Archive for Mats Zuccarello
It’s the half way point in the season and our collective egos are such that we like to hand out some mid-season grades to your New York Rangers. Dave got the ball rolling with the goaltending and coaching grades and I have been tasked with the top six forwards so let’s jump on in.
Rick Nash: 40GP 26G 15A 41Pts +17 4 GWG 4 PPG 3SHG
There really is only one player to start with and that’s the NHL’s leading goal scorer. Nash has had a first half to dream of. He’s been healthy, he’s been dominant at both ends of the ice, he’s been consistent (including a point streak of 11 games), he’s been clutch and he’s been everything you could ask for in a potential Hart Trophy candidate. That’s the level Nash has been at – Hart Trophy level.
Club bias aside I – and many others – think Nash could reasonably be in the mix for four major pieces of hardware at the end of the season: Hart (MVP), Selke (defensive forward), Ted Lindsay award (players MVP) and the Richard trophy (top goal scorer). Having a breath taking year.
Derek Stepan: 28GP 6G 21A 27pts +9 8 PPP 4 SHP
Stepan is a difficult one to grade. He still hasn’t developed in the faceoff circle (something that is holding him back from being a legitimate top line center), and he needs to use his shot more; he passes up on far too many quality shooting opportunities, but as a playmaker Stepan has elevated his game to another level this year.
Stepan’s passing and vision are routinely excellent and he didn’t show much rust coming back from his injury. Averaging almost a point per game, Stepan has shown real consistency in his play as a pass first center while he has made a real difference on both special teams units. Wherever Stepan is, he usually has made a positive difference. If he would shoot a little more he would be even more dangerous.
Marty St Louis: 40GP 14G 18A 32pts 12PPP
St Louis is no longer the top line, 100 point winger he once was however he’s still proving he can be a force on the ice and has shown that he’s a leader on this relatively young Rangers team. St Louis has been streaky this year and has had games where he has been completely invisible, something that the Rangers have been able to tolerate because they’ve received fairly balanced scoring this year. However, despite the occasional goal scoring drought and playing in Nash’s shadow, St Louis is still closing in on another 60+ point season which for a player approaching his 40th birthday is hugely impressive.
St Louis is still lethal on the powerplay, he still commands the attention of the opposition and he is still capable of scoring in bunches something that only really he and Nash can do on this Ranger team. St Louis has been good. Hopefully his best will come at the end of the year.
Chris Kreider: 38GP 8G 12A 20pts +9 83Hits
If these grades were based on the last week or two, Kreider’s would be more positive but they’re not. Kreider has endured an inconsistent, frustrating and difficult year and yet he still has a chance to set a career high in goals, assists and points with a solid second half. Perhaps the expectations were too high, but Kreider has struggled in his own end, has endured long slumps, has played recklessly and has been somewhat of a turnover machine. With that all said we’ve seen Kreider dominate teams when he’s on his game, he’s physically imposing and offers the Rangers (and the opposition) something only Rick Nash can do on this team. If Kreider has a strong second half – assuming Nash and St Louis are still firing – it would likely mean the Rangers are flying through the schedule.
Derick Brassard: 38GP 11G 22A 33pts 14 PPP
Brassard has finally developed a level of consistency that does his talent justice (although I haven’t yet forgiven him for his horrendous follow up miss against the Isles). While he has undoubtedly been the beneficiary of Rick Nash’s return to prominence he has also helped Nash do what he has done. Brassard has shown an incredible array of passing, creativity perhaps only rivalled by Mats Zuccarello and has been a powerplay monster with 14 points with the extra man – tops on the Rangers.
Brassard has been much like Stepan, the owner of a wicked shot that he should use more. This season we’ve started to see him do just that – shoot – and no shock, he’s begun to rack up the points. Brassard is on course to smash his career highs in all major categories and is proving Glen Sather’s faith in him to be a smart investment. Brassard has been dynamic, a bargain at 5m, and has fully established himself as a top six center, and on a contending team no less.
Mats Zuccarello: 38GP 7G 15A 22pts +11
Zuccarello has been inconsistent this year but even during spells where he wasn’t producing he has almost never been found lacking in effort. I still struggle to decide whether Zuccarello is a great third line winger or worthy of a permanent top six spot. At times he has struggled to follow up on his break out year of 2013-14 but still, has been one of the Rangers more dangerous players.
