Jason Zucker had been rumored to be on the trade block in recent seasons and was almost shipped out twice in the past year.
But when he answered a call from General Manager Bill Guerin on Monday night while at home, Zucker was still shocked to learn he was no longer with the Wild.
Once it sunk in, though, where he was going — to Pittsburgh to join a Penguins squad making a serious push for the Stanley Cup — Zucker got excited.
“It’s obviously an amazing opportunity to play with some amazing players,” he said by phone from Pittsburgh. “For me, that’s all I can ask for as far as hockey goes.”
Since finding out his NHL address has changed, Zucker has felt mixed emotions during a whirlwind transition.
It felt bizarre to slip on a different colored jersey Tuesday night when he made his Penguins debut in Pittsburgh, but he was grateful for the warm welcome from new teammates.
And while leaving his family behind in the Twin Cities is tough, Zucker left with lifelong memories and a mission to continue to grow a legacy that became about much more than hockey.
“It’s a bittersweet time,” he said.
A 2010 second-round draft pick the Wild traded up to make, Zucker arrived in Minnesota as a prospect vying to become an NHL player.
Through parts of nine seasons, that’s exactly what he accomplished — turning into a key forward with eye-catching speed, a skill set that would become his reputation and help explain why he appealed to other teams.
“I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without the great linemates and teammates I had,” said Zucker, whose 132 goals in 456 games rank fourth in franchise history.
What stands out to him, though, when he reflects on his time with the Wild is the people: everyone in the organization from valet attendants and the locker-room security staff to the front office and his coaches and teammates.
“I’m forever grateful for all the amazing times we had,” the winger said. “That for me is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
That connection, however, extended beyond the rink.
During the 2017-18 season, Zucker and his wife, Carly, a KFAN radio personality, began a campaign to raise funds to build the Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. This endeavor started after Zucker developed a special bond with Tucker Helstrom, whom Zucker met at the hospital while Helstrom was battling brain cancer. Helstrom died in 2016.
“Obviously, Tucker had a massive, massive impact on Carly and I and every aspect of our lives,” said Zucker, who is the reigning King Clancy Award winner for his humanitarian work. “With [the campaign] #Give16, for us we just wanted to make sure that we left a legacy of just trying to help the kids within the hospital,” he said.
Although his job has now taken him elsewhere, Zucker still plans to continue his charity work in the Twin Cities. His family is actually remaining here for the rest of the season before hashing out its future living situation. The Zuckers have two daughters, Sophia and Stella, and a son, Hendrix.
“That’s still going to be a massive, massive part of Carly and I,” Zucker said of their involvement in the community. “We’re looking forward to continue that in the years to come.”
• The Wild made only one tweak to its lineup Thursday vs. the Rangers after shutting out the Vegas 4-0 on Tuesday, subbing defenseman Greg Pateryn in for Brad Hunt.
• Former Wild General Manager Paul Fenton is now scouting part-time for the Blue Jackets.