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Minnesota Wild eager to give Zucker head start in NHL

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The bright spot at the end of this three-month nosedive for the Minnesota Wild is a strong, deep group of prospects set to turn pro next season. The club is so eager about the future that it is giving one youngster a head start.

After signing left wing Jason Zucker of Las Vegas to an entry-level contract, the Wild brought the former University of Denver standout to practice on Wednesday, and they plan to have him make his NHL debut tonight against Florida.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said the 20-year-old Zucker, Minnesota’s second-round draft pick in 2010.

Six games are left in the season for the Wild, who had the NHL’s best record in mid-December but are 11-28-7 since then.

“I don’t want to pigeon-hole (Zucker) into anything, as far as what we expect from him,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. “I want to give him the opportunity to come in here and do that on his own.”

He will get those chances over the next 10 days. All six of the Wild’s opponents either are bound for the playoffs or fighting for one of the last few spots.

“It’s going to let me know what I have to work on this summer,” said Zucker, a former Bonanza High School student who was second in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association as a sophomore with 22 goals. He had 24 assists, too, in 38 games.

“We saw him as more of an energy player who could kill penalties and play on the third line,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “Obviously, in college he’s been a first-line player who scored goals. I hope there’s elements of both in his game, but time will tell.”

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