The Jason Zucker trade was made on February 10th, 2020, a time so long ago that most common people had probably never heard of, or thought much, of “coronavirus” or “COVID”. Only now that the second round of the NHL playoffs are over do we see the true price that the Penguins will pay to the Minnesota Wild.
Updated look at the first RD draft board and the clubs that will be picking from 1 to 28 in this years NHL Entry Draft.— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) June 11, 2021
23. DET (from WSH)
25. CBJ (from TOR)
26. MIN (from PIT)
28. COLhttps://t.co/icvbIz56ma pic.twitter.com/dYxBKwDcnj
By virtue of Pittsburgh winning the East division, their draft pick was always going to be towards the end of the round based on the way the NHL calculates draft slots. It ends up getting locked in at 26th overall as the piece the Pens send to Minnesota to complete the Zucker trade.
Initially the trade was for a 2020 first round pick, but former general manager Jim Rutherford shrewdly protected that pick to give the Pens the option to keep the 2020 pick and send their 2021 first rounder instead. At the time, that didn’t seem very necessary, but due to the season stoppage that forced a new format to make Pittsburgh play in the opening round, that came in handy.
The Pens didn’t win the 2020 draft lottery, but traded that pick anyways to Toronto for Kasperi Kapanen. The Maple Leafs took slick winger Rodion Amirov who played last season in Russia. Kapanen scored 30 points in 40 NHL games, so that one worked out in the short-term as planned as well.
The final tally for the Zucker trade will be that 26th overall pick, a fairly low value pick in the big scheme of things, plus defenseman Calen Addison (and also Alex Galchenyuk, used mainly to balance out the salaries and who Minnesota didn’t keep around very long either).
Addison did pretty well in 2020-21, his age-20 season and first full-time year in the pros. He scored 22 points (6G+16A) in 31 games with AHL Iowa and also made his regular season NHL debut, getting three games in. By the end of the season, Addison was working his way up the ranks, playing three NHL playoff games. He could be a regular NHL player as soon as next season and has done well to continue to grow and capitalize on his promise as a puck moving defenseman.
A big question is what will happen next for Zucker. He had an injury-filled 2020-21 that only saw him score 18 points (9G+9A) in 38 games with the Pens. Beyond that, it just doesn’t look like he’s been able to build much chemistry or fit in well with his “new” team. All the stops and starts and delayed from COVID and injuries have been unfortunate circumstances that haven’t helped Zucker get on track.
The Seattle expansion draft looms, and with a $5.5 million annual cap hit for the next two seasons, Zucker might just find himself on the wrong end of the protected list. It is believed that new GM Ron Hextall has given Jeff Carter assurances the Pens would protect the veteran forward, which takes out a spot that a few months ago probably would have been open for Zucker, turning the numbers unfavorably.
Unless Hextall makes a bizarre choice not to protect a younger, cheaper and more productive player (Bryan Rust, Kasperi Kapanen, Jared McCann) or trades one of those names for a return that doesn’t involve a forward, it’s looking like Zucker will have to be exposed. The Athletic’s recent proposed protection list continued with this logic as well.
If Zucker is selected by the Kraken that would create a hole for the Pens’ lineup but also give them $5.5 million in space to address it, or other areas. It would be a disappointment to lose two quality young assets in the 26th overall pick and Addison for a short-term add in Zucker, but Pittsburgh also did get two playoff stretch drives and runs out of Zucker. That’s more than Toronto can say for trading their 2021 first round pick for Nick Foligno (who played just 11 games with the Leafs and scored a grand total of 0 goals).
The Zucker trade was the last of the Rutherford legacy of trading picks away. The slate is starting to get clean for Hextall, who has a first and second round pick available to him in 2022 and beyond. Rutherford traded every first round pick in Pittsburgh he ever had, besides 2019’s Samuel Poulin, and 2014’s Kapanen who he re-acquired after trading.
The Pens were hoping to give up pick 32 for Zucker, but that wasn’t to be. It will be 26 going to Minnesota to finally complete this deal 16 long months after it was made. Now that the cost is known, the focus shifts to the future to wonder if Zucker will have another chance in Pittsburgh next season.
(Speaking of the Wild - check out this article with Hockey Wilderness where they talked to me about Ray Shero. If you missed the news, Shero was hired by Bill Guerin, someone he once hired, this week as an advisor to Guerin for the Wild’s front office).