What would a healthy Jason Zucker mean for the Penguins?

Hockey has not been form to Jason Zucker’s physique.

Zucker broke his collarbone in 2015 and his fibula in 2019. He underwent core muscle surgical procedure in 2017, then once more in 2022. He got here again from his newest main surgical procedure and instantly harm his leg throughout his return on a brutal hit into the boards which left the Penguins lineup is shaken.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on March 31, instantly following Zucker’s damage:

“It was terrible. You clearly hate to see it. We see him working exhausting day by day, rehabbing and making an attempt to get again as quick as he can. So simply to have that occur in his first sport again was fairly heartbreaking.” —Casey DeSmith

“He’s a large a part of this staff on and off the ice. Just having him again I feel was a spark for us, too. You may see it the first couple of intervals.” —John Marino

Over the previous two seasons, Zucker has skated in 79 of the Penguins’ 138 regular-season video games.

He has seemingly not been totally healthy, besides for the 5 minutes throughout which he registered an help in his return, since at the very least December 2021, when he began lacking practices as a consequence of a nagging core concern.

Finally including Zucker again to the lineup may mean a dependable linemate for Evgeni Malkin for the first time in over a 12 months.

Evgeni Malkin skates with Danton Heinen and Kasperi Kapanen throughout Game 5 of the first spherical towards the host New York Rangers on May 11.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire by way of Getty Images

In 2021-22, Malkin’s most constant linemate at 5v5 was Danton Heinen.

That virtually actually was not what the Penguins meant after they picked up Heinen as a free agent in summer season 2021. Zucker’s damage and Kasperi Kapanen’s slide to the backside six, and finally a healthy scratch, left the second line in flux. Malkin ended up taking part in alongside everybody from Brock McGinn to Evan Rodrigues to Rickard Rakell in 2021-22. Few of those pairings caught.

But with Zucker again, and Rakell doubtlessly skating on the first line, the Penguins may have the alternative to return to a beforehand profitable possibility which we’ve got barely seen over the previous 12 months: a second line of Zucker, Malkin and Bryan Rust.

This trio has solely spent greater than 10 minutes collectively in eight Penguins video games, out of the 42 they have been concurrently healthy for, in keeping with Natural Stat Trick.

But Penguins followers noticed some chemistry in these eight video games—maybe greater than lots of Malkin’s 5v5 mixtures in 2020-21.

This purpose towards the Detroit Red Wings on April 23 encapsulates what there may be to love about them: aggressive puck battles from notably tenacious forecheckers Rust and Zucker enable Malkin a probability to slam house his harmful shot.

You see it once more on this purpose towards the visiting Islanders the season earlier than. Malkin will not be the Penguins’ most constant forechecker, however the efforts of Rust and Zucker have spurred him to leap up into the zone, maybe simply because he is aware of they’ve a excessive likelihood of gaining possession.

We’ve seen lower than 20 minutes of a Zucker-Malkin-Rakell line at 5v5, and it is greater than seemingly the Penguins will give this line one other shot in 2022-23. After all, a high line of Guentzel-Crosby-Rust is a confirmed profitable mixture.

Either method, whether or not it’s Rakell or Rust slotting in on Malkin’s wing, a begin to the season the place (knock on wooden) everyone seems to be healthy may hopefully enable Malkin the probability to construct chemistry with constant line mates for the first time in over a 12 months .

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