Jason Zucker will go from highly touted prospect to NHL player, as he is set to debut with the Wild against the Florida Panthers tonight at Xcel Energy Center. The 20-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract on Tuesday. He comes to Minnesota after his sophomore year at the University of Denver, where he was one of the most productive college players in the nation during the last two seasons. In 78 games with the Pioneers, Zucker produced 91 points on 45 goals and 46 assists.
Adding a new face to the lineup, the Wild also returns two familiar ones. Niklas Backstrom will get his first start in nearly a month. Backstrom has dealt with a lower body issue after suffering a groin injury on March 1 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Justin Falk returns to the blue line after missing nine games with a lower body injury. Falk suffered the injury against the Colorado Avalanche on March 4.
With the arrival of Zucker, the Wild reassigned Chad Rau to Houston yesterday. The Wild’s injury woes continue as Matt Kassian has been shut down for the season with a sports hernia and will likely undergo surgery.
On Tuesday, the Wild was topped by the New York Rangers, 3-2. Minnesota was paced by its special teams play, with both Kyle Brodziak and Dany Heatley scoring on the man advantage. Josh Harding made 29 saves in the loss.
The Panthers beat the Canadiens in a shootout, 3-2 on Tuesday. Wojtek Wolski scored in regulation and had the only goal of the shootout. Mikael Samuelsson also scored for the Panthers. Scott Clemmensen made 27 saves for the win.
Wild vs. Panthers will be broadcast locally in high definition on FOX Sports North with a start time at 7:00 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
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Do you like old time hockey? Of course you do. Well, tonight the Wild hosts Minnesota North Stars Night “Back on Home Ice.” More than 30 alumni from the State of Hockey’s first NHL team are expected to be in attendance tonight.
Florida picked up a handful of players in the offseason and the new-look Panthers are in position to make the post-season for the first time in 10 years. Florida acquired defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell; forwards Kris Versteeg; forward Tomas Fleischmann, who leads the team in scoring; and former Wild goaltender Jose Theodore. The moves have worked and the Panthers are atop the Southeast Division.
Kyle Brodziak just keeps putting points on the board. The centerman has 10 points (4-6=10) in the last nine games. He has set career highs in 20 goals and 42 points this season, good for second with the Wild in both categories. With his power play goal against the Rangers, Brodziak became the 14th Wild player to tally 20 goals in a single season.
It looks like Zucker will skate on the left wing with Erik Christensen and Nick Johnson. The forward has good hands and a deft scoring touch around the net. He also thrives in big moments. Two weeks ago, Zucker scored Denver’s overtime winner against Michigan Tech during the WCHA Final Five at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild has a number of talented prospects coming up the pipeline and, tonight, Wild fans will get their first glimpse into the future.
Zucker had his first practice with the Wild yesterday, and could already tell that there was a big difference in speed, between the college and pro game. The 5’10” forward has good wheels and should compliment Christensen and Johnson.