Zucker leaves Denver, signs three-year deal with Wild

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2012 - 8:42 PM

The forward, who gave up his final two years of collegiate eligibility, could make his NHL debut Thursday against Florida.

Denver forward Jason Zucker signed a three-year contract with the Wild on Tuesday. He was a 2010 second-round draft pick.

The final six games will be more interesting for disconsolate Wild fans. They'll get a sneak peek at prospect Jason Zucker, the now-former University of Denver standout who gave up his final two years of college eligibility to sign a three-year contract with the Wild on Tuesday.

As long as he passes a physical Wednesday, the speedy, high-energy forward (5-11, 175) will make his NHL debut Thursday against the Florida Panthers.

Born in Newport Beach, Calif., Zucker, 20, moved to Las Vegas when he was two months old and will become the first Nevada-trained player in NHL history.

He scored 22 goals and 46 points in 38 games during his sophomore season at DU -- one year after being named WCHA Freshman of the Year following a 22-goal, 45-point campaign.

When the Wild drafted Zucker in the 2010 second round, it considered him a future third-liner.

"In college, he was a first-line player who scored goals," General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "I hope there's elements of both of that in his game, but time will tell. He can shoot the puck, he skates well and he's got a strong work ethic. But right now he's a 20-year-old prospect who's got a lot to learn."

It was assumed Zucker would turn pro after the Pioneers' season. The only question was whether the Wild would burn the first year of Zucker's contract or start him in Houston, where he could have gotten playoff experience.

But Zucker wanted to get going now, and with potentially six forwards and one defenseman all turning pro at the same time, the Wild would prefer not to have each contract expire at the same time.

However, nobody knows what the future free agency rules will be after the NHL and NHL Players Association negotiates a new collective bargaining agreement, so Fletcher said "the overriding factor was simply our desire to get [Zucker] some NHL experience" so he can "see the pace of play firsthand, familiarize himself with our systems and perhaps most importantly allow our coaches to get to know Jason as a player."

Zucker will earn a prorated portion of $700,000 these final 12 days and a $70,000 signing bonus. In each of the next two years, he'll earn $90,000 signing bonuses and salaries of $900,000 when he plays in the NHL.

An excited Zucker flew to Minnesota late Tuesday and will practice Wednesday.

Only Granlund remains

With prospects Jonas Brodin, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson, Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips all signed, this leaves only 2010 first-round pick Mikael Granlund unsigned.

The Wild cannot sign him until after the world championships in May. It must sign him by June 1 or he can re-enter the draft, but assistant GM Brent Flahr says the Wild has no concerns and the "lines of communication have been open" with his agents.

Granlund has said multiple times over the past year that his intent is to sign in May with the Wild.

Because of the amount of prospects and the need to leave space to sign NHL free agents, Fletcher does not anticipate signing any college free agents. Teams can only have 50 contracts.

If the Wild runs into more injury problems, Bulmer, suspended from the WHL playoffs because of a kneeing major, might also get more action with the Wild. He played nine games in October. Otherwise, he'll be assigned to Houston.

Etc.

• Center Matt Cullen underwent season-ending surgery on a broken right index finger Tuesday. The veteran blocked Christian Ehrhoff's shot late in Saturday's game at Buffalo.

• Goalie Niklas Backstrom (lower body), who hasn't played since March 1, backed up Josh Harding. Matt Hackett was reassigned.

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