Posts tagged: Mats Zuccarello

Mats Zuccarello rumored to KHL (updated)

Via Szymon Szemberg, winger Mats Zuccarello has signed a two-year deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. The 24-year-old would have been a restricted free agent this summer. Zuccarello ends his brief Rangers career with an 8-18-26 line in 52 games while posting a 25-40-65 line in 73 AHL games. A broken wrist sidelined him for the end of the regular season and postseason, which was unfortunate because the blueshirts really could have used his speed and offensive skill in all three rounds.

***Update: This is now being denied by MZA’s agent.

 Before people go crazy with this rumor, people have to realize that MZA is a restricted free agent, therefore Glen can’t work something out with him until after the draft. It would be a pretty dumb move on MZA’s part to defect to the KHL without waiting for an offer from the Rangers. You can’t have the KHL and the Rangers negotiate against each other if one party isn’t even allowed to negotiate yet.

Will Zuccarello play?

The big news out of practice the last few days is that Mats Zuccarello has been skating with the team. Out for five weeks with a broken wrist, Zuccarello has pretty much been an afterthought when it comes to the Rangers in the playoffs. But now with Brian Boyle easing back into the game after suffering a concussion, and Brandon Dubinsky out with a lower body injury, the need for some offensive infusion has become apparent.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Zuccarello is the answer to magically save the Rangers. I’m just saying that with Dubi out, and John Mitchell struggling a bit, Zuccarello might provide some spark to the lineup. Carl Hagelin has also been struggling mightily offensively, so have a few other key players that are in there to get the Rangers offense going.

With Zuccarello appearing more likely to play sooner than Dubinsky, and Mitchell more likely thatn Ruslan Fedotenko to be sitting if Zuccarello plays, the question then becomes where Zuccarello fits in the lineup. Zuccarello may not fit in with the top-nine at even strength, but will he find some powerplay time?

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Zuccarello’s injury doesn’t mean the end

Despite an unclear timetable for his return we know Mats Zuccarello’s wrist break has ruled him out of the regular season and probably most of the first round of the playoffs. Depending on the severity he could miss more. That doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of him in Ranger blue however.

The little Norwegian could be the beneficiary of ineptitude. Of the Rangers powerplay that is. If there is one specific concern this season it is that the Rangers powerplay cannot (consistently) take advantage of the hard work the team is putting in.

The Rangers have thrown away a few points this season because they couldn’t cash in with the extra man. In his limited return to the club, Zuccarello may not have been the all-in-one remedy but he certainly helped the unit look more dangerous and move the puck more efficiently.

Tortorella isn’t renowned for carrying a powerplay specialist on his rosters but then again, how often has he been responsible for the 29th ranked powerplay? Not often. Maybe it’s time Tortorella looked for a different solution. Zuccarello had finally begun to prove he can be more than a special teams guy with an improved level of play along the boards, impressing on the forecheck all the while still bringing his play making skills to the party.

It doesn’t matter that Chris Kreider is the projected knight in shining armour next season. Even anticipating a tremendous rookie year it would be unfair to expect a kid with no pro experience to turn around the PP unit. That’s another reason why bringing Zuccarello back makes sense, even at his qualifying offer of 945k. It lessens the burden on the likes of Kreider, it adds depth to the roster and skill to the line up and there will be money to spend given the likes of Fedotenko are possibly headed for the door.

It seems like we’ve repeated the Zuccarello situation here a few times and we have. However it’s different this time. Zuccarello is on the outside looking in thanks to injury but even with a small sample size has shown he can be a contributor. He’s improved his game and a combination of his play and the Rangers lack of a solution on the PP should lead to a reunion.

If it’s truly about improving the overall quality of the club and giving it the best chance to succeed Zuccarello should be offered a chance to return. Imagine how many points this Rangers club would have this year if the powerplay was ‘only’ a middle of the pack club? We wouldn’t be sweating on first overall that’s for sure.

Zuccarello out with fractured wrist

So much for the legend of Mats Zuccarello. During last night’s game, Zuccarello blocked a shot with his arm (generally not a smart thing to do), and did not return to the game. He was diagnosed with a fractured wrist, and will likely require surgery. The Rangers are saying he is out indefinitely, but the healing time for an injury like this is 6-8 weeks.

So long Hobbit. Welcome back Ruslan Fedotenko.

Finding a way to keep Zuccarello

The Rangers need to find a way to keep Mats Zuccarello with the organisation and in the line-up beyond this season. He provides the club with something different and can make a difference when he’s given the opportunity; as the win against the Devils showed.

Even with guys like Kreider en route there needs to be a place for the little Norwegian. Throwing Zuccarello on the ice after guys like Kreider is like a batter facing a knuckleball after countless fast balls. You have to plan differently for the nippy, much smaller Zuccarello. With his vision and passing ability there’s a different concern for a defense than with a straight-ahead-speed-merchant (with size) like Kreider. There should to be room for both.

