Jason Zucker has seen all the Twin Cities media reports.
He's seen the headlines calling this season "now or never" and this training camp "make or break."
Nothing should be make-or-break for Zucker, who is just 22 years old, but that's how the fourth-year Minnesota Wild forward is approaching this season.
"For me, just making the team is my only goal," said Zucker, the Wild's second-round draft choice in 2010. "The only thing that I'm worried about is making sure I'm here Oct. 9 (for the season opener against Colorado)."
Zucker and former Wild forward and captain Wes Walz were in Rochester on Wednesday to speak to approximately 100 youth hockey players and parents at the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center about proper nutrition, exercise and rest for athletes in all sports.
"To come out and speak to kids and talk to them about hockey and training, it means a lot to them and to us," he said. "It's fun just to watch their reactions to so many things."
Zucker, who has played 52 games in the NHL over the past three seasons, had too much time to rest for his liking over the summer, the culmination of a roller-coaster year for the young Las Vegas native and former Denver University standout.
Zucker excelled late in the 2012-13 season, putting up five points in 20 regular season games, then scoring one of the biggest goals of his hockey career in the postseason. His overtime goal in Game 3 of a Western Conference quarterfinal series gave the Wild a 3-2 victory against Chicago. The Blackhawks responded by winning the next two games and ending the Wild's season.
But Zucker had high hopes entering training camp a year ago, only to see them dashed when he was sent to Des Moines, Iowa, to play for the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate. It was the first time he had been cut by a hockey team.
But Zucker battled back and stuck with the Wild after his Jan. 1 call-up. He was playing as well as he ever had at the NHL level — scoring four goals in eight games — before suffering a leg injury. He ultimately underwent two surgeries and a long rehabilitation program at Mayo's Sports Medicine Center.
"These facilities are one of a kind," he said. "You won't see many facilities of this kind anywhere else in the United States. It's pretty incredible. To be able to use this facility on a daily basis when I was coming back (after surgery) was amazing."
His leg 100 percent healthy— "it feels stronger now than it did before I hurt it," he said— Zucker is in the midst of a ultra-competitive battle for one of the final forward spots on the Wild roster.
He was signed in July to a two-year contract. This season's he's on a two-way deal, meaning the Wild can send him to Iowa (he doesn't need to clear waivers to be sent down) and pay him a lesser salary. Next season is a guaranteed one-way deal, meaning he'll make his NHL salary whether he plays in Iowa or St. Paul.
Tonight's 7 p.m. preseason game at St. Louis could be the determining factor on whether or not he's around for next Thursday's season opener.
"I feel great," Zucker said. "I wouldn't want to be in any other position. I want to make sure I'm battling for a spot and performing at my best. I think I've done well so far."