Zuccarello has made minimal impact on special teams but his production at even strength has been relatively consistent; he may be the victim of others succeeding on the PP in his place. Zuccarello is similar in one way to Kreider; if coach Vigneault can generate some consistency from him then the Rangers would be in an envious position.
You see Zuccarello’s talent, his on ice vision and hustle and you can’t help wanting more even expecting more out of him, which perhaps is somewhat unfair. With a strong second half there’s still an outside change Zuccarello can flirt with a second 50 point season. Not bad for an undrafted undersized Norwegian.
The most exciting part of the top six’ performances thus far is that there appears room for improvement. Kreider, Zuccarello and St Louis all have had difficult times this season although every member of the top six have played well at least in spurts. If the Rangers can have their top two lines all firing at the same time, there’s very excit
The Rangers had a very busy 2014. Highlighted by their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in twenty years, the Rangers 2014 featured a lot of players who went through ups and downs. As we enter 2015, let’s take a look at how some of those players fared throughout 2014.
Biggest overachiever – Mats Zuccarello
Zuccarello has always had the talent to succeed at the NHL level but 2014 was Zuccarello’s coming out party. As the 2013-14 regular season come to a close, Zuccarello was the Rangers biggest creative force while only Derek Stepan and Martin St Louis scored more in the playoffs as the Rangers fell at the final hurdle.
Zuccarello was a free agent signing with plenty of question marks and as recently as the start of last season no one really knew what the Rangers had with Zuccarello. They know now. Zuccarello is a legitimate top six forward on a contending team full of talent in their top six.
Biggest surprise – Kevin Klein
The Rangers would have won the Klein for Del Zotto trade purely by removing the frustrating Del Zotto from the roster and having a competent body to fill some bottom pair minutes. What they have found is a brilliant shot from the blueline, a guy that is growing by the game, and a guy that is becoming a difference maker from the blueline.
Starting tomorrow, the Rangers will be allowed to sign Mats Zuccarello to a contract extension in accordance with a clause in the CBA that prevents teams from re-signing their players until January 1 after they agreed a one-year pact during the summer.
Zuccarello inked a one-year, $3.5 million deal in July despite interest by both sides in a longer term commitment, but the team had precious little cap space, so there was a general understanding that they would revisit a multi-year deal once the new year hit. The Blueshirts were in a similar situation with Henrik Lundqvist back in 2007-2008, and they worked out a six-year, $41.25 million contract by mid-February.
The decision on Zuccarello’s future is more difficult than it was with The King. The all-time leading scorer amongst Norwegian-born players has admitted that his contract is weighing on his mind, but the Rangers might not be in a hurry to ease those concerns.
Though Zuccarello is a fan favorite and a creative player with outstanding vision, he’s occupying one of the key top-six wing spots that are suddenly very crowded. Rick Nash is a lock for one of those positions going forward, and Chris Kreider will also be given more time to round out his game. Talented youngsters J.T. Miller, Anthony Duclair and Pavel Buchnevich all also figure to be in the mix for permanent jobs going forward. The one wild card is Martin St. Louis.
The 39-year-old winger is still very productive and has made it clear he wants to finish his career in New York, but he’s also set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. One would think the Rangers and St. Louis have an understanding that they’ll reach a series of short deals to keep him on Broadway as long as it’s beneficial for both sides, a la Teemu Selanne in Anaheim over the last several seasons. But St. Louis’ status could have a direct impact on Zuccarello.
Obviously it’s easy to see parallels between the two, starting with their size and extending to their similar roles as playmakers and power play specialists. Zuccarello has the huge advantage of being 12 years St. Louis’ junior, but St. Louis comes with a championship pedigree that is invaluable, especially when you consider the relative youth of the aforementioned wingers that figure to be his teammates moving forward.
Sather could deal Zuccarello before the trade deadline, but the return for an expiring contract isn’t going to be great, especially since Zuccarello figures to be interested in seeing what he could command on the open market if he doesn’t remain in New York. Plus, though some of those young wingers figure to make an impact over the next few seasons, none of them are would match Zuccarello’s contributions for this year’s playoff run.
Sather will likely stew on this decision for the next few weeks before deciding whether to dive into negotiations or pursue a Plan B, but eventually, something has to give.
What do you think the Rangers should do with Zuccarello?
