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Zucker Debut a Stepping Stone

03/28/2012, 9:00pm CDT
By Aaron Paitich

Former Denver Pioneer signals new beginnings

@JasonZucker17: I am very excited to be a part of the Minnesota Wild organization and to get started tomorrow. Exciting time in my life! #gowild


Credit Jim Rosvold

Wild fans have been hearing about the organization’s blue chippers for a long time. The pipeline. The system. Young, talented prospects that will transform the team into a yearly contender.

With former Denver Pioneer Jason Zucker signing a three-year entry-level contract on Tuesday, the wait is over – for at least one of those youngsters.

Zucker, 20, will make his NHL debut on Thursday against the Florida Panthers at Xcel Energy Center. Management clearly thinks he’s ready to get his feet wet.

“After two successful seasons at the University of Denver, Jason, his representation, and Wild management have agreed that it was the right time for Jason to turn pro,” assistant general manager Brent Flahr said in a press release. “He has achieved great personal success in a short period of time at both the collegiate and national team levels. We are very excited to have Jason under contract and look forward to seeing his development within the Wild organization.”

The Wild’s 2010 second-round pick (59th overall) has indeed found both a scoring touch and team success in recent years. The sophomore scored 22 goals and 24 assists for the Pioneers this season before the team was eliminated in the NCAA playoffs last Friday. He was named WCHA Freshman of the Year last season, posting 45 points in 40 games.

Zucker, who calls Las Vegas home but is California-born, collected two gold medals in the 2009 and 2010 World Under-18 Championships wearing the Red, White and Blue. He was also a part of the 2010 World Junior Championships gold medal-winning U.S. squad, who dethroned the Canadians in dramatic fashion. Zucker served as the U.S. captain this winter during the World Junior Championships.

Whether he makes an impact in the Wild’s final six games is irrelevant. The direct jump from college hockey to the NHL is no cakewalk, as previous players can attest to. This is, however, a landmark for the organization, signaling the beginning of its new-prospect era for a team that’s been on the ropes.

Fellow 2010 second-round draft pick Brett Bulmer gave Wild fans a taste of the future in the season’s beginning games before being sent back to the Western Hockey League for further development. He may return by season’s end as well.

Zucker and Bulmer are the first of an exciting prospect pool including Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips, Jonas Brodin, Johan Larsson, current Gopher Erik Haula and Minnesota natives Mario Lucia and Nick Seeler.

Fans will still need to be patient, but there’s reason for excitement in the season’s final games.

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