There appears to be hope for Zuccarello, should he want to stay with the franchise and not explore other opportunities in the league (or Europe). Despite a great year collectively a few Rangers forwards have underwhelmed.

Brandon Dubinsky (better recently) has had a brutal year and clearly has a tenuous future given his presence in the Nash discussions. Artem Anisimov, a few games here and there aside, appears to have stagnated this year and isn’t as secure of his spot as he may once have been. Fedotenko looks to be getting older every game he plays.

There is surely space to accommodate Kreider and Zuccarello and that is to assume Kreider doesn’t spend time in the minors – still a possibility. A good question was raised on Twitter after the Devils game. Would ‘Zuke’ even want to stay after this year? It’s a valid question given his frustrating and inconsistent time with the organisation.

That said, if the Rangers offered him an increased opportunity of 13(is) minutes a game with a big part on the powerplay you have to think he’d consider staying. The Rangers are a club going places and looking to contend and that surely plays a role in any ambitious players’ decision.

What complicates all of this for Zuccarello is the contractual situation. Whether he’s been used correctly or not (a significant debate in itself), he simply hasn’t justified the Rangers qualifying him at (Update by Dave: Sorry to do this Chris, but the QO for Zucc is $945k, not $1.75m. The QO is based on salary, and that $1.75m includes bonuses.) $1.75m so there are complicating factors going forward. Though how much of an issue that would be if all parties wanted a reunion is another matter.

The Rangers need to find a way to keep the Norwegian. Not because he’s popular in the locker room. Not because he has a rock star following back home or because he is a media curiosity but because he could be a difference maker and successful teams can never have enough of those.

Rangers Hold Off Devils; Recap

Two smart periods and one sloppy period equals Rangers win. It wasn’t perfect but the Rangers got what they deserved out of the game as they beat the Devils 4-2. They were the better team throughout and ten minutes aside in the second controlled play, were defensively solid and could have scored more if not for some sharp goaltending by Brodeur. On to the notes from the game…

First Period

Perhaps they were inevitable, but if ever a series of fights can be a seminal moment for a team then maybe the melee at the start of this game was such a moment for the Rangers. They admitted they didn’t match the Devils the last time out but three fights to kick this game off set the tone of the first period for the Rangers. Rupp and Boulton (who has no right to be in the league), Prust and Janssen and a highly entertaining Bickel and Carter scrap got the game going immediately with the crowd lapping it up.

The Rangers dominated to begin. Their physicality, speed, forecheck and desire to win every puck battle was impressive. The Devils were rocked as the Rangers took command; the result of the scraps or sheer desire?

The Rangers goal in the first came on a breakdown by the Devils leading to a 4 on 2 which saw Stepan feed Dubinsky who beat Brodeur from between the hash marks. So often the Rangers fail to capitalize on odd man rushes because they overplay it so it was nice to see them convert.

The Rangers generated a few additional chances including one which led to a review after Boyle spun out from the corner and his centering feed creating havoc in front. The correct call was made but it was still good play from the Rangers: Boyle putting it on net with other Rangers (Fedotenko) crashing the crease.

Huge break for the Rangers midway through as Kovalchuk had a huge chance in front only to be denied by a great poke check by Lundqvist when the puck broke to Parise who ringed one off the post.  Lundqvist deserved the break: he was aggressive on Kovalchuk with his stick yet at the same time, showed patience sliding across goal to follow Kovalchuk’s attempted deke.

Biggest concern for the Rangers in the first was on the penalty kill. While it was aggressive in parts, the one player they simply cannot allow to load up and fire away is Kovalchuk. Several times the Russian had clear sights on goal and was only stopped by his (on this occasion) lack of accuracy and a Hank glove; Kovalchuk was given too much space on the PP.

Given their recent slump, it was on the whole a fine first for the Rangers. They controlled the period for the most part.

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Zuccarello was strong, but how long does he stay?

Mats Zuccarello had a very strong game last night. He may have played on the fourth line at even strength, but he was a crucial piece on the powerplay, especially on that 4-on-3 that led to the game winning goal. His final stat line was an assist, a -1 (useless stat), and 13 shifts for 10:40 in ice time. To put it in perspective, his linemates received 12 shifts and 8:02 in ice time (John Mitchell) and six shifts for 4:02 in ice time (Mike Rupp).

The fourth line received about six shifts of even strength time at roughly six minutes total. The ice time varies a bit between the three players at even strength, but that is expected. Mitchell received two minutes of powerplay time, while 60% (six minutes) of Zuccarello’s time was with the man advantage. For those who are going to argue that Zuccarello did not get a chance, there’s the proof that he did.

With that six minutes of powerplay time, Zuccarello did a good job in helping control and cycle the puck. He was an integral part on the Marian Gaborik game winner, even if he didn’t get an assist on the goal. He also had an assist on the second Brad Richards goal, also a powerplay goal.

