NHL

Firmly in win-now mode, Pittsburgh Penguins gamble big on Jason Zucker

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That seems to be the motto of Jim Rutherford, the Pittsburgh Penguins general manager, in regards to the pursuit of Jason Zucker. Rutherford has had his eye on the 28-year-old left wing for a while now, and after a failed attempt to acquire Zucker last summer, the Penguins can finally say they have their man.

Late Monday, Pittsburgh announced that it had traded for Zucker, sending a big package to the Minnesota Wild in return. The Wild received Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison and a conditional 2020 first-round pick in the deal, which further solidifies the Penguins’ win-now attitude.

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A team built around two 32-year-olds (Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang) and a 33-year-old (Evgeni Malkin) doesn’t exactly have the option of building slowly — especially as the Penguins look like real contenders right now.

Zucker should help with that cause.

“Jason Zucker is a top-six forward that we think will be a great fit for our group,” Rutherford said in a statement. “He’s a proven goal scorer, and with three more years on his current contract, he has the potential to make an impact for us moving forward.”

Whether the newest Penguin slots in on Crosby’s line or Malkin’s, Zucker’s presence will be an upgrade. The speedy winger’s numbers with a mediocre Minnesota team are pretty decent — racking up 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in 45 games this season. According to Corsica Hockey, Zucker is the 41st-best left wing in the NHL in 2019-20, which is a big upgrade from the Penguins’ other LWs.

Of course, getting a player like Zucker comes with a cost, and the Penguins paid a big one. Galchenyuk is having a down year but is still just 25 and can easily turn it around in a new environment, while Addison is seen as a gifted defensive prospect. And then there’s the first-rounder in the upcoming draft, which could turn into another blue-chipper. 

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Given the different goals of the two clubs involved — with the Wild rebuilding and the Penguins looking to take another run at the Stanley Cup — Monday’s deal looks like it could be one of the rare ones that works out for both sides. But the Penguins, who would’ve acquired Zucker in the summer had Phil Kessel not vetoed a move to Minnesota (only to be eventually dealt to Arizona for Galchenyuk), will find out very soon whether their months-long pursuit was worth it.

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