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The Pens will need Jason Zucker to be their ace in the hole

Coming back from injury, Jason Zucker needs to provide a boost to Pittsburgh

Buffalo Sabres v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s been over two years since the Penguins traded for Jason Zucker in February of 2020. Through injuries, pandemics, postponements and all that has come with the mayhem that has been the last two years, it’s only yielded 84 regular season games.

Zucker, a former 30-goal scorer, hasn’t felt like his time in Pittsburgh has paid off, though he does have 21 goals and 22 assists in just over a full season of work split across three different campaigns.

This year, it’s only been struggles and frustration for Zucker. His play had been OK, he’s been shooting the puck quite a bit with 88 shots in 31 games. But he only had four goals when in December he was shut down for a nagging injury. Upon his return, in his hometown of Las Vegas, no less, Zucker scored two goals in a big comeback Pens win.

Then, poof, he was gone again — to have his core surgically repaired with the abdominal procedure that has been fairly common among hockey players lately (with Sidney Crosby, Nick Bjugstad and Zach Trotman all having similar fixes done in recent years). That was on January 25th, and now Zucker is showing signs of coming back. Yesterday he took a morning skate in a non-contact jersey, his first action with the team.

The Pens picked up Rickard Rakell at the deadline, but it’s Zucker who could serve as just as an important addition. With his Vegas ties, Zucker could be the Pens’ ace in the hole. He has familiarity with the team and knows the coach’s system. He knows the players and could be an option to play with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

With Rakell, Evan Rodrigues, Kasperi Kapanen, Danton Heinen on hand, the options for Pittsburgh are as limitless as Mike Sullivan’s imagination to fill out his top lines with his four star players of Crosby, Malkin’s, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust in place. Add Zucker to the mix and the possibilities become wider.

After two years, there hasn’t been a lot of satisfaction or a big return for Zucker on the ice. One stretch run and playoff performance could change that and make up for lost time. The Pens will be looking for that, and if they get it, Jason Zucker’s acquisition might be an important part of trying to get to where they want to go.