What to do With Mats Zuccarello?

August 18, 2011, by

There’s no doubting the talent the little Norwegian winger possesses, but there’s a legitimate question to be asked about Mats Zuccarello’s future with the Rangers. Does he even have one?

Last season Zuccarello made a pretty solid first impression, but the grind of the longest season of his young career clearly showed as the season progressed. He was deservedly sent back down to the Whale towards the end of the season. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a productive rookie season, as he made his presence felt at both the AHL and NHL levels. However, there’s a very good chance that Zuccarello could be one of the forwards lost in the shuffle during training camp and therefore he could find himself starting the season back with the Whale.

One trail of thought is this. Don’t forget hockey these days is not just a sport, but a business and the more effective general managers are in the business of asset management. If Zuccarello is in the AHL beyond October, should Glen Sather look to move the winger? After all, the longer the talented winger remains on the farm the more this particular asset diminishes. Also, Zuccarello is entering the final year of his first Rangers contract. If Zuccarello doesn’t see a legitimate future for himself in New York does he even consider re-upping with the Rangers? Maybe returning to the SEL becomes a realistic scenario?

Zuccarello is kind of in an awkward situation. Within the next 12 months the Rangers have a few very talented young wingers close to being ready. Chris Kreider and Christian Thomas to name just two could be very close to becoming Rangers this year, but they certainly will be close next year. There’s a legitimate risk for Zuccarello that he gets overtaken by the younger and cheaper options. Zuccarello needs to make an impact and stick in the NHL sooner rather than later.

The Zuke scenario is one that divides opinion. Is Zuccarello a better option for the current roster than Wolski, Christensen and/or Avery? Perhaps, but is a suitable spot open for him? Perhaps not. At what stage should/could the Rangers decide to move Zuccarello and can Zuccarello force himself into the Rangers plans permanently? I can’t imagine this situation ends with the Rangers letting the Norwegian simply walk away at the end of the season.

Another option, which The Suit brought up earlier this summer, is to try moving him to left wing. Doing so would likely help him along the boards, since he is currently playing “the off-wing,” which is often considered to be more difficult for undersized players. As Suit explained,

“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.”

Interesting plan, but if it doesn’t work or if it’s not being considered, Zukes’ options might become very limited. It seems like it’s either Rangers or a trade for the little winger. We’ll know more in a few short weeks.


  1. Zen says:

    Zuc is clearly a gifted offensive player, particularly his vision of the ice and corresponding impressive passing ability. Last year, though, he just couldn’t find a way to overcome his size disadvantage like many previous smaller players have succeeded with in the past. Did he need more time? Maybe, but I’m not sure time is on his side with many top prospects (Kreider, Thomas, Hagelin, etc.) expected to make the squad next year. He might end up with the Whale due to cap issues or possibly traded for a mid or late round pick. He would seem to fit on a team like the Red Wings IMO.

    • Marty K says:

      Zuke showed chemistry with Step & WW last year. Yes, there were signs of wear on his small frame but lets face it, Torts never stuck with any line combos more than 5 minutes so I say, give that line a chance as the 3rd unit. Who knows who the 1st line LW will be (I’d like to see Avery there) but Zuke, WW or EC are not the answer IMO.

      • Zen says:

        The problem with Zuc, Step, & WW as a line is that you are not realizing what that means for the rest of line-up. Where does Rupp fit if the Feds-Boyle-Prust line sticks? AND… that Step line probably wouldn’t get a lot of ice time, but I would expect Torts to want to get Stepan MORE ice time. Your suggestion leads to more issues and is therefore quite unlikely.

        Avery over WW on the 1st line? Yikes!

        • Marty K says:

          Agree it has an impact on the line-up, just pointing out they showed promise. The problem is WW himself. He just doesn’t fit anywhere because he is too soft & floats too much. We have a gaping hole on the LW on the 1st line (assuming you don’t want to break up the Dubi-AA-Cally line) and the 4th should be Prusty-BB-Rupp/Avery. That’s why I feel it was a mistake to let Vinny go. Step won’t get more ice time than 3rd line minutes. Feds is not my fave but Torts seems to like him so I bet he’ll get a look on the 1st line.
          At least with Avery on the 1st line he fed the puck in front of the net and went in the dirty areas. Just my 2 cents in.

