One-on-one with Jason Zucker

TSR Features, TSR Interviews | 13 Jul 2011

     From season to season, the buzz surrounding 19-year-old Jason Zucker gets a little bit louder. The Denver Pioneers’ forward comes from Las Vegas, a place where the number of professional hockey players can be counted on one hand, but that has not stopped Zucker from improving into one of the best young players playing US college hockey.

There are high expectations for Zucker's sophomore season with Denver.

     Zucker made the transition from the US NTDP to Denver University with ease, scoring 23 goals—good enough to tie him with then-sophomore Drew Shore (Florida, 2009) in Pioneers goal scoring. The Pioneers season ended abruptly with a loss in the Midwest Regional in which Zucker netted Denver’s only goal in a loss to North Dakota—the same team who had beaten Denver a week earlier in the WCHA Final Five Championship game.

     Expectations for Zucker, the Minnesota Wild’s 2nd round draft pick in last year’s Entry Draft, are high at a collegiate level as he returns to Denver for his sophomore season and looks to improve on his season that saw him earn WCHA Rookie of the Year honors. Expectations will also be high on a world level come late December with Zucker likely represent the USA in the World Junior Championships for the third straight year.

     Despite the high expectations, Zucker is impartial to the pressure surrounding his upcoming season.

“My dad has always told me ‘the only pressure you want to have is pressure you put on yourself’ and that’s something that I’ve always lived by. Obviously fans are going to expect more, but as far as myself, I’m not expecting anything really other than what I did last year.”

     The Scouting Report talked to Zucker among other things, including the upcoming year at Denver, the changes in his role for Team USA, and his off-season.

TSR: You had a pretty solid year this year and a lot of scouts believed that you had accomplished enough personally and were ready to make the jump to the professional level. What made you want to come back rather than turning pro?

JZ: I think I needed another year to develop. I want to get stronger and improve my overall game with my skating, my shooting, playmaking, everything. It was not a sole decision of my own as I talked to [Denver head coach George Gwozdecky] and [Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher] and we all thought I should stay another season. I wanted to come back to Denver; I love it there and I know that I can develop more than what I currently am at right now.

TSR: Are there still high expectations with Sam Brittain going down to injury this offseason?

JZ: Sam is a great goaltender and won us a lot of games and kept us in a lot of games so it’s a big loss for us. At the same time, we have a great Finnish goaltender [Juho Olkinuora] coming in from what I’ve heard. I don’t know him and haven’t seen him play, but everything I’ve heard about him has been positive. Then we have Adam Murray who is going to be a junior this year. I know he’s been working really hard this offseason and he’s going to be able to bring us just as far as any other goalie could next season. I have a lot of confidence in Murray and seeing him play at the US NTDP with me, I think he’ll be able to do well this year.

TSR: You got invited to your third Junior Evaluation Camp and will likely be on the team US WJC team again this year. Talk about how your role from year to year has changed and how you think you will fit in this year’s team.

JZ: It’s been a dramatic change from my first year to this year. I look at a guy like Jordan Schroeder who did the same thing [and played in three World Junior tournaments], though I don’t necessarily want to model anything after Schroeder because he’s a different person and a different player than I am. My first year, coach [Dean] Blais put me on the first line with Schroeder and Ryan Bourque just to be a role player on that line and not necessarily score, but to complement them with my speed. Last year I played a different role, playing on the third line and I thought I was a little bit more of a leader. Coming into this year, I hope that I can have a different role than year’s past. I want to be a first line guy and a main contributor to the team, but also I want to be the leader of the team with all of the experience in this being my third World Junior tournament and my fifth World Championship.

TSR: Here at TSR, we just got done talking to all these draft eligible players who had the combine and all of the activities that surround a player’s draft year and they talk about how crazy their summers are. It seems like it might never slow down. Has this summer slowed down a bit now that you’ve been drafted?

JZ: You think that it’s a lot crazier summer during your draft year, but I think it’s really comes down to your emotions. You go to the draft and it’s either a huge emotional booster or an emotional drain depending on where you’re drafted. At the same time, the only real difference between this summer and my draft eligible summer was the combine. It’s definitely not that much slower, but I know what to expect now coming into camps (the US Junior Evaluation Camp and Denver’s summer workouts).

TSR: After last year’s exit in the regional championship, how much motivation has that given you this off-season? Do you feel any more pressure heading into this year to improve on last year’s finish after how big of a season you had for the Pioneers?

JZ: I want to win just like everyone else on our team. [Denver] is one of the tightest knit hockey teams I’ve ever played on and the guys are great in the locker room and it hit everyone hard [when we lost]. Personally, I just want to win a National Championship just like any college hockey player does and that’s what I’m going into next season to do.


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