One by one, Jason Zucker watched his Wild teammates and friends shipped out in trades. Charlie Coyle, the best man at Zucker’s wedding, gone to Boston. Nino Niederreiter sent to Carolina. Mikael Granlund moved to Nashville.
As much as Zucker tried to avoid the thought, he couldn’t help but wonder: Was he next?
“There’s always rumors, year after year, but it was the first time for me that it had ever been to that magnitude,’’ he said.
“I had to almost come to the realization like, ‘This is happening.’ But then, it doesn’t, and you have to get back to work, join your team and try to win.’’
The Wild was believed to be near a deal to send Zucker to Calgary at the trade deadline. When it didn’t happen, he got a reprieve, though it isn’t certain how long it will last.
As the players dispersed Tuesday for the offseason, the winger lamented a season that fell short of his expectations.
He finished with his lowest number of goals (21) and points (42) since 2015-16. While Zucker can’t control whether General Manager Paul Fenton keeps him, he can control how he handles the uncertainty — and he can make it clear that he wants a future in Minnesota.
“I’m going to approach it like every other summer and get my training regimen and plan in place,’’ Zucker said.
“Whether I’m here or elsewhere, I’m going to train the same way. And so for me, it’s just about letting everyone know that I want to be here.
“I’ll tell Paul, I’ll tell everybody, I want to be here more than anything. And for me, it’s about making sure that I have a better year next year.’’
Zucker, 27, signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract last July. The deal came on the heels of a career-best season, with 33 goals and 64 points. At the time, Fenton said he considered Zucker “a big part of now and in the future.’’
Like the rest of the Wild, Zucker struggled to score this season. While he said he didn’t obsess over the trade rumors, he was asked about them frequently, by friends as well as the media. He also had to learn to stay focused through the emotional ups and downs of a trade that fell through.
Zucker said he believes he can be a consistent 30-goal scorer, and he considers anything less “a down year and a disappointment.’’ He expects Fenton to make more roster changes.
But rather than spend his summer fretting, he plans to spend it in the gym and on the ice, refining the details that will help him cash in on more scoring chances next season.
“It wasn’t the year that any of us wanted to have,’’ he said. “It’s something that definitely is going to be addressed this summer, and who knows what that entails and what [Fenton] is going to do?
‘‘But for us, it’s just about making sure that we, as individuals, take the summer to be better players and come back ready to go.”