For the first few games, while finding his feet, the little Norwegian flashed his ability but failed to gain much consistency in a Rangers side struggling for offense. Last night, the diminutive winger came up big with a great assist and a beautiful shot for the game winning goal. If there was a welcome to the NHL moment for the winger that clutch goal was it. However, realistically how long will Zuccarello’s initial stay in New York last?
In part it is up to him, by playing so well Zuccarello can refuse to be taken out of the line up but he may, for this season at least, be a victim of numbers and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While he has shown he will eventually be a good NHL player for the Rangers it can’t be doubted he still has developing to do and the best place for that to happen is in the AHL. Why? Because Zuccarello’s style – and best interests – doesn’t suit 6 minutes a game on the fourth line as in a few weeks his spot may be taken by a combination of Ryan Callahan, Vinny Prospal and even Erik Christensen. While he has impressed, don’t expect him to block vice captain Prospal’s return and certainly not that of Ryan Callahan. Add to that, current top 6 incumbents Dubinsky, Stepan, Gaborik, Anisimov and even when discounting the likes of Avery and Frolov for top 6 minutes and there’s still not enough to go around. Again, this is not a bad thing but a reflection of the ever growing depth the Rangers are enjoying.
Barring an absolute tear of Calder trophy proportions Zuccarello isn’t here for the duration, this year. This audition (of sorts) prior to returning to Connecticut will benefit everyone; himself, the Rangers and the Whale. The small winger will go back to the AHL accustomed to higher levels of play and should dominate the AHL even more than he had begun to do prior to his call up. All this bodes well for a very good developmental season for the winger (hopefully) giving the Rangers a ready-made top 6, skilled winger for next year who requires little to no acclimatisation period. A win-win for all concerned
Zuccarello’s performances will also have a huge impact on current roster players, particularly Frolov, Prospal and to a lesser extent Christensen. While EC is more threatened by the development of the young centers even he could be a victim of simple maths – too many forwards – while Prospal (despite being a leader on the team and a respected veteran) and Frolov will need unbelievable second halves to the season to convince management to bring them back and even that may not be enough. So the play of Zuccarello, while right now to be enjoyed, is more likely to be beneficial long term rather than for this season and that isn’t a bad thing. Don’t be sad if he doesn’t stay this year, look forward to the time when the Hobbit becomes a mainstay on Broadway.