Russo: Zucker excited to "perform" at Wild camp; Harding on special hockey trading card

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  • September 5, 2014 - 10:11 AM

Moments after Nino Niederreiter scored an overtime winner against Nashville to usher the Wild into last year’s Olympic break, coach Mike Yeo announced that Jason Zucker would have a “minor procedure” stemming from blocking a scorching Shane Doan shot above the right knee late in a Jan. 9 game at Phoenix.

Zucker played on the injury for a month. Behind the scenes prior to the procedure, Zucker was getting treatment on his leg before and after practices and games, and he even played some of his best hockey during that time.

Yeo, Zucker and the entire Wild organization figured the speedy winger would be back in the lineup three weeks after the procedure once the schedule resumed in Edmonton. As it turns out, Zucker did return to the ice for a few skates after the break, but he would never play again due to complications either during the first surgery or aggravation while rehabbing.

What exactly happened is still unclear, but GM Chuck Fletcher said March 20 that Zucker needed a subsequent season-ending surgery that was meant to repair a tendon in Zucker’s right quadriceps. He called it a fluky injury and one he never heard of before.

“I’m not going to go into details, but there was a complication,” Zucker said. “It didn’t go as planned on the recovery portion of it. I think all of it was not exactly as anyone thought, so I had to have the second surgery, and that was a big blow. I think we all thought it was going to be 10 days, 14 days and back. I was excited about not having to deal with it anymore and it turned out to be more serious. It was definitely tough seeing the team play and you’re not, but it was great seeing them do so well (second round of the playoffs). From that standpoint, it was awesome watching that.”

Regardless, Zucker, 22, has been skating all week with many Wild teammates and several other NHLers at Braemar and says he’s “100 percent ready to go back to normal. It was definitely frustrating, but it’s part of hockey. Good thing for me is Chuck and the guys had faith in me to give me another contract and give me another chance.”

Zucker, who has scored eight goals and four assists in 47 regular-season games and an overtime winner and an assist in five playoff games, signed a two-year contract this offseason. The first year is a two-way deal, the second year a one-way deal. In addition, Zucker still doesn’t require waivers to get to Iowa, meaning there’s no doubt he has to play his way onto the team once training camp opens Sept. 18.

However, with Niederreiter still unsigned and potential spots on the third and fourth line, Zucker says he’s up for the challenge.

“I’ve always believed that the door’s always open,” Zucker said. “Even if you have the best guys on your team, if you perform, they’ll try to make room for you if you’re playing well and doing the right things. That’s what I focused on this summer. [Thomas] Vanek’s a great addition and all the rest of the guys are great players. I hope I just can help that out.”

Zucker, who does look thicker and as fast as ever on the ice, said he dedicated himself on and off the ice this summer in an attempt to make the team.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a hockey season,” Zucker said. “I was home [in Las Vegas] for five months. I was doing rehab six days a week, I was in the gym six days a week just making sure that every little bit was ready to go for training camp. I want to do everything I can. I think I went back and watched every single game I played three times just to watch video of myself. I just wanted to do everything I could, myself, to be ready for this year. The rest is obviously how I perform in camp.”

Photo Credit: Upper Deck

As part of Upper Deck’s Heroic Inspirations campaign, Wild goalie Josh Harding will be featured on a collectible trading card he autographed and inscribed for charitable purposes. In a press release, Upper Deck said, "The goal of the card is to give people suffering from MS hope and to raise awareness for Josh Harding’s charity; Harding’s Hope."

The 2013 Masterton Trophy winner and 2013-14 NHL goals-against average and save percentage leader signed and inscribed, “My inspiration is my father,” on 25 cards that have been inserted into packs of the 2014-15 NHL® O-Pee-Chee series. Harding has signed and inscribed other versions of the card with some of his other inspirations. These additional autographed and inscribed cards will be available with a donation to the charity through the Harding’s Hope website at the start of the 2014-15 season.

As I've mentioned previously, Harding has been taking part in all the NHL skates and looks ready to go for training camp.

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