Mats Zuccarello was easily one of the New York Rangers top performers in the preseason, especially while playing against the European teams. But his play against NHL competition this year, although it has only been two games, has left people wanting more. In fact, he has played so poorly that coach John Tortorella has relegated him to fourth line duties with Erik Christensen and Mike Rupp. Considering he earned his spot on the roster, this is a pretty big drop for so early in the season.
First things first, it was clear that Zuccarello excelled in the Euro games. This may have been due to the larger ice surface, giving him more room to maneuver. It is more likely that his improved play was because the Euro style is a less physical style of play. Zuccarello wasn’t bumped or checked as much as he would have been against NHL opponents, and due to this was given a little more time to operate. That, of course, is circumstantial and very difficult to really prove.
Of course, when using the “eye” test, it is really difficult to quantify what you see. I am in the belief that Mats Zuccarello is but a stopgap for the Rangers. As Suit so eloquently put it, he has seemed to lack that “elusiveness” that smaller skill players need to be successful. Martin St. Louis has that elusiveness, and it’s what makes him so effective. No one can get to him. Zuccarello has yet to develop that elusiveness, and it is no guarantee that he does (or doesn’t). But you see, that is why some very nice people invented advanced metrics, because the “eye” test is deceiving.
Looking at last year’s metrics, Zuccarello’s overall GVT (5.3) was right in the middle of the pack for the Rangers forwards (minimum of 30 games played). When isolating just his offensive GVT (eliminating his shootout GVT), he falls to the pack of the pack with a 2.0 GVT, ahead of just Ruslan Fedotenko (1.6), Brandon Prust (1.4), Sean Avery (1.3), and Alex Frolov (1.1). His GVT becomes less impressive, as his shootout prowess seems to be the reason why he was so high in GVT to begin with. After all, Zuccarello did lead the team in SGVT (2.3).
Side note: Frolov really only had a 1.1 GVT last season? Fail.
GVT though, is a counting stat, and since Zuccarello only played 42 games, we can more or less double these numbers to get an effective Zuccarello GVT projection for 82 games (10.6 GVT, of which 4.6 is SGVT and 4.0 is OGVT). Essentially, Zuccarello is supposed to be an offensive force, capable of holding his own in the game, and then give the Rangers an advantage in the shootout. Converting this to PVT (points in the standings), Zuccarello is essentially worth extra three points in the standings. This is an example where what I see with my eyes disagrees with the metrics. Numbers don’t lie, they just don’t agree with you. Tough pill for me to swallow right there.
But, GVT isn’t everything. So we can dig a little deeper into offensive zone starts, Corsi (number of shots directed at his net, whether they are blocked, missed, saved, or goals), and QUALCOMP. Using the same minimum of 30 games played, his OZone start of 67.1% was tops on the team, meaning that for 67% of his shifts, he started in the offensive zone. He also ended in the offensive zone on 58% of his shifts. The high OZone start percentage is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily a good thing either. That said, the 58% of his shifts ending in the offensive zone is pretty impressive.
His QUALCOMP was middle of the pack at -.024, tied with Marian Gaborik for 7th among the forwards. His Corsi is actually pretty good (assuming I’m reading this right), and his 17.8 relative Corsi means that for the duration of the 2010-2011 season, Zuccarello’s shifts led to roughly 18 more shots being directed at his opponent’s net than his net. That bit also surprised me.
Long story short here, his advanced metrics show that Zuccarello should excel over the long haul. So, to answer the thread title: Zuccarello is struggling because he appears to just be in a rut. I say appears here because the analysis above is based solely off of one season, and is a very small sample size to really judge what Zuccarello is truly capable of. So, to all the Zuccarello lovers, be patient, the metrics show a progression back to his “career average”, which again, is just one year of numbers.
Note: These metrics are subject to the flaws of small sample sizes. It’s tough to quantify what Zuccarello can do by only judging one season.