This September Zuccarello will be under the microscope of Front Office exes and fans alike thanks to potential replacements waiting in the wings (pun intended) like Chris Kreider, Christian Thomas, or Carl Hagelin. With Gaborik, Callahan, and possibly Prust all potentially ahead of Zukes on the right wing depth chart, one has to wonder if the Norwegian’s days are numbered.
To be fair, it doesn’t make much sense to play Zuccarello at RW on the 4th line (his landing spot towards the end of last season). Everyone knows fourth lines on Tortorella teams get virtually zero ice-time. It’s not a place for a young forward who you are trying to mold into a top 6 player.
So what does this mean for his future with the Rangers and the NHL?
While it’s too early to predict his path with the Blueshirts, I do think that he definitely has what it takes to succeed in the NHL. The media and the fans who buy their BS will tell you that he’s too small, or that he needs to gain weight, but that’s a lazy analysis.
Zuccarello isn’t too small for the Show, not for a forward anyway. There are currently around 15-20 players in the NHL that play at or below 5’8 and Zuccarello has better skills than most of them. He may not or ever be as quick as Gionta, Cammalleri, St. Louis, Briere, or Ennis, but he’s not a step behind Gerbe, Connor, Shannon, or Recchi either.
No, Zukes doesn’t need to bulk up or find the Zoltar machine at Rye Playland.
“I WISH I WERE BIG!”
But he may have to switch to the other side of the ice.
To me, Zuccarello’s struggles generally occur along the boards. This is mostly due to the fact that he is a left handed shot playing right wing. While playing the “off-wing” is good for scoring goals (remember the whole Kovy fiasco in NJ last season), it does make board play more difficult.
Zukes is already at a disadvantage coming over from the larger rinks of the Swedish Elite League, where you have a week and a half to decide what to do with the puck. Here on North America rinks, no such luxury exists.
So, not only is Zukes getting used to the pacing and physicality of NHL forechecking, but he also has to get used to receiving pucks along the board on his backhand, which is obviously more difficult than receiving pucks on your forehand. Add a 220-lb defensemen pressed up against you, and you’re talking a whole new skill set to learn.
Passing and cycling along the boards is where he needs to improve. If he wants to speed up the learning process, I say he take a shot at leftwing. Besides, other than Dubinsky, none of our other LW’s are locks for top scoring roles next season.