There’s a mountain of clichés attached to the not-so-mountainous Norwegian that describe his appearance, his NHL ability, the challenges he’s faced and even the fact he’s now a main act on Broadway. All that considered, it’s fair to assume Mats Zuccarello has secured an NHL future as the Rangers prepare to take on the Boston Bruins.
Throughout the playoffs Zuccarello has been forechecking, making plays, playing physical and has been much harder to knock off the puck. He’s been consistent and on top of all that, he’s been productive – something that (at least consistently) has eluded him in the past. He returned to the Rangers from the KHL with something to prove and he’s proving it.
While the Rangers have undoubtedly advanced because of a certain member of royalty in net and an upstart kid from French Canada at center ice, the Rangers wouldn’t have gotten this far without Zuccarello’s contribution. So what next for the little winger?
If competition fosters performance, Zuccarello was very aware the Rangers brought in Ryane Clowe and are intent on integrating Chris Kreider and JT Miller into the lineup sooner rather than later. While the Rangers have lacked consistent scoring this year, they do not lack bodies for the top nine roster spots beyond this season. Mats Zuccarello may have made the off season a difficult one for the Rangers and posed some interesting questions to team management.
There is no way the franchise cannot offer Zuccarello a new deal, his play has been too good recently and his contribution too integral. Where Zuccarello lines up after this year is where predicting the future gets tough. Is he a powerplay specialist? Can he mesh with Nash long term? Can the franchise afford to give him ice time and not prioritise Chris Kreider’s development? Many questions remain about Zuccarello’s position with the club even as he’s surely removed the doubt around his NHL credentials.
How Zuccarello (and Brassard for that matter) end these playoffs will go some way into establishing a spot for him. He deserves a chance to stick in a scoring role, at least in the short term, and lord does the Rangers powerplay need his vision and passing ability. Perhaps Zuccarello’s presence will allow the Rangers to finally develop Chris Kreider and JT Miller at the appropriate rates; both are still young and wouldn’t be stunted by extra seasoning out of the New York limelight.
One thing is for sure when discussing Mats Zuccarello; if he can provide offense on a regular basis he’ll get a chance. The Rangers need as much offense as they can get their hands on.