Pittsburgh Penguins: Jason Zucker Proved To Be Great Fit After Trade
|Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gene J Puskar|
We continue our breakdown of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2019-2020 season with individual player recaps. Today will feature Jason Zucker.
General Manager Jim Rutherford has never shied away from a trade, especially one that includes a first-round pick. If he thinks the move will make his team better now, he will make it.
After spending his entire career with the Minnesota Wild, Jason Zucker became one of those players that Rutherford would not back down from until he was able to make a deal for him.
The former second pick enjoyed an illustrious amateur that saw win the gold medal with Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships. He was also named Western Collegiate Hockey Association freshman of the year his first season at the University of Denver.
In just two years at Denver, Zucker registered 91 points (45 G, 46 A) in just 78 games played.
During his time in Minnesota, Zucker registered four 20-goal seasons - one of which he broke the 30-goal plateau.
The former second round pick was on a 25-goal (14 goals in 45 games) when he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk, Caleb Addison and a first-round pick in either 2020 or 2021 (Penguins elected to keep the 2020 pick to use in the Kasperi Kapanen trade).
Zucker played in 15 games with the Penguins before the COVID-19 stoppage, averaging an even better point-per-game average thanks mainly to getting to play with Evgeni Malkin. In those 15 games, Zucker scored six goals with 12 points overall.
Zucker: By The Numbers
On top of the usual numbers listed for this series, I also added his splits from last year both with Minnesota and Pittsburgh to see how he performed once being traded. Minnesota, of course, has never really been thought as an offensive power house.
Zucker himself has been one of their better pure goal scorers in his time with the team, so a lot of his numbers play to that and you can see the immediate improvement once coming to Pittsburgh.
*Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick. Stats based off of play at 5v5 and rankings based off of 2019-2020 season and includes all forwards with at least 250 minutes played.
The biggest thing that stands out is his expected goal rate in Minnesota, and then how it exploded once he got to Pittsburgh.
With the season that Malkin had passing the puck, it shouldn’t be a surprise that all of a sudden Zucker was seeing more prime opportunities to score.
While playing 80% of his season with Minnesota are going to skew his numbers more in line with what he did there, it’s encouraging to see the success he had once he came to Pittsburgh and what he could potentially do a whole season now.
His expected goal rate with the Penguins would have put him in the 83rd percentile for that specific metric. Exactly the kind of player you want playing with one of the best playmakers in the league in Malkin.
The sample size between his time in Minnesota and Pittsburgh isn’t going to allow to make any fair comparisons, but as a whole his on-ice metrics weren’t overly kind to Zucker.
His expected goals for per 60 minutes (xGF/60) was well below average, all though it did get better in his brief time with the Penguins, as did his Corsi percentage.
Most of his numbers would suggest that he is a defensive liability but if there is a defense to that is the fact that most of the goalies he played in front of didn’t light the world on fire.
Devan Dubnyk was one of the worst goalies in the league last season. When you add up his entire season, Matt Murray also ranked towards the bottom of the league in a lot of 5v5 categories.
Consistently dealing with goaltending issues could have had a say in his rough defensive numbers, but even if he is a liability in his own end, Zucker is expected to play on a line with Malkin and Bryan Rust - a trio that could be one of the most explosive in the league this upcoming season.
Zucker played to 32-goal pace over a full season in his 15-games with the Penguins, and you could even make the argument that things weren’t fully clicking by the time the COVID-19.
He scored two goals during the play-in round against the Montreal Canadiens and you could still probably say their line wasn’t fully there. So that’s certainly encouraging.
Zucker will be aiming for his fifth 20 goal season, and if he can continue his pace from late last season, he could hit 30 for the second time in his career.
With three more seasons left on his contract, including this one upcoming, Zucker is hardly a rental at this point, and another strong season could find himself as one of the players the Penguins protect in the upcoming expansion draft.
What did you think about Zucker’s early performance in Pittsburgh? Has his early return been worth what they gave up to get him? Let us know what you think in the comment section below, subscribe to the site at the link at the top of the article, and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy and @SportBlogMurphy.