Why Jason Zucker or Nino Niederreiter would make sense for the Golden Knights
The Minnesota Wild are rumored to be interested in trading one of their top-six wingers. Here’s why Vegas makes sense as a trade partner.
The Minnesota Wild are reportedly interested in trading several of their top-notch wingers, including Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter. Both of these players would be strong fits with the Golden Knights, but for different reasons. Here’s why both could be trade targets and what they would bring to Vegas, as well as what the Knights might have to give up to get them.
Zucker is a 26-year-old restricted free agent who filed for arbitration. He has not yet reached a deal with the Wild and would probably be the less costly of the two to acquire.
Notably, Zucker is a Las Vegas native, one of the very few in the NHL or AHL, and would likely be more than accepting of a return home. He plays on either wing, offering flexibility that would allow him to slot in on the second line regardless of the other players on that line, though he is a left-handed shooter.
Zucker is coming off a career season in which he scored 33 goals and 64 points, but he had a 14.9 shooting percentage (exceeding his career average of 12.8) and played the most minutes of his career. He’s played more than 70 games in each of the last three seasons but played in all 82 games last year (his first 80-plus game campaign). Thirty goals may be a reasonable feat for the relatively young forward.
Both his two most common linemates (centers Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu) and his two most common lines (Staal and Niederreiter, Koivu and Mikael Granlund) were significantly better with Zucker beside them.
Linemates’ performance with/without Zucker in 2017-18
|Linemate||Corsi||Shot Share||Goal Share||Scoring Chance||High Danger %||HD Goal Share||On Ice Save %||Off. Zone FO%||TOI|
Zucker’s own possession stats were good as well. He had a 49.91 percent Corsi, 53.09 percent shot share, 57.29 percent goal share, 56.58 percent scoring chance share, 59.42 percent high danger share and 67.86 percent high-danger goal share. Minnesota’s goaltenders had a .927 save percentage with Zucker on the ice at 5-on-5.
Plus, he did that with a more defensive workload. Zucker had a 55.9 percent defensive zone start rate last season and still put up those numbers. He also played 49 minutes on the penalty kill for Minnesota, the 13th most on the team, eighth among forwards.
He had the second-highest Corsi among players with more than 30 minutes (16.44 percent), as well as the highest shot share (23.81 percent), goal share (42.86 percent) and high danger share (33.33). He was on the ice for three shorthanded goals (scoring one) and only allowed four power-play goals.
Zucker faced the third best competition on the Wild’s roster (29.61 time on ice when ranked by competition). That trailed only Granlund and Koivu.
Zucker would be an incredibly useful player to add as a second-line piece considering he can come in, score goals, and play incredibly well at even strength and on the penalty kill. He can also help drive the second power-play unit, and, again, adds 33 goals (27 of which came at even strength).
Vegas should be attracted to his style of play, and he’d be an excellent complement to former teammate Alex Tuch.
Niederreiter is less than a year younger than Zucker and will be 26 at the start of next season. He is perhaps less proven as a goal scorer but has still managed 20-plus goals three times.
Niederreiter is coming off an injury that limited him to just 63 games last year; as a result, he averaged the fewest minutes played over his last three seasons and scored just 18 goals, with seven coming on the power play.
Niederreiter has hit 20 goals (or been on pace for 20) in each of the last four seasons. Each season, he has been a solid power-play threat, scoring six, eight, and seven goals in three of the last four seasons. Niederreiter generally has an even workload; his last three offensive zone start percentages were 51.6 percent, 52.5 percent and 50.7 percent.
Niederreiter had the highest relative Corsi among Wild players with more than 10 games (6.92 percent). He also had a 52.94 percent Corsi, 53.88 percent shot share, 62.3 percent goal share, 54.52 percent scoring chance share, 55.2 percent high danger share and 61.54 percent high-danger goal share. His on-ice save percentage was .938.
His linemates were also better with him on the ice, which includes Zucker.
Linemates’ performance with/without Niederreiter in 2017-18
|Partner(s)||TOI||Corsi||Shot Share||Goal Share||Scoring Chance||High-Danger||HD Goal Share||OI Save %||Off. Faceoff %|
Niedderreiter faced the 11th best quality of competition on the Wild (29.04 percent time on ice) and had the fourth-best quality of teammates (30.8 percent time on ice), which is significantly easier in terms of workload than what Zucker was dealing with.
Niederreiter only played four minutes on the penalty kill but had a 45.45 percent Corsi and 50 percent shot share; he did not allow a goal during those four minutes. He may have deserved more time on the penalty kill, but on a team crowded with defensive forwards, it wasn’t in the cards.
Niederreiter would be more likely to slot in on the third line for Vegas, but as a member of the Golden Knights could experience a boost in time on ice, which could lead to a boost in production. He has four more years on a contract that carries a fixed $5.25 million AAV, however, and would therefore be a less likely trade candidate (and more expensive to acquire).
Cost of acquisition
With Niederreiter being younger (although, again, not that much younger) and his contract carrying another four years, he would be more expensive to acquire than Zucker.
For a young forward in the midst of his peak with the ability to do better and a proven track record of being a 20-goal scorer, Niederreiter would likely cost one or two excellent prospects (the top four for Vegas, meaning Erik Brannstrom, Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki and Nicolas Hague) and perhaps a future high pick (a first or second).
Looking at the stats, Zucker could be the preferable move. With his Vegas connection, Zucker might fit in better on the team, and he has shown an ability to produce at high levels when given the time. He would be given that time immediately, and behind the first line would be one of the most-played forwards on the team.
Zucker’s lack of a contract and the fact that he filed for arbitration likely drives his price down, which was high to begin with. A 26-year-old 30-goal scorer doesn’t become available all that often (though there’s another one available this offseason in Jeff Skinner). But if Zucker goes to arbitration, he has at most two years before becoming an unrestricted free agent. That, too, should drive down his price.
The Wild have young defensemen in Matt Dumba (who recently signed a five-year, $30 million contract) and Jonas Brodin, as well as Jared Spurgeon, who is still just 28. The Wild don’t have any exceptional defensemen in the pipeline, however, so a deal for Zucker would likely revolve around one of Hague or Brannstrom.
The former would be far more likely, though. Hague, a second-round pick (conditional based on who does worse next season, Vegas or the Columbus Blue Jackets, because Minnesota would get the higher pick) and another complementary piece (perhaps Lucas Elvenes or Ben Jones) likely gets the deal done, assuming Zucker remains without a contract. If he signs a good contract, then that second becomes a first.
The better fit
If Vegas is going to go out and get another winger for the upcoming season, both Zucker and Niederreiter would be strong options. Both have their perks, both drive possession, both make an impact. But there should be a clear favorite.
The Golden Knights should make a move for Zucker, especially as he’s waiting for his arbitration hearing. He’s a Las Vegas native, plays a solid two-way game and makes a meaningful contribution on the scoreboard. His 30-goal season is repeatable, and he had better stats while starting in the defensive zone more often.
He may make more sense next to Paul Stastny and Tuch, and it would give Stastny two good wingers with which to work. Vegas can also choose what kind of deal they give Zucker if he gets one before the season starts, and a long-term deal would at most take him to age 34. With the way he plays (never topping 85 hits) and the relative lack of miles on his legs (330 career games is not a ton for a 26-year-old), he should be good long-term.
Bring the boy home. Like Bryce Harper when Las Vegas inevitably gets an MLB team.