We’ve seen the Rangers turn to the farm a lot this season. Mostly out of necessity in regard to injury but at times for some fresh impetus. What we haven’t seen is Mats Zuccarello make his way back to the big team. We’re talking about a supremely skilled and intelligent hockey player who is simply on the wrong club at the wrong time.
There doesn’t appear to be a fit for the talented Norwegian in New York, not now and not this season. All of which leads to the question of whether Zuccarello ever plays for the Rangers again. Right now, it’s doubtful.
Everyone knows the hockey term ‘tweener’. When a player is a top calibre AHL player but struggles to gain a foothold, make an impression, at the NHL level. Zuccarello is a better player than that. He’s an NHL quality player; he simply doesn’t fit in the current Rangers line up. He needs to be played in an offensive role and there simply isn’t one available.
Barring a disaster, the trio of Stepan-Anisimov-Gaborik isn’t getting broken up any time soon while Brad Richards seems to have found a home with Callahan and the club appear determined to re-establish Dubinsky in the top six (as they should). This leaves offensive scraps; something Zuccarello can’t live off. He’s not the type who can dump and chase with the Rupp’s and Prust’s of this world.
All of this makes Mats Zuccarello the forgotten man of this highly successful New York Rangers season. With 22 points in 18 games for the Whale this year, ‘Zuke’ is a go-to offensive player at that level. It’s a level he’ll be stuck at all season. With the Rangers having Sean Avery and Erik Christensen on the sidelines ready to play and Wojtek Wolski eventually returning Zuccarello has three NHL’ers in front of him without evening considering the merits of others in Connecticut.
Does Zuccarello have an NHL future? He’s more talented than P.A. Parenteau, a similar smaller type forward who struggled with the Rangers but who is carving out a solid NHL career with the Islanders so there’s plenty of hope. Zuccarello, assuming he wants to stay in North America after this season, needs to use the rest of the season as an audition process. Play lights out for the Whale and remind other NHL franchises what many thought of him when the Rangers won the race to sign him in the first place.