PITTSBURGH—The Pittsburgh Penguins have acquired veteran forward Jason Zucker from Minnesota, giving the Penguins’ top-six forward group a jolt as they prepare for a post-season push.
Pittsburgh sent forward Alex Galchenyuk, defenceman prospect Calen Addison and a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick to the Wild in exchange for Zucker.
The 28-year-old Zucker has 14 goals and 15 assists this season for Minnesota. His arrival in Pittsburgh gives the Penguins more scoring depth to add to one of their top two lines. Pittsburgh, currently four points behind first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division, has spent the last five weeks looking to replace All-Star forward Jake Guentzel, who is out until late April after injuring his right shoulder on Dec. 30.
“Jason Zucker is a top-six forward that we think will be a great fit for our group,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement. “He’s a proven goal scorer, and with three more years on his current contract, he has the potential to make an impact for us moving forward.”
The deal marked the first major move by first-year general manager Bill Guerin, who was previously assistant GM of the Penguins. Guerin told the Wild he’d give them as much time as he could to catch up in the Western Conference, and they entered the week just four points out of a wild-card spot. But they’ve been stuck in the middle of the pack for several years and could use a refresh of their prospect pool.
Zucker, who was recently moved down to the fourth line, has been on the trading block for a year, almost getting dealt right before the deadline last season by Guerin’s predecessor, Paul Fenton. He won the NHL’s humanitarian award last summer, the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. After posting a career-high 33 goals and playing in all 82 games in 2017-18, Zucker’s production waned last season with the rest of the Wild as they saw their streak of six straight playoff appearances end.
Zucker is signed through the 2022-23 season with an annual cap hit of $5.5 million (U.S.). A dependable two-way player, Zucker has 132 goals, 111 assists and 243 points in 456 NHL games, all with the Wild.
The move sends Galchenyuk packing just seven months after the Penguins acquired him from Arizona in the deal that sent popular but mercurial forward Phil Kessel to the Coyotes. Galchenyuk struggled to find a niche in Pittsburgh, managing just five goals and 12 assists in 45 games. His playing time decreased as the season wore on. He’s played less than 10 minutes in seven of the Penguins’ last eight games and his average time on ice of 11:29 per game represents a career low by a full minute.
The durable Zucker — who has missed 10 games or less in each of the last five seasons — joins a team that has remained near the top of the standings in the hyper competitive Metropolitan Division despite a slew of injuries up and down the roster. The list grew by one on Monday when the Penguins announced promising rookie defenceman John Marino will miss 3-6 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair facial fractures suffered while getting hit in the face by a puck during a loss to Tampa Bay last week.
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