Last summer, before he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes, Phil Kessel was asked by the Pittsburgh Penguins to waive his no-trade clause for a deal that would send him to the Minnesota Wild. That trade reportedly included Jason Zucker as the main piece coming the other way (with Jack Johnson and Victor Rask also involved at one point). While Kessel decided not to allow the transaction to take place, it apparently hasn’t stopped Penguins’ GM Jim Rutherford from trying to get the smooth skating Minnesota forward.
In Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts for Sportsnet, he notes that Pittsburgh are still in pursuit of Zucker, though the Wild “aren’t yet ready to concede” the season. Minnesota is in last place in the Central Division, but only seven points out of a playoff spot in the tight wild card standings. Trading Zucker, who not only has been one of the teams most effective offensive players this season but is also signed for another three years, would essentially mean they are entering a rebuild under new general manager Bill Guerin.
A rebuild does seem to be a possibility after a report recently came out that the Wild are “open for business” and Mathew Dumba is potentially available. He and Zucker are likely two of the most valuable trade pieces on the roster, but would also leave huge holes in the current group.
Just as in the summer, Zucker does seem like a perfect fit for the Penguins however. Perhaps even more so now that the team has lost Jake Guentzel for the season, taking away some of their scoring punch alongside star forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (and, apparently Bryan Rust). That injury also gives the team a little more cap flexibility, given they could use long-term injured reserve if necessary.
It is important to remember that the Zucker-Kessel trade was worked out with the old Minnesota regime. Guerin obviously has a strong connection to the Penguins organization however and may have a good idea of what they can offer in terms of prospects or young players. Either way, Zucker’s name is one to keep an eye on as the calendar turns to February, especially if the Wild don’t start winning.