the AHL season, and not only has Zucker proven to be a top player for the Aeros, he has proven to one of the top rookies in the entire AHL.

Jason Zucker's Current Performance

You could not have asked for a better rookie performance from Jason Zucker.

He currently leads all AHL rookie forwards with 15 goals and 17 assists in only 31 games. He is 2nd amongst all AHL rookies, right behind Oilers prospect Justin Schultz.

I have always been a strong believer that Zucker would ultimately develop into a top NHL third liner. A player that you put on an energy line because of his ability to skate quickly, forecheck hard, agitate opponents, and have a deceptive shot. A more talented Cal Clutterbuck if you will.

Even during his successful years in the WCHA, I held that belief.

But he consistently scores points, and without the presence of Mikael Granlund, that makes me question myself.

Minnesota Wild Current Situation

For a better look at where Zucker stands within the Wild organization, here is the projected lines for the 2013 season.

Zach Parise Mikko Koivu Dany Heatley
Pierre-Marc Bouchard Mikael Granlund Devin Setoguchi
Matt Cullen Kyle Brodziak Cal Clutterbuck
Darroll Powe Zenon Konopka Torrey Mitchell
Matt Kassian Jake Dowell Stephane Veilleux

The first four lines are filled with regular NHLers. Even the fourth line is filled with veterans like Darroll Powe, Zenon Konopka, and Torrey Mitchell.

What about being the extra, or reserved, forward?

The Wild currently have three extra forwards under NHL contracts.

Matt Kassian is under a two-year one way contract, meaning the Wild want him up on the pro roster.

Jake Dowell, according to cap geek, is under a two-year deal, with the 2013 season being a two-way contract and the 2013-14 under a one-way deal. This hints that the Wild have some hope for his future rather than him purely being a filler player.

Then you have Stephane Veilleux. He is under a one-year two-way contract, but he is a Wild veteran so ....

Can Zucker Beat His Competition?

Zucker is going up against NHL veterans. Not an easy task. And maybe the Wild calling up Mikael Granlund but not Jason Zucker might be a sure sign he is staying in the AHL.

But I don't care. Can he do it?

I think he can.

As much as I love Matt Kassian, he has not proven himself quite yet at the NHL level. He has played a total of 28 NHL games, not exactly an experienced NHL.

We all know what Kassian brings: an enforcer with great character but not the greatest skater or anything else. We all love him, he is a great player. It was great watching him sign that two-year one way contract. But besides some physicality, he is not going to bring a whole lot more.

Jake Dowell might be Zucker's biggest hurdle. Dowell has been an NHL regular for the past two seasons and brings some competitiveness that the Wild love on their bottom two lines.

But can Zucker bring similar tools? I believe he can. Zucker is a quick skater with great forechecking abilities, which is what the Wild expect from Dowell. However, not only can Zucker forecheck, he can score goals as well. If the Wild some scoring ability on its bottom lines that don't have to go against top pairing defenseman like Zdeno Chara, then Zucker might give them that extra kick.

Stephane Veilleux, although the most experience Wild player out of the three mentioned, should be the least competition for Zucker. He is on a one-year two-way deal, meaning the Wild should have no problem sending him to waivers and down to the AHL. He is a good, solid player, but his contract offers little restrictions.

But this is just talking about the reserves. It would be a huge task to beat Darroll Powe or Torrey Mitchell.

What Jason Zucker Brings To The Table

A hardworking and agitating forechecking forward. Skates hard, skates quick. Energetic and determined. A deceptive shot, a good nose for the net.

If the Wild some solid physical presence on its fourth line, then Zucker probably won't wear the Wild jersey.

But say, the Wild continue to struggle scoring goals, like it has always have.

Say, the Wild need more goals and that its top two lines are consistently shutdown. We've seen this time and time again. My most vivid memory of this was when the Wild played against the Anaheim Ducks in the 2007 playoffs.

The Slovak line (RIP Pavol Demitra) and the Brian Rolston - Pierre-Marc Bouchard duo were snuffed out by the group of Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin and forward Samuel Pahlsson.

Oh, it was painful to watch.

But what if you had Cal Clutterbuck and Jason Zucker on your third line?

What if, with all the opponents focus on Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Devin Setoguchi, they put out their worst defenseman against our third line?

Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, and Jason Zucker are not weak offensively.

...But I Might Be Stretching It A Bit

Looking at the crowd of forwards, Jason Zucker will probably stay with the Aeros and develop there with top line minutes.

The only way he'll play for the Wild are under three options:

  1. The Wild need more offense from the bottom lines, because the group of Matt Kassian, Jake Dowell, or Stephane Veilleux is not going to bring goals
  2. The Wild traded away Pierre-Marc Bouchard before the season ends, and needs a person who can score goals alongside Mikael Granlund and Devin Setoguchi
  3. Our entire third, fourth, and reserve forward group sucks because they are all out of shape from not playing

The most likely scenario is #1, where the Wild need Jason Zucker to produce some bottom line offense and I tell you, I would extremely excited to see this on the ice in 2013

Jason Zucker - Kyle Brodziak - Cal Clutterbuck