Twin Cities Star Tribune Profiles Jason Zucker

(left) DU forward Jason Zucker faces Finland tonight at 6 PM MT

From: Star Tribune

by Michael Russo

In exit meetings at the Wild's summer development camp, Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr gave prospect Jason Zucker a few things to work on to continue his skill development.

But knowing full well that Zucker lived in sun-drenched, sweltering Las Vegas, Flahr asked if he thought he'd have trouble finding ice.

"Don't worry. I've got a roller rink in my backyard," Zucker told Flahr.

Of course he does.

Zucker might be a native of the gambler's paradise. But the Wild never considered that cashing in a third- and fourth-round pick for a third second-round pick so it could snag Zucker in June's draft was a risky wager.

The 18-year-old might be California-born and Nevada-produced, but make no mistake, Zucker is a hockey player.

His passion is hockey, and he wants to make it his life's work.

"I fell in love with the game as a little kid," said Zucker, who Sunday will begin his quest at helping lead the United States to a repeat title at the world junior championships.

Hockey's expansion in the United States has produced a glut of players from untraditional markets such as California (Casey Wellman), Arizona, North Carolina and even Florida.

But Zucker is as untraditional as it gets. Born in Newport Beach, Calif., Zucker moved to Las Vegas at 2 months old because his dad is director of construction for 13 Station Casino properties.

Zucker played roller hockey until age 6. But he learned to love ice hockey while playing with brothers Evan and Adam and working as a stickboy for the now-defunct IHL Las Vegas Thunder.

He was so good and had such a love, Zucker's parents, Scott and Natalie, let him move back to California at age 10 to play for the L.A. Hockey Club.

After two years, he returned home to play for the Las Vegas Outlaws AAA team before moving to Detroit at age 15 to play for Compuware. He later got into the U.S. Development program in Ann Arbor, and he took off.

Zucker and Dallas Stars first-round pick Jack Campbell were the only two U.S. players to win three gold medals in one calendar year -- 2009 and 2010 under-18 championships and the 2010 under-20 championships.

Zucker, 17 at the time, was the youngest player on that world junior team and came up clutch throughout the tournament.

Because the Americans shocked Canada last year, many consider the talented, fast, skilled team favorites this year. "We have a great group of guys and a lot of talent on this team, but we're only going to do it again if we can work as a team," Zucker said. "That's what we learned last year. We know it won't be easy. It'll take a lot of work. But my dream is to hopefully do it again."

Zucker's had a dream start to his collegiate career at the University of Denver. He is tied for second in the WCHA with 14 goals, leading all Division I freshmen. On Dec. 3, he notched his first career hat trick at Minnesota Duluth.

"He could have had six," Flahr said.

Thrashers GM Rick Dudley, who scouts more amateur hockey than any GM in the NHL, said he thinks the Wild snatched a diamond in the rough.

"[Zucker's] a guy with character off the charts, and he can really skate," Dudley said. "Shoots the puck extremely well, and he's one of those guys you cheer for because he's not a real big guy, but he refuses to know that. He plays like he's 6-foot-4."

Still, Flahr is measured in his praise of the 5-10, 175 pounder. He doesn't want to put added pressure on Zucker, doesn't want Wild fans to think he'll be a savior.

He' has offensive upside, yes, but "he has to get a lot stronger," Flahr said. "When we drafted him, we thought he'd have a chance to be a third-line guy that would bring energy and hopefully some scoring and speed, maybe complement a higher line than that.

"But we just want to be patient, hope he keeps getting better and let everything sort itself out."

Zucker talks weekly with Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir, but the Wild doesn't plan to rush him. "We've got to make sure he gets stronger to compete at the pro level night in and night out, because it's a grind," Flahr said. "But he's in the right place there. ... It's going to be up to him when he leaves."

When the Wild wants to sign him, Zucker said he'd discuss it then with his father and make the right decision.

"But I love Denver. If I stay four years, great," Zucker said. "Right now, I'm just thinking of the present, and that's world juniors, then DU."


Aluuum said...

Zuck is two and gone!No criticism. That's just the way things are.

puck swami said...

I'd take two years of Zucker anytime. He's the most exciting DU newcomer since Bozak.

Aluuum said...

Like I said "no criticism"

Twister said...

Zucker with a nice goal in period 2 to put the good guys up 2-1 vs Finland.

du78 said...

USA 3 Finn 2 OT

Scott Bjustad scores the OT winner.

Green Hornet said...

I want Zucker in a Wild uniform in three or four months.

Puck Swami said...

Nick Bjugstad scored the game winner for Team USA.

Nick's uncle. Scott Bjugstad, will be 50 years old in 2011 and retired from the NHL in 1992,

Both are Gophers.

Anonymous said...

Happened to be in Buffalo and caught the game. Zuck looked good and Shore was hustling. Overall USA was a little sloppy. Nice to see a PIO light the lamp though!