by Michael Russo
Because so many people ask Jason Zucker if he thinks he'll sign with the Wild after the college season ends, the University of Denver freshman just assumed that's what was meant when he was asked how much he hoped to wind up back at Xcel Energy Center in three weeks.
"If it happens, great. If not, I'll be really excited go back to Denver. It's a great place, great coaching, great team ..." Zucker said after the Pioneers lost 3-2 in double overtime to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five championship Saturday night.
Told the reporter meant the "NCAA Frozen Four," the WCHA Rookie of the Year said, "Oh, oh, oh. Yeah, that's the goal. To get back here. We've got to win two more games, and we'll give it our best shot."
Zucker, a force for much of Denver's season and especially in the first overtime Saturday, was excited to get a taste of playing at the X, where he hopes to play a lot someday. He missed much of the second period because of an elbow injury.
"It'll be fine," he said.
The Wild doesn't want Zucker, a 2010 second-round draft pick, to worry about becoming an NHLer yet.
"He's played in a lot of big games at the world juniors, and now he gets a chance to play for a national championship," assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "It's great experience and great for his development."
The Wild will evaluate after the season whether it should sign Zucker. But it seems unlikely. Zucker is 19 and has a chance to be a true star at Denver next season.
"You just look at where's he best suited to develop," Flahr said. "Obviously he's got to put on weight and get stronger. He's in a good program. They're a good young team. They're going to be good again next year. I think he enjoys it there.
"I think it's a pretty good place to develop. We're happy, and I think he's happy."