  2. The Suit says:

    I like Zukes, the talent and drive is there, he just needs more time to get acquainted to the NHL, but as Chris stated, time may not be on his side. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    • John says:

      Time will most definitely be a factor. However, Zuccarello sure does seem to have the will and the desire to stick in the NHL. Without a doubt he has the talent to do so, it’s just a matter of whether or not he can adjust his game to the North American style and compensate for his size. Unfortunately, time isn’t on his side. At least as far as his days with the Rangers go. But even if things don’t work out in NY, there will surely be teams willing to offer him a good deal. He also doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who will dart for the SEL. The fact he’s been working out over the summer in NY speaks volumes about his intentions.

  3. Section 121 says:

    Send Frodo back to the Shire! (but first, give him a chance at top line LW)

  4. Tyler says:

    after looking at highlights from the SEL, it’s obvious he has tremendous talent. Looking at his rookie stats, he was on pace for 44 points in 82 games…pretty good for a rookie if ya ask me. He was also a +3. I hope that he really shows his creativity and vision among other skills he has to remain on this team… not to mention his shootout skills. I personally believe if given the chance, with the right linemates, he could thrive, especially on powerplay.

    • eggie says:

      i couldn’t agree more with tyler- if you look at what he did as a first year, coming over from SEL with all the adjustments on/off the ice- and project him out to an 82 game season he would have led the team in assists and would have had 45 points, ahead of arti, tied with step and right behind cally and gabby (dubi at the top with 54). and except for the early part of his season he didn’t even get top minutes. ot bad for a guy adjusting to it all! he’s currently working with barbara underhill (who worked with boyle) on his skating. i hope this, combined with the right linemates shows what he has.

  5. Matt J says:

    You swap him and Christensen and let EC be the highest goal scorer in the AHL. Zuccarrello has a spot in the NHL, and should be given an opportunity.

    I don’t get why anyone would take Christensen over him, unless for cap reasons strictly. MZA fights for loose pucks, has a ton of offensive skill, and goes hard to the net. What’s not to like about MZA? Let him adapt to the north american style. I don’t get why everyone is so critical of him.

    • The Suit says:

      I dont think anyone here (meaning chris and I) is critizing MZA or wouldnt like to see him on the team, we are just reading the situation. He’s too small to be a bottom 6 player, and he has to out play others to secure a place in the top six.

      We all want him to succeed, but the depth chart is what it is. Hopefully Zukes works on his explosivness this summer and can take the next step.

  6. Jeff says:

    He needs to bulk up a bit and work on his strength and conditioning..he definitely ran out of gas last season..personally he reminds me of Kovalev..shows flashes but struggles at times..and i would bet if he was traded to the western conf. He’d flourish…tough call with this kid, but first line winger he is not, nor is Wolski…who i think should be traded for a pick, so should Chistiansen (sp)…we have such a great group of young prospects and have made the commitment to go with youth…stick to the plan I say..home grown talent all the way !

    • The Suit says:

      Well technically MZA isnt homegrown, but i see your point.

      Switching to leftwing could help, but working on his skating could too. Bulking up won’t do much for him, that’s THN-type analysis. He’s actually pretty ripped for someone of his size. What he needs to work on is his first step (explosiveness) and Underhill could help.

      No clue how he reminds you of Kovalev. That guy gave half ass efforts. Zukes struggles were unrelateed to will.

    • Zukester.....;) says:

      He is and has bulked up this season 5-6pounds before he went over to NY 2 weeks ago to work on his on ice stamina, he is also working with Underhill to get more out of his skating. and the physical trainers in the club to try to gain even more muscle. Im quite confident alot of doubters will have to eat ther words come camp, when he shows what he learned last year. give him pptime and good linemates i asure you he will have an impact season. im betting on 60+ points if he gets a chance on the first ppunit with richards,gaborik and callahan.

