Speedy Zucker likely to move up on Wild lines
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Jason Zucker certainly has the skills to be a top-six forward for the Wild. He is arguably the fastest skater on the team, and other than Zach Parise, there might not be a player the Wild would rather have on a breakaway.
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Jason Zucker certainly has the skills to be a top-six forward for the Wild. He is arguably the fastest skater on the team, and other than Zach Parise, there might not be a player the Wild would rather have on a breakaway.
Yet early on in Bruce Boudreau's first season as head coach, Zucker has settled into a fourth-line role.
Boudreau, however, has been clear that players' spots in the lineup are fluid.
"Listen. They can move up, and they can move down," the 61-year-old coach said. "It depends on how they play. That's the way I look at it."
Zucker, at least through two games, is playing well enough to move up.
Boudreau has been pleased with what he's seen out of Zucker, joking that "he's our big plus-minus leader." Zucker is a plus-2 right now, for the record, with a few players nipping at his heels at plus-1.
"He always seems to get at least one good scoring chance per game," Boudreau said.
That might force Boudreau to rethink where he plays Zucker, who has been on the ice for less than 20 minutes total in the first two games.
The top line of Eric Staal centering Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle won't be changing, but there could be openings elsewhere. Boudreau has tinkered with lines so far, searching for the right fit.
Boudreau likes Mikko Koivu centering Mikael Granlund on the second line, and Zucker playing opposite Granlund could be a good landing spot if he continues to play well. Chris Stewart played right wing on that line against the Winnipeg Jets and finished with a Gordie Howe Hat Trick: a goal, an assist and a fight.
Boudreau could also bump Zucker up to the third line, though he liked what he saw Saturday with Erik Haula centering Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville.
Zucker, who starts at left wing, would more than likely have to switch positions to move up. He said he can "absolutely" play right wing if necessary.
Still, that's not his main focus right now. When prodded, Zucker said moving up isn't important to him.
"That's where I'm at right now," he said. "I'm ready to go if anything changes. In the meantime, I'm going to go play my game and do what I can. ... I'm not here to prove anything. I'm here to help this team win."
Coyle, Zucker's best friend on the team, knows Zucker is working to prove he deserves more minutes, even if he won't say it.
"Everyone want to be a top-six (forward)," Coyle said. "He's doing what is asked from him right now. ... He's been reliable defensively. He's used his speed to create scoring chances. That's his game, and when he does that and combines that stuff, he's a tough guy to play against."
Zucker already has generated a couple breakaway chances, and while hasn't scored, Boudreau knows the goals will come if he continues to stay in the right position.
"We talk a lot about defensive responsibility," the coach said. "He knows if he becomes really responsible defensively, he's going to get those chances, and things are going to go in for him."
Coyle said when Zucker uses his speed and moves his feet, "he'll get those (breakaway chances) all game."
"He gets how many breakaways per game?" Coyle said. "He has been playing awesome. Sometimes playing that fourth-line role isn't the easiest thing to do. He has done what's asked of him, and that's huge for us."
Zucker said while offense is a big part of his game, he understands he has to stay disciplined on defense to continue to generate those chances.
"If I'm cheating to get out on the attack, I'm not going to get on the attack," he said. "You have to make sure to play on that side of the puck ... and once that side of the puck comes, then the rest of it will fall into place and I can let my offensive skills take over."
As of right now, Zucker will remain at left wing on the fourth line-next to Zach Dalpe and opposite Teemu Pulkkinen. He was there at practice on Monday afternoon, and will likely play there against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
"Everything has been good so far," Zucker said. "You have to keep building game-to-game. It's about building right now and I'll continue to do that."
Zucker is saying the right things. If he continues doing the right things, though, it's only a matter of time before he moves up in the lineup.