Zuccarello joins the powerplay, and the Rangers go 3-8 with the man advantage. Let’s make it 2-8 considering the first was a Brad Richards end-to-end rush. That could be a coincidence, but it also may not be. Zuccarello excels when he has more ice to work with, and playing on the powerplay is no different.

However the issue still remains: how long does Zuccarello stay with the club? Ryan Callahan won’t be out for much longer. With John Scott already serving as the healthy scratch, the Rangers don’t really have anyone to cut from the lineup. It’s possible that he sticks around and rotates with Mike Rupp for matchup purposes. Looking at the schedule ahead, that may not be such a bad idea either.

The kid has slick hands and tremendous skill, he just hasn’t warmed up to the smaller ice surface yet. His immediate NYR future may be as a powerplay specialist, or as a shootout weapon. Those shootout points are going to go a long way now, especially with Pittsburgh gaining ground in the rear view mirror. I’m not the biggest Zuccarello fan, but he sure did prove he earned another shot last night.

Rangers Refuse to Lose; Beat Isles in OT

The Rangers willed themselves to a 4-3 overtime win over the Islanders tonight. Trailing three times, on the receiving end of some questionable refereeing and unlucky breaks that resulted in Islanders goals, this team refused to give in and got the three points their play deserved. The better team won tonight. To the game points:

First Period

The Islanders and Rangers sleep walked through the first half of the first period. The Rangers played conservatively, perhaps timidly (given their recent slump, not a surprise) and the Islanders were more than happy to go along with that start. The slow start meant zero offensive zone pressure from either team and almost no shots to speak of.

Brian Boyle laid on a big, clean hit early in the first. If he used his body as effectively as he did with that hit – more often – he’d be a scary hockey player.

Another unnecessary Bickel duel. That aside, Bickel was solid tonight.

Whenever the Rangers raised the ante in the last few minutes of the first, they put pressure on the Isles and generated offense. A few solid scoring chances came out of the last five, six minutes because the Rangers did a better job of getting the puck in deep, and controlling the boards.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, Evgeni Nabakov was tremendous in the first period and made smart stops on Mitchell in front and Dubinsky.

The Tavares goal was from a quick break out from the Isles zone and the Rangers being unprepared. The forwards were slow to get back and the defensemen were too close together allowing Parenteau space on the right and thus able to get his shot off cleanly. Lundqvist gave up a juicy rebound in front and Girardi swatted the puck straight in to Tavares who was driving to the net. Several Rangers looked sloppy on the goal.

The Dubinsky line had a real strong shift late on. The line displayed great puck control, impressive strength and determination along the boards– particularly from Dubinsky – that led to a few opportunities and a great Dubinsky chance that Nabakov was equal to.

The shift was everything that’s good about Dubinsky: hustle, strength and determination resulting in generating his own scoring chance.

The game tying goal: Like with Dubinsky it was a showcase of everything good about Brad Richards. He skated coast to coast with the puck, beat a defenseman up the middle and used another as a screen to get his quick wrist shot off that beat Nabakov. Richards has such puck carrying ability and we don’t see it nearly enough.

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Rangers call up Zuccarello

The Rangers have announced that they have called up winger Mats Zuccarello from the CT Whale. Zuccarello has been playing at about a point per game pace with the Whale, with 36 points (12-24-36) in 37 games.

It’s about time someone was called up, because the fourth line of Mike Rupp-John Mitchell-John Scott just wasn’t getting it done. The Rangers clearly needed more skill in the lineup, and hopefully Zuccarello can bring that.

If Dubinsky can’t go tonight, which might be the case considering the call up, then expect Scott to be scratched for Zuccarello.

Why the Rangers Need To Cut Loose Wolski

The Rangers need to get rid of Wojtek Wolski one way or the other. His presence may not be that of a locker room cancer but his salary, tantalising ability and mere presence make him a distraction and a temptation for the coaching staff.

Wolski clearly cannot play consistently in Tortorella’s system. A few good shifts here and there are simply not enough for someone with his skill set and contract. Erik Christensen is in a similar position to Wolski but doesn’t possess the same cap issues that Wolski does. Christensen’s ability, but above all his cap hit, are what give him a regular stay of execution. Wolski doesn’t have that luxury.

If the Rangers don’t intend (and nor should they at this stage) to give Wolski an extended run in the side – in a position that befits his skill set – then they should look elsewhere within the organisation. Wolski clearly doesn’t have a future in the organisation so it would make sense to have a guy like Christensen be the extra man and perhaps audition players like Zuccarello and Audy-Marchessault who have been excelling in the minors and who may, or may not have a future with the big club.

The Rangers can afford to try out a few players on the roster because of their record, because of the quality goaltending and defense keeping them in practically every game and because many players aren’t making themselves indispensible up front.

If Zuccarello finally fails to convince he has a Rangers future or Audy-Marchessault looks more minor league than major league then by ridding themselves of Wolski it at least gives the club manoeuvrability within the salary cap. Whether they can get something in return for him (unlikely at this stage) or by demotion or releasing him, the Rangers need to let go of Wolski for a variety of reasons.