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For Jason Zucker, There's No Going Back

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In just six games, Jason Zucker has already matched his career high season goal total of four set in each of the past two seasons. Best of all? He's doing it from the fourth line.

Wild winger Jason Zucker burns Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop for his fourth goal of the season and second of the game.
Wild winger Jason Zucker burns Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop for his fourth goal of the season and second of the game.
Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The fact that Zucker is currently Minnesota's leading goal scorer shouldn't be too surprising. What is, is that it has come so soon and in a fourth line role.

However, the 2010 59th overall pick is so much more than a one dimensional goal scorer with sheltered minutes. As a player that was sent down to Iowa early last season for his inability to play a responsible two-way game, Zucker has been a key cog on a shutdown line with seasoned vets Ryan Carter and Matt Cooke. Together, the three have proven to play with speed, grit, surprising offensive ability and dogged determination. There's hardly anything more fun to watch than the scrappy trio giving opposing defenses fits in their own zone for extended periods of time.

Zucker isn't just contributing in five-on-five play, either. Through six games, he's averaged 1:31 of shorthanded ice-time per game. That's good enough for fifth in Minnesota's forward corps not including Kyle Brodziak, who has been scratched for all but two games.

Then there's the goal he scored on the penalty kill late in the Wild's 7-2 thrashing of the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning.

Minnesota rear guard Marco Scandella flipped the puck out of the zone, out of the reach of a Lightning defender and Zucker was off to the races, roofing a nifty backhander past Ben Bishop and into the back of the net. It was beautiful, magical, electrifying, and dare I say, cheeky even. It was everything the fan base has been hoping for ever since watching his promising amateur career with Team USA and the Denver Pioneers.

With eight goals, 12 points and a plus-4 rating in 47 regular season games prior to this season, it wasn't an easy start to Zucker's pro career, even though he did score the overtime game-winning goal in Game Three of Minnesota's short-lived playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012-13. Then, with the emergence of Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Jonas Brodin, Darcy Kuemper, and the arrival of Nino Niederreiter, he seemed to hit every branch as he fell from the top of the prospect tree. No more. For Jason Zucker, there's no going back to anything less than NHL hockey. And, really, why should he? Zucker has proven he has the soft mitts and blazing speed of a dangerous offensive weapon, but the big knock on him from last year no longer has any validity.

He can be a 200-foot player. He can play defense. He can play quality minutes in all situations and be both defensively sound and a deadly scoring threat at the same time. And that is why the Iowa Wild and their fans can probably kiss him goodbye for good. Oh, Zucker, Des Moines hardly knew ye, but welcome to the bright lights of St. Paul.