On April 16, 2010, 5 days after being eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season by the Philadelphia Flyers (cringe), Glen Sather announced that the New York Rangers have signed undrafted Norwegian phenom Mats Zuccarello. He was heavily pursued by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, and Chicago Blackhawks, but chose to sign in the Big Apple. Scoring an impressive 64 points in 55 games for MODO in Elitserien in the 2009-2010 season, the 5’7″ speedster flew overseas and officially became a New York Ranger.
Zuccarello split the first 2 seasons between the Rangers and the Hartford Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale. After his contract was up, on June 1, 2012, it was announced that he signed a 2-year deal in the KHL. But when the NHL lockout ended, he abruptly cancelled his Russian contract and returned to New York, scoring 8 points in 15 regular season games after netting 28 points in 44 games with his team Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
In the first month of the 2013-14 season, none of the Rangers did well. Zuccarello was scoreless in the first 7 games, and had 1 point in the first 9, totaling a poor 3 points in the month of October. But after the slow start, Zuccarello went on a tear, netting 56 points in his next 66 games played. He played on the 3rd line centered by Derick Brassard and accompanied on the wing by Benoit Pouliot, who signed with the Edmonton Oilers on July 1, 2014. That’s not a typo. he played on the 3RD line, going almost a point a game. Even though Pouliot is no longer with the team, look for new contributors such as Lee Stempniak to fill in that vacant position.
Brassard will now play the 2nd line center position due to the buyout of Brad Richards. This might force the breakup of Zuccarello and Brassard, as the projected 2nd line is Hagelin-Brassard- Marty St. Louis, and J.T. Miller centering the 3rd line with Stempniak and Zuccarello the wing men. While there might be a little less chemistry on that line, new combinations could also work out surprisingly well.
Zuccarello has a sixth sense when it comes to the puck and where on the ice his teammates are, constantly feeding them no-look passes while they’re in front of the net for an easy tap-in goal. His agility and scrappy forecheck are also major advantages to his all-around game; he does not back down, no matter who he’s up against. He may only be 5’7″, but he plays like he’s 6’5″, an attribute not many, if any, smaller players in NHL have. Zuccarello will repeat his outstanding success and will hopefully be a New York Ranger for a long time.
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