"Pain-wise it wasn't bad until the numbing wore off, but overall, I think the toughest part is once your thumb is numb, you can't feel your stick very well, so stick-handling was a little bit tough," Jason Zucker said talking about dealing with a broken thumb after taking a Alex Pietrangelo shot to his hand in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal. This came after a Game 1 win in St. Louis in which Zucker scored the first goal of the game by using his speed to wrap the puck around the far post before Jake Allen even knew what happened. In fact, all of Scottrade Center hadn't even sat back in their seats yet from the National Anthem when Zucker scored at 2:47 of the first period.
It was his third goal after returning from a broken clavicle on April 7th. Zucker returned from the lengthy stint on the disabled list with a hot hand. He was able to use his biggest weapon - his speed - to create havoc on opposing defenseman. It was something that he was able to do all season long during a breakout year by scoring 21 goals in 51 games, to be tied for third on the Wild. Zucker had been a positive possession player all season posting a 54.47 shot attempt percentage at 5-on-5. That's third best on the team among forwards. If you pare that down for SAT%Rel, he falls the 5th with 2.72%. Mind you, he did not see the kind of power play time that you'd expect the third best goal scorer on the team to have.
Zucker was the third best among forwards for High-Danger Scoring Chances for. He was also better than players like Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, and Kyle Brodziak when it came to limiting High-Danger Scoring chances against. His 1.57 Goals per 60 minutes was tops on the entire team. He had a positive impact on scoring when he was on the ice in the regular season.
Switch to the playoffs and his possession metrics fall. He dropped to 43.11 SAT% in the 10 games of the playoffs. Zucker's line, which featured Mikko Koivu, was heavily neutralized in both series. Even more so, throughout the playoffs Zucker's HSCF%Rel dropped to -1.2%. The SCF60 minutes was at its highest in Game 1. He scored the one goal in Game 1 against the Blues and wouldn't score again until Game 1 against the Blackhawks. The was more a less a redirection of a Thomas Vanek pass to the slot.
A broken thumb will limit the ability for a player to grip a stick and then let go a shot. Manipulating the puck while it's on your stick is difficult as well. That's where the construction of a hockey glove comes in. The hockey glove has stiff padding on the exterior of the thumb to protect from other sticks and keep it from bending the opposite direction. The immobilization of the thumb would allow him to keep playing. Shooting the puck just wouldn't be the same and the stinging pain would definitely have an adverse affect on his game.
Couple that with the type of match up that is the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, and they'll make it tough to be an offensive catalyst for any one player. Zucker being injured just limited his ability to be the x-factor that he was in the season when he was healthy.
Could a healthy Jason Zucker have made a difference in the playoffs? We will never know exactly how he could have put his stamp on the post-season given, but it would have been fun to at least see what more he could have been capable of.