Player: Jason Zucker
Born: January 16, 1992 (age 30 season)
Weight: 192 pounds
Birthplace: Newport Beach, California
Draft: Second round, 2010 (No. 59 overall, by the Minnesota Wild)
2020-21 Statistics: 41 games, 8 goals, 9 assists, 17 total points, minus-2, 15 penalty minutes
Contract Status: Zucker is entering the final year of a five-year, $27 million contract that he signed with the Minnesota Wild that carries a salary cap hit of $5.5 million per season. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2022-23 season.
Fun facts: The briefly used line of Zucker, Evan Rodrigues, and Kasper Kapanen had a better than 60 percent share of total shot attempts, expected goals, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, while outscoring opponents by a 7-0 margin in just a little more than 104 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together. It is one of the most effective lines on the team and it would have been nice to see it used more often.
Zucker was one of the Penguins’ better players in the playoffs, even though it did not result in a ton of offense. He had two assists in the five games he played, playing a strong two-way game and being aggressive on the forecheck.
Story of the season
It was an extremely frustrating season for Zucker. When he was healthy he played hard, did everything right, had a good process, but did not always get the reward of scoring goals or generating points. His underlying numbers were strong. Every line he played on played well. But the offense was not always there.
Even more frustrating was the fact injuries kept mounting. Significant injuries, too. He ended up missing half of the regular season and two playoff games due to injury, and everytime he came back it only seemed to be a matter of time until his bad injury luck caught up to him.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 17 forwards on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 50.6 (12th)
Goals For%: 50.0 (13th)
xGF%: 53.8 (9th)
Scoring Chance %: 52.3 (11th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 54.8 (9th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 7.84 (8th)
On-ice save%: .909 (13th)
Goals/60: 0.56 (13th)
Assists/60: 1.01 (8th)
Points/60: 1.57 (11th)
— Overall he rates as pretty close to middle of the pack in most categories, which is about right. He is a play-driving middle-six forward that creates some chances but does not really finish a lot. Maybe that is not what you want for his salary cap hit. Maybe you expect more. But he is a useful player that does a lot of things well.
Zucker’s finishing went off a cliff in 2021-22, much like many of his teammates. He is also a unique player to the point where his offensive and defensive performances over the last three seasons have mirrored one another very closely, which isn’t always the case.
Much like the three-year outlook above in WAR%, the GSVA charts also rank Zucker as a solid, well-rounded winger — with perhaps more positive defensive impacts than might be perceived or for his reputation.
The lack of finishing and low Goals/60 stands out here, the Penguins are at a point where they need a bit more out of Zucker in this department. On the microstat level he does shoot the puck well off passes and on the rush, but he does not deflect the puck at all and probably could stand to go to the net with a little more regularity to help boost finishing.
Besides that, Zucker is pretty good at carrying the puck and entering the zone, as one would expect for a winger with decent skating ability. His passing this season left a lot to be desired, and he only has 18 total assists in the last two seasons (79 games).
This is what the Penguins hoped to see from Zucker when they paid such a steep price to acquire him.
One of Zucker’s best games of the season came in the Penguins’ come-from-behind win in Vegas in his return to the lineup.
Overall, Zucker has probably been a disappointment during his time with the Penguins, at least based on the salary, the price they paid, and the expectations when he arrived. Some of that is bad luck with injuries. Some of it might be expectations that were too high. Some of it might be a misunderstanding of player value. He is not going to be a 30-goal scorer, and he might not score as much as you want to see from a potential top-six forward, but that does not mean he is a bad player. When healthy he did make a consistent positive impact for his line with his ability to forecheck and drive possession. The offense was there at times, just not very consistent.
He has better health luck, continues to be a strong forechecking, possession driving winger, and fills a vital need in the middle six of the lineup. What does that look like from a numbers perspective? At least 15 goals, maybe 20 goals, and 45 points with positive possession numbers. If the Penguins can get that level of production, that is a strong season for Zucker. But he needs to be on the ice for that to happen.
Question to ponder
Will he be on the roster, and what is his future with the Penguins? The Penguins have a salary cap crunch and have some big holes to fill and key players to re-sign. Is Zucker’s $5.5 million in salary cap space the best use of that space? Is there a trade market for him? If he is on the team, what is his role? Second line next to Evgeni Malkin? Or whatever center is brought in to replace Malkin? Third line? Something else?
How would you grade Jason Zucker’s 2021-22 Season?