      Remember, in booth proleagues he has played he has had mvp seasons his second year. He is a quick learner, and has had all summer to work on his shortcommings. He knows what to espect and will be absolutely on fire in camp and will earn a spot in the top6 and he will prove thats where he belong. Dubi-aa-zucca or zucca-aa-callahan would be awesome

  7. jimboplyr625 says:

    the rangers should stick with zuk,don’t give up so soon ,he is very talented

  8. Beemster says:

    Zuke is definitely a talented offensive player with great presence in the offensive zone. I think he will build on his first year experience. Not a defensive (+3)liability either. I think he MUST be given a good shot this year with players that compliment his game. If he doesn’t show any improvement….trade him.

  9. Zen says:


    These lines are not necessarily accurate, but they do beg the question of… where does Zuc fit??? I expect all 12 of the players above to make the team. The only exception would be WW falling flat, which I don’t expect.

    • Section 121 says:

      Now, we clearly see how people are upset with another Feds signing and Rupp addition blocking spots for youngsters.

      • The Suit says:

        Please explain how Rupp and Feds are blocking the spot of youngsters, particularly MZA.

        • Section 121 says:

          is Rupp a lock? is Feds a lock?

          if yes, then they are blocking spots – news flash MZA is younger than them

          as long as Torts is coaching, Feds is a lock

        • Section 121 says:

          If I refer to you as squirt suit, will you be angry?

          …I’m just poking fun – you seem to be upset at my posts these days

          • The Suit says:

            Not upset at all, just curious. There are many people I disagree with, but I can see the logic in their opinions, but I’m not gonna lie, lately I’m just baffled by some of your posts. I just don’t understand how someone can have so much hate for Tortorella or the fact that we finally have some depth.

            • The Suit says:

              More importantly, you seem to keep bringing up in every post that our youth isn’t going to get a chance because of veterans and you are blaming this on Torts.

              Yet Torts has awarded our youth with more ice time and helped push expensive veterans like Redden, Rozi, and Drury out the door. Can you see why I am confused by this?

  10. Section 121 says:








    hmmmm, I just noticed that I’m either sitting Rupp or Feds every time

  11. Sioux-per-man says:

    We are long on forwards, but it is a long season, and there will be injuries, so we need NHL Caliber players ready to go.

    Zucc will get his chances this year. He is a point per game player, so when he gets his shot he has to pot some goals. Period. If he scores goals he stays in the line up. It’s when they stop going in, is when Tort’s changes it up to get something going.

    Now there are games that are going to be a grind, where we need to be more physical, if he has to sit now and then that’s going to happen.

    But you have to think, if he was playing for the Winnipeg Jets, he would be a top 5 scorer on that team, and would be on the ice every night.

    I like watching him alot, so I hope he can crack the top line and stick.

  12. HARLEMBLUES says:

    Zuccarello is a NHL player who the Rangers such give every opportunity to succeed.He has a skill set few Rangers have and brings it when the puck is dropped.You can’t work on being taller. first step yes,his heart,toughness are not in question, he goes in areas EC doesn’t and WW will never bring it every night. Torts has this thing for Fed dont no why. MZA produced in his first year and is working hard to improve on year one he is top 6 put him with BR and Gabby and sit back.

  13. paulronty says:

    I love Zuc and I think he can surprise a lot of people this year. This is the last year for Feds and Avery on the team, and EC is done in my view. So it’s a choice between Zuc and WW and it all depends on how bad WW wants the job. If he doesn’t come out of the gate on fire I think Zuc gets the job.

  14. rob sahm says:

    zukes reminds me of ziggy palfy but just like palffy who was about 5 ft 9 the rough pounding took a toll on pallfy who was one by his 30,s but i do think zukes can be a nhler he should get a chance to be on the top line with richards and gabby because the rangers have a big question mark at LW who is gonna play with the top line.