Heading into the second half of the season, the Rangers are of course riding the momentum of some impressive recent form but not all Rangers have played up to expectations this season, nor has every player shown the consistency that was expected of them. With that said, here are three key players that have a lot to prove and a lot to play for, as each game becomes increasingly important from here on in.
Right now, things seem rosy for the little Norwegian, and he has indeed been much better of late with eight points in his last seven games but more importantly, he’s been a consistent creative spark – much like last year. However, thanks to last year, more is expected from Zuccarello and looking at his season to date as a whole, he hasn’t delivered enough. Having led the Rangers in scoring last year with 59 points, Zuccarello’s production is well down with just 18 points to date.
With Alain Vigneault sending out more consistent lines thanks to better health up front, Zuccarello should benefit from that stability. Zuccarello has a lot on the line – he’s playing to justify his hefty one year raise but more importantly he’s playing for his long term future. If Zuccarello can show the type of consistency from last year was no one year fluke, the Rangers will be much more dangerous (and successful) for it.
Kreider has been consistent; consistently underwhelming. The talented American winger has a lot of upside and is trying to live up to pretty significant expectations. His development (or lack of it) will significantly influence the direction of the organisation given the lack of high end draft picks and skilled forward talent in the organisation following several asset stripping trades. That said, Kreider’s importance and future in the organisation is also influenced by a handful of other prospects. Although very different players, if Anthony Duclair, Pavel Buchnevich and (of most relevance) Kevin Hayes develop into productive NHL players Kreider’s long term future may be elsewhere if he cannot develop into the player he’s expected to become.
Last year, his first full year in New York, Kreider scored 17 goals, 37 points and as the year grew on, displayed consistency and a physical presence that suggested he would be a star and an important Ranger for a long time. So far, it hasn’t happened. With 5 goals and 15 points (and zero production on the powerplay) Kreider is an afterthought on a club that’s looking for their young players to step up. Kreider needs to cut down on the careless penalties, finish his chances and develop some consistency. He’s proven he can take over games when he’s at his best and the Rangers would love nothing more than to spread the wealth up front and have to rely less on Rick Nash.
Dave has discussed the Rangers choosing Boyle over retaining Anton Stralman a lot. It’s something that certainly creates debate. Long term, you would imagine Stralman would have been the wiser choice but the Rangers were looking for Boyle to address a glaring need when they chose the veteran puck mover over the younger (and popular) Swede. So far, Boyle hasn’t helped the powerplay as hoped. He has hardly been a feature player given all the time he has missed but against the Capitals just before the Christmas break we saw a small glimpse of what Boyle can do on the powerplay.
A confident puck mover and a veteran with strong hockey smarts, Boyle’s presence and production are more important as the year goes on. He has the opportunity to make his indifferent start forgotten. A player such as Boyle could be a difference maker in the playoffs where goals become scarcer and when powerplay production can be the difference between going deep in the playoffs or booking tee times on the golf course. If Boyle stays healthy and makes an impact in the second half of the year – but especially in the playoffs – all will be forgiven and the clamour for Stralman will lessen. If he continues to struggle then fans will accuse Glen Sather of another failed foray into free agency. Boyle will be closely watched as the Rangers playoff push gathers pace.
While the Rangers keep looking for some consistency and Rick Nash keeps the team in playoff contention almost single handidly, one of the most underwhelming players this season – so far – has been Mats Zuccarello. The little Norwegian winger has failed to live up to his new one year contract (and hefty pay rise) and certainly hasn’t played to a level where he can expect to a get rich, long term deal this coming summer.
With all that said, the Rangers really need Zuccarello to get going. Zuccarello is one of the Rangers more creative players and, Marty St Louis and Derek Stepan aside, arguably boasts the best on ice vision of any Ranger. An in form Zuccarello would surely make the Rangers powerplay much more efficient which would go a long way in helping the team string more wins together. Last season Zuccarello had 17 points with the extra man. This year, somehow, he has yet to record his first point on the powerplay. A huge fall from grace for the popular and hard working winger.
Henrik Lundqvist isn’t turning in consistent Vezina worthy performances this season, something that’s being well documented, however it’s reasonable to expect Lundqvist to rebound. When someone delivers the type of consistent excellence Lundqvist has done for the best part of a decade it’s fair to expect a return to form. A bigger concern for the Rangers right now is the lack of consistent, secondary scoring the team is receiving.
