Jason Zucker hopes to reach 30 goals for Wild this season

December 6, 2018

CALGARY His salary escalated, and the future became clearer.

But signing a five-year, $27.5 million contract last July also changed how winger Jason Zucker perceived his role on the Wild.

Youre now a $5 million guy, and people talk about it that way Youre a $5 million guy,andthinsp; Zucker said. Its now expected. Its no longer, He played well. If you dont, its, Why arent you?andthinsp;

He felt pressure to perform before, but never this much never amid a commitment that positions him as a cornerstone on the roster.

And although this is new terrain for the 26-year-old, he isnt afraid of it.

Zucker is embracing the challenge because being a go-to scorer is the calling card hes striving to attach to his career.

I love it, he said. I love it because I want to be a guy thats relied on. I want to be a guy that the team looks to when they need a goal or when they need a big play. I want to be that guy.

Lately, thats exactly the lift Zucker has provided the Wild.

After scoring three times in the past four games, including the game-winner in the slump-busting 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday and the tying goal in the third period last Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Zucker boasts nine on the season and is on pace to approach 30 an attainable plateau in his mind.

I feel like a 30-goal scorer, Zucker said.

That target, however, isnt the only one that fuels him.

While goals might be the most obvious measure of his effectiveness, Zucker can also judge his contributions based off shots and chances. And thats an area his line with center Eric Staal and winger Mikael Granlund is thriving in recently.

Over the past five games, the Wild has had a whopping 49 scoring chances when those three have been on the ice, according to NaturalStatTrick.com; 22 have been high-danger scoring chances.

Even though its not always an accurate barometer of his success, Zucker hopes to put five shots on net every game. He did that only once in that span, but hes still been around the puck enough to make an impact since he and his linemates have chipped in six goals during that stretch.

The amount of Grade-As we generate, we consistently play like that and create opportunities, hes going to score, Staal said. Its just the reality of it. The way Grannys been dishing right now, were getting great looks. You just want to stay with it and confident and keep playing, and hell do that.

After all, delivering that boost to the Wild is the standard Zucker holds himself to every time he plays.

[Coach] Bruce [Boudreau] can put me on video in front of the whole team and yell at me for five days, and Im harder on myself than he is, Zucker said. I can guarantee you.

In between games, Zucker studies his shifts over and over.

Even on plays that pass his eye test, he questions his decisionmaking and compares what he did to what the best players in the world are doing to determine how he can improve.

Those are the type of things Im harsh on myself with, but its because I expect that out of my myself, too, Zucker explained. Its not me hoping that I can do that someday. Its me knowing I can do it, and its forcing myself to do it on a shift-by-shift basis.

How often Zucker is rewarded with goals for this work on his craft is under a microscope. Such is the nature of being one of the highest-paid players on the team under contract for longer than most.

But its a process Zucker is glad to be experiencing in Minnesota.

Its nice knowing that they feel Im part of this long-term plan, Zucker said. [General Manager] Paul [Fenton] told me right away that he wants me to be a part of this team, and thats a great feeling. Thats great to hear because thats what I wanted, too. I wanted to be here. I wanted to be a part of this team. I think we have something special here, and I think its a matter of putting it together and finding a way to get it done.

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