Jason Zucker is finally on the move.
After his name appeared regularly in trade rumors in recent seasons — and after he was nearly shipped out twice in the past year — the veteran Wild winger was sent to Pittsburgh on Monday night in the first significant move of General Manager Bill Guerin’s six-month tenure.
The Penguins, eager to make another run at the Stanley Cup, gave up a first-round pick and 19-year-old defenseman Calen Addison, who helped Canada to a world junior championship in January.
Forward Alex Galchenyuk, the third overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft whose contract expires at the end of the season, is also coming to Minnesota.
Guerin, Pittsburgh’s assistant GM before joining the Wild last August, will address the trade Tuesday before the team plays the Golden Knights at Xcel Energy Center.
Zucker has been with the Wild for his entire nine-season career, debuting in 2011-12 after he was drafted in the second round (59th overall) in 2010. He emerged as a speedy goal scorer, four times eclipsing 20 goals in a season and recording a career-high 33 and 64 points in 2017-18. The previous season, he tied teammate Ryan Suter for the NHL lead with a +34 plus/minus.
Before the 2018 season, he signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal, but that didn’t quiet speculation the top-six forward with a workable contract could be a bargaining chip to help the Wild remake its roster.
Before last season’s deadline, a deal with the Calgary Flames that involved Zucker was discussed. And in May, the Wild and Penguins were in talks to package Zucker and center Victor Rask for right winger Phil Kessel and defenseman Jack Johnson; the deal fell apart when Kessel, a Wisconsin native and former Gopher, nixed it with his modified no-trade clause. Zucker, who saw his best friend Charlie Coyle traded to Boston during last season, had a 10-team no-trade list kick in last summer.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Zucker said Sunday. “I’m done dealing with it. I’m done worrying about it.”
In 45 games this season, Zucker has 14 goals and 15 assists; he missed 10 games because of a broken leg.
Overall, in 456 NHL games, Zucker has 132 goals and 111 assists. He won the NHL’s King Clancy Award for humanitarian work after the 2018-19 season. The 28-year-old, who grew up in Nevada, is married to KFAN Radio personality Carly Zucker, and the couple has three children.
No salary was retained in the trade. If the Penguins, now in a comfortable fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, don’t make the playoffs this season, they have the option to move the first-round pick from this summer to 2021.
Because future assets are the bulk of the return, this looks like a deal set up to help the Wild down the road.
The offensive-minded Addison, 5-11 and 180 pounds, skates for Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League. A second-round pick (53rd overall) by Pittsburgh in 2018, he has 10 goals and 33 assists in 39 games. He was a standout at the world junior tournament, with nine points in seven games, and was considered one of Pittsburgh’s best prospects.
The Wild does get an immediate roster option in the 25-year-old Galchenyuk, who has also played for the Canadiens and Coyotes. He has 132 career goals and 181 assists in 535 NHL games; this season, the left winger has five goals and 12 assists in 45 games. He’s finishing up a three-year, $14.7 million contract.
A native of Milwaukee, Galchenyuk was a junior standout for Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League and played for the U.S. junior national team when it won gold in 2013. He was taken by Montreal with the No. 3 pick, behind Nail Yakupov and Ryan Murray, as an 18-year-old. The Wild took defenseman Matt Dumba four choices later.
Galchenyuk, 25, joins a team that is five points back of a playoff spot with games in hand on most of the clubs it’s chasing.
That math suggests the Wild is in the thick of contention, but the direction of the team leading to the Feb. 24 trade deadline can be swayed by Guerin — a reality made clear by this move.