Hockey Journal Profiles DU Recruit Jason Zucker

(above) Jason Zucker brings a winning pedigree to DU

From: Hockey Journal
by Kirk Luedeke

There aren’t many players in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft class who can claim the level of sacrifice, commitment and dedication to hockey that U.S. National Team Development Program forward Jason Zucker can.

The diminutive but skilled left winger stands about 5-foot-10 and weighs in at around 175 pounds, but if one could factor in the size of one’s heart beyond the physical dimensions, Zucker would likely top the scales at 200 pounds.

A native of Las Vegas, he became the first player from that state to compete in the World Junior (Under-20) tournament last winter and was also a pioneer at the NHL draft combine last month, but it is his trio of gold medals earned over the last year for Team USA that speaks the loudest about his tenacity and potential at the highest level.

“Winning isn’t an easy thing, no matter what tournament you’re competing in,” Zucker told recently, as he wrapped up his time in Ann Arbor, Mich., after an distinguished two-year stint with the program. “Whether you’re talking about the midget-major nationals, the state high school championship or Stanley Cup finals, none of them are a cakewalk, so to be a part of not one, not two, but three championship teams in one year is as proud and humbling an experience I can describe.”

Zucker started skating at the age of 2½ and was competing in roller hockey games by three. He played his first competitive ice hockey at age six and, by the time he turned 10, had decided to leave Vegas for a better level of competition in California with the Los Angeles Hockey Club, where he spent two years honing his skills.

Returning to Nevada for two years to play for the Las Vegas Outlaws AAA team, Zucker then went east to Michigan, where he spent two more seasons with the storied Detroit Compuware program before making the U.S. NTDP at age 16. The ledger reads that over the last eight years, Zucker has spent six of them away from his family, challenging himself at levels not possible in his home state and pursuing a pro hockey dream in the process.

“I was lucky enough to have my family behind me from day one,” Zucker said, referring to his parents (Scott and Natalie) and older brother, Evan, whom he credits for getting him started in the sport he loves (he also has a younger brother and sister). “They shipped me out (to California) at 10 because I wanted to play hockey there. Everything has been my choice and they’ve supported me the whole time.

“If I want to play hockey, then I will. If not, I won’t. But the support was always there and they were behind me even when hockey took me away from home.”

Zucker’s draft stock has been rising steadily this season. Lauded by scouts for his soft hands and offensive abilities, he emerged as a much more effective two-way player and energy forward this season, his coming out party happening at this year’s World Juniors. There is some concern that his smallish frame won’t hold up to the kind of kamikaze-style he plays, but at least thus far, his physicality hasn’t been an issue.

His skating, for a player under 6-feet, isn’t explosive, but if he can pick up a step or two, should be fine at the next level given his smarts and work ethic.

“(Zucker) performed his role as a pest and physical agitator to perfection,” said the independent scouting source Red Line Report back in January, after Zucker and his teammates stunned Canada, winning the World Juniors gold medal in overtime. “Throws his body around recklessly like a heat-seeking missile despite his below-average size.”

Team USA’s youngest member, who didn’t turn 18 until about two weeks after the tournament wrapped up, scored several big goals and impressed scouts with his willingness to go into heavy traffic areas and take the puck hard to the net. Despite being one of the more youthful players in the most prestigious tournament made up of mostly amateur prospects and future NHL stars, Zucker showed the kind of ability, competitiveness and moxie beyond his years -- all traits that big league clubs covet.

“It was an amazing experience,” Zucker said. “We had a great group of guys who did whatever it took to win, and we got all the instruction and support from our coaches that allowed us to go out and compete night in and night out.”

Like another highly accomplished teammate, netminder Jack Campbell, Zucker was a member of the 2009 and 2010 Under-18 champion squads, giving them an unprecedented (for Team USA) three gold medals in a calendar year. Campbell recognized a kindred spirit in Zucker when the pair joined the NTDP together and not surprisingly, a close bond of friendship blossomed between the two in short time.

“Jason is my best friend on the team,” Campbell told “Two years ago, we made a pact -- that we’d spend an extra half hour on the ice together every day so that we could push ourselves beyond the limit and take maximum advantage of our opportunity (in the program). We did extra sprints, took extra shots, and did the kinds of things to make ourselves better.

“That’s why, two years later, I think the both of us can look back on our time (in Ann Arbor) with such a sense of accomplishment. Jason’s worked so hard for everything; nothing comes easy in this game, and it’s been so much fun to share in the success (we’ve had) with such a close friend and teammate.”

Zucker’s 29 goals and 53 points in 60 games with the Under-18 team this season underscore the kind of promise he’s shown offensively, and by this time next year, he’ll have a year of college hockey under his belt at the University of Denver. Zucker will join another impressive freshman and 2010 draft prospect up front in Beau Bennett, and should benefit from coach George Gwozdecky’s pro-style system.

“I’m really excited,” said Zucker. “It’s going to be a good overall experience for me, knowing the kind of tradition Denver has and all the great players that have come out of that program. I can’t wait.”

Before he becomes acquainted with the WCHA and the rigors of being a student-athlete, he’ll first take the first tentative steps toward the fulfillment of his NHL dream when he travels to the city he spent two years living in as he learned about the game. There is some irony that when an NHL team calls his name, it will be in Los Angeles, where he first began to realize that he had the potential to have a career in pro hockey at just 10 years of age.

After meeting with more than 20 teams, including the Boston Bruins, at the Scouting Combine in Toronto recently, Zucker’s future is starting to come into focus.

“It’s hard to tell,” he said, when asked which teams’ interviews he had the best feeling from or felt he aced. “When meeting with them, for the most part, everyone was nice and friendly. They were trying to get to know you as a person, and I’d have to say that all the teams I met with were great to me. You can tell the preparation the teams put into it; for me, that was the biggest thing I took away from it, how professional everyone was.

Zucker did say that he wasn’t “grilled” or pressured by any of the clubs he spoke to, which speaks more to his good reputation as a player and intense competitor who has focused on his game and refused to allow any off-ice distractions get in the way of his road to the draft.

“I do know guys who got grilled,” he said. “I was lucky enough to not have gone through that.”

Now, all that remains for Zucker is the waiting. He’s a likely candidate to go somewhere in the second round, but just may have convinced someone to grab him inside the top-30 with his opportunistic play and sterling character. Regardless of where his name is called, however, Zucker has come to realize that all of the hard work and sacrifices in missing out on a lot of the things a normal child gets to experience are finally coming to fruition.

“I felt like I was 8-years-old again (at the combine),” he said. “I’ve watched them (the NHL teams) my whole life, and when I met with Pittsburgh and Detroit, I kept thinking that players like Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk, they’re in that exclusive profession I aspire to. It’s a dream come true for me (to be a part of it) and maybe now I’m one step closer to making that dream a reality.”


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

That's a little harsh there big guy. And if you're going to insult someone, the least you can do is spell loser right...

Anonymous said...

8:10....go back to your cave, slapnuts.