by Samantha Wood || for NHL.com
Big players make big plays in big games.
Jason Zucker is one of those players. The AHL’s co-leader in game-winning goals (8) knows how to get the job done.
And now he’s set his sights on another target – the Calder Cup.
The first major honor for the Houston Aeros’ winger was his selection to play in the AHL All-Star Classic in Providence back in January.
Then earlier this week, Zucker was tapped for the AHL All-Rookie Team, further distinguishing himself as an asset in the Minnesota Wild organization. The annual All-Rookie Team has been filled with some impressive names in recent years, including a long line of future NHL stars like Zdeno Chara, Danny Briere, Dan Boyle, Jason Spezza, Cam Ward, Thomas Vanek, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Callahan, Bobby Ryan, P.K. Subban and Logan Couture.
“It’s awesome to be in that category,” the 21-year-old Zucker said. “But obviously my main goal isn’t to be named to the All-Rookie team, it’s to be playing for a Calder Cup and winning championships.”
As the Aeros, the primary development affiliate of the Wild, ramp up their campaign toward the postseason, Zucker is looking to put a championship bow on an already impressive rookie season.
With 24 goals and 26 assists for 50 points in his 55 games this year, Zucker has come a long way from his childhood in Las Vegas.
“I moved to Vegas when I was two months old, so I’ve been there pretty much my whole life,” he said. “My two older brothers got me started playing roller hockey when I was young and I didn’t switch to ice until I was a bit older. Roller hockey was my roots and that’s just what you did on the West Coast.”
Though wheels were the beginning, it was on blades where Zucker found his stride. He would go on to represent the United States at the World Juniors in 2010 and 2011, winning gold and bronze medals, respectively. After playing two years at the University of Denver, Zucker made the jump to the NHL in 2012, appearing in six games for Minnesota at the end of last season.
“The overall game is so much different,” he said of his college to professional adjustment. “Obviously in pro, it’s your job. It’s no longer a hobby where you’re just having fun playing. It’s your job now.”
Now with the Aeros, and under the tutelage of veteran coach John Torchetti, Zucker is thankful to get the opportunity to perfect his pro game.
“It’s done a ton for me,” he said of the American Hockey League. “A lot of people – including myself actually at the start of the season – thought that being in the AHL was a letdown, and a place that you didn’t want to be. But realistically it’s only going to help your game.
“It’s helped my game a ton and it’s gotten me to the point where I can be an NHL player, and I give the AHL a ton of credit for that. I owe that all to my coaches and my teammates here.”
With only four games to the end of regular season, Zucker and his Aeros, currently fifth in the Western Conference, are doing what they can to build their points cushion and ensure their spot in the playoffs.
Now every play is a big play and every game is a big game.
“I think it’s just about being consistent and making sure you’re getting these much-needed points,” Zucker said. “Obviously you want to go into the playoffs full steam ahead. You want to be playing your best hockey at this time of year and that’s just what we’re focusing on right now.”