The lone bright spot on a under achieving New York Rangers roster has been Norwegian Mats Zuccarello known as “the hobbit”. Virtually unknown within the NHL realm, Zuccarello has quietly risen to stardom in New York. Zuccarello has been the most consistent player on the Rangers providing skill, confidence and clutch plays all season long. The hobbit is becoming a wizard on broadway.
Zuccarello spent time in NHL and AHL the previous two seasons with New York and Hartford. He was able to produce in a secondary role during his 3 previous stints with the Rangers however then coach John Tortorella wanted him to improve his overall game as he was considered to be a one trick pony.
In 2012-2013, Zuccarello bolted to the KHL during the lockout after being jerked around and spent most of the season there putting up 28 points in 44 games. Glen Sather showed that the Rangers had interest in him by bringing him for the last 15 games of the season to add some offense down the stretch. In limited ice time, Zuccarello displayed his savy passing during the regular season and playoffs. Zuccarello was noticed especially during the playoffs by adding 7 points in 12 games.
During the off-season Zuccarello he was rewarded for his playoff efforts. He avoided arbitration and took a one year 1.15 million dollar deal that would ensure he would remain a Ranger. He wants to play in New York, the team who brought him into the league. He made that clear when he accepted the deal that Sather gave him. He`s a loyal guy who comes at an extremely reasonable price.
This season Zuccarello started off in new coach Alain Vigneault’s dog house, winding up in the press box a healthy scratch 7 games into the season. This proved to be a valuable move by Vigneault as Zuccarello has done nothing but produce for the Rangers since.
He is tied for the team lead in goals, assists, and points with Brad Richards with 11, 20, and 31 respectively. He has had almost a hand in half of the team’s power play points with 14. Moreover, he has helped the Rangers become one of the most productive teams with man advantage (6th in the league converting 21.1% of the time). He is able to create space on the ice using his slick stick handling skills and his ability to pass through the seams. His passing alone is something to marvel. He has the ability to thread the nettle only a handful of players in the league can do. By the time he dishes the puck its too late and in the back of the net. He is currently on pace to score 20 goals and finish with 57 points.
Zuccarello has not only found a way to convert his European style game onto the North American surface, he has brought an edge to his game. He has been able to get under opponents skin all season long drawing penalties. This role as a pest has allowed his team to go on the man advantage and score important goals. With the addition of this facet to his game he has been able to become of the most important players on the club.
He is going to earn a big raise this summer not only for his production but for his loyalty to the Rangers. He should be a large part of the team moving forward and a staple in the top 6 forwards.
Safe to say Zuccarello has been the biggest surprise in a Rangers uniform this season. He gives hope to young player`s that size doesn`t matter. If he can continue this production this might be the year that someone other than Lundqvist wins the team MVP in NYC. Keep your eye on him because by season’s end he won’t be underrated.
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