Your favourite new European hockey player enjoyed a great night against the Panthers last night and it was a crying shame the Rangers lost a game they dominated in almost every facet. However this team is in a good spot going into the second half and that’s the most important thing here. In the second half it will be interesting to see what the returning players can bring to the Rangers and how much better (offensively) this team can, and possibly should, get. Ryan Callahan and Vinny Prospal will both help the offense with their experience, leadership and ability to contribute. Then there’s Dan Girardi who has been a pleasant surprise offensively and a stud on the back end. Going back to the AHL will be Del Zotto (for a while) and kids like Dupont, Grachev, Kolarik and Newbury. It’s when these injured players return that he questions about the roster shuffle will begin.
Mats Zuccarello is on approximately 50 point pace as a rookie (had he played the whole year). He has shown energy, great vision, skill and playmaking ability. All this is discounting his clutch play in the shootout in which he has won numerous points for the Rangers off his own blade. So where does he fit with the Rangers when the two injured stars return next week? (Not to mention when Dubinsky and Fedotenko return…) It’s a question worth posing because there is surely no way the Ranger send the little Norwegian back to the AHL. His play has shown he deserves to stay and in my opinion, it has shown that he is already perhaps too good for the AHL. The problem is, there’s no point keeping him here in NY if it’s to get 8-10 minutes a game. If he stays he needs to be used as he has been during the injury crisis. So who plays where and with whom?
Assume Tortorella reunites Prospal (and later Dubinsky) with Gaborik to try and get last year’s chemistry going and to establish a true 1st line. That leaves a lot of players for the next scoring line and the third line. Again, after injuries, assume the Rangers best line of the year thus far (Prust – Boyle – Fedotenko) stays intact. That leaves Stepan, Avery, Callahan, Zuccarello, Wolski, Anisimov and even Christensen to scrap for minutes while we disregard the merits of Drury and the rest as anything other than 4th liners at this stage. This is a great problem to have for the Rangers but it is a problem none the less. Zuccarello has delivered and has done it consistently and he adds to the pure skill level more than any rookie has in recent memory, again just my opinion. Some hard decisions will need to be made in the next few weeks about players’ roles and their ice time. Zuccarello should not be lost in the shuffle.