The Rangers are hovering around the playoff positions almost exclusively because of the contributions of Rick Nash, Marty St Louis and Derick Brassard. The trio have 34 of the Rangers 71 goals, accounting for over 47% of the Rangers total. After those three, production falls of a cliff. The return of Derek Stepan has given the Rangers an added dimension but the team is getting far too little out of players who they were counting on for big contributions and the Rangers season threatens to get worse if that lack of production continues.
Marc Staal quite frankly has been awful, Henrik Lundqvist has been inconsistent, Martin St Louis has been on the periphery, and core players such as Mats Zuccarello have either been invisible or terrible, depending on how forgiving you are as a fan. Throughout the Rangers line-up too many players haven’t kicked into gear yet or shown nearly enough consistency.
Almost the entire roster has Rick Nash (and to a lesser extent Chris Kreider) to thank that the record isn’t a lot uglier than 4-4, eight games in. Fancy stats to one side, this team hasn’t passed the good old fashioned eye test. A lot has been made of the Rangers ‘big three’ on defense not playing well so far, and that is certainly true (McDonagh and Staal were both particularly poor in Montreal) but better contributions are required all over the line-up.
Rick Nash is off to a hot goal-scoring streak to start the 2014-15 season, scoring 7 goals in 6 games, tops in the NHL. Nash, who was the subject of much criticism over the off-season for “not showing up” in the playoffs despite strong possession numbers, is in for a bit of a wake up call, which may be coming sooner than later. Ranger fans should be expecting a goal-scoring slump from the winger, but it’s ok.
Nash has had strong possession numbers over the course of his first two seasons with the Rangers. His CF% is 54.8 over that span. This season, in even strength situations, Nash’s CF% and FF% are last on the team (44.9 and 43.1 respectively). His saving grace thus far has been an insanely high and unsustainable SH% of 44.4%, which is going to drop dramatically over the course of the season. For a player who led the NHL in shots last postseason while only scoring 3 goals, he was bound to find a string of good fortune and he seems to have found it early on this year.
Prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season, few could have imagined that the Rangers would trade their heart and soul captain, Ryan Callahan, at the March 5 trade deadline. But such is life in the salary cap world – GM Glen Sather determined a contract number he wouldn’t exceed for both Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi. Girardi proved willing to negotiate within Sather’s limits, Callahan did not, and he was stunningly traded for Martin St. Louis.
Why bring this up now? Because just as with last fall, the Rangers are about to open camp with a few mega contracts looming on the horizon. New York has a bit more financial wiggle room this time around, especially with the salary cap ceiling likely to increase, but there are still tough decisions to be made. So what lies ahead?
Who will be the captain? – Not all of the major personnel decisions are financial – who will be the next face of the Rangers is as important a decision as any. The logical candidates – Girardi, St. Louis, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh – all come with questions. Girardi’s play dipped dramatically in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs after he signed a six-year, $33 million contract, so it could be a risky move to give the 30-year-old blueliner this honor without knowing if he can maintain his previous level of play. St. Louis has just one year remaining on his contract and is 39 years old, so while he might be the perfect veteran leader right now, that could represent flawed short-term thinking. Like St. Louis, Staal has just one year left on his deal and faces an uncertain future with the organization. That all leads to McDonagh, who’s certainly the unanimous choice among fans. It would be a major shock if he didn’t receive the C, but that’s also a lot to throw onto a 25-year-old who’s still blossoming as a player.
Kevin Hayes is the most hyped College Free Agent since Justin Schultz and the Rangers signing him to a contract despite fierce competition around the league is indeed a coup for the club; however immediate expectations will need to be kept in check despite his burgeoning reputation. Particularly from our excitable fan base.
Hayes fills a need for the Rangers, but possibly not in the short term. With Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Marty St Louis and Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers are very well catered for on the wings in their top six. Go a little deeper and you have the likes of Carl Hagelin and Lee Stempniak who are looking for bigger roles. In short, Hayes will not have it easy breaking into the line-up straight away in a position that will aid his development.
This is without considering whether Hayes is even pro-ready, whether his skating (a minor concern, if you believe the media) is good enough to start in the NHL or whether the Rangers feel he would be better served, short term, with bigger minutes in the AHL to begin his pro-career.