State of the Rangers

How Zuccarello has changed the Rangers pecking order

mats zuccarello
Mats Zuccarello

It’s still amazing to think that just a couple of short seasons ago, Mats Zuccarello was toiling away in the KHL because, well, the Rangers didn’t really want him. At best, they were certainly not convinced by him. Fast forward a few years and Zuccarello is absolutely irreplaceable on a club that harbours annual Stanley Cup hopes.

We all saw how the Rangers struggled to generate consistent offense in the playoffs. Zuccarello’s enforced absence early in the playoffs was almost an instant death knell to the team’s hopes of winning the Cup. It shouldn’t have been the case however.

The Rangers had Rick Nash, they had Marty St Louis in position to step up, they had their trio of young centers all entering the playoffs in good form and they had Chris ‘Mr Playoff’ Kreider. But it didn’t work out as intended. St Louis literally played himself out of a new contract and maybe even out of the league. Nash hasn’t ridden himself of his playoffs demons. So what does it all mean?

The Rangers’ Cup hopes will always start and end with Henrik Lundqvist. He was absolutely in the Conn Smythe reckoning until Tampa sneaked past the (at home) offensively challenged Rangers. After Lundqvist however, a new pecking order may be starting to emerge in New York and up front it may even begin with Zuccarello.

On a team that struggles to drive possession, Zuccarello is a strong possession player. He led the team in offense two seasons ago and after a slow start to the season just ended, Zuccarello had a strong second half (including 24 points in 29 games in February and March). Zuccarello is also the glue among the Rangers top nine forwards. He is one of the rare players in New York who can adapt to any combination of linemates and not see significant drop offs in production. The little Norwegian is also a significant reason for the emergence of Derick Brassard over the past two years. In short, Zuccarello makes others around him better.

If you can tolerate the pain, hark back to the playoffs and when Zuccarello fell out of the playoffs, the Rangers struggled. It’s no coincidence. Zuccarello brings a little bit of everything and that makes him so crucial to a team that has a lot of youth up front. His offensive numbers are also strong. In his past 155 regular season games, Zuccarello has an impressive 108 points and only 24 points were on special teams. Zuccarello is an incredibly efficient 5 on 5 asset to the Rangers and for a team that doesn’t boast a strong, consistent powerplay Zuccarello’s presence will only continue to grow in importance.

Next season the Rangers will almost surely be without Marty St Louis (who to his credit, still had 52 points) and they will need Zuccarello to step up and be a go-to guy. Rick Nash will once again be starting a season with some making up to do in the eyes of both media and fanbase so if Zuccarello is healthy and ready to go it will be a huge boon to the Rangers.

Zuccarello and Derick Brassard may be the only (top nine) Ranger forwards that will start next year without any question marks lingering because of their performances from this past season. Everyone will be expecting Kreider to take the next step, Stepan may begin the year with a huge new contract to justify and Nash will have his playoff inconsistency as a noose around his neck. You know the media will keep bringing that up. It all brings us back to Zuccarello.

Zuccarello’s importance and relevance have never been greater. He may have caused a new hierarchy of importance to emerge in New York without even being on the ice. Interesting times ahead for the Rangers.

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  • I’ve loved Zucc from Day 1.
    Nash will be fine, remember A-Rod’s struggles in the playoffs before 2009. I predict the same from Mr. Nash.

  • It’s about time Zucc is getting the credit that he deserves. He is the straw that stirs the drink, and as stated, he makes people around him better players, and people.

    I always liked him, but if everyone recalls, he was never a Tort’ s player, forcing him to exile in Russia. He came back, proved himself, and the rest is history.

    I pray that he returns healthy, without any side affect from his injury. Zucc also showed that he is a team guy first, with his contract. That said, let’s see if Stepan is as well, I suspect not!!!!!!!!

  • Yeah Chris I was one of those who wasn’t a Zucc fan at first; two years ago I thought he was too small, even in today’s NHL. He’s convinced me, and his absence in the playoffs made a big difference. He’s very efficient, and clearly is one of those guys who makes others around him better. As far as Nash, you all know my opinion. Supermaz- you may very well be right, but I’m guessing it might be with a different team. It’s a What Have You Done For Me Lately world. I could live with one bad playoff season from him, maybe two. But not three. I’ve seen enough; in my opinion the team has a major decision to make. Just my opinion.

    Regards- orange

  • I too was not sold on Zuc initially. Wasn’t convinced he was anything more than a marginal NHL player. But no question, if he isn’t THE straw that stirs the drink, he is certainly one of them (I personally think THE straw is Kreider, and needs to be going forward, but that’s another discussion). Zuc’s absence was keenly felt this post season.

    As for Nash, I think we just have to realize he is what he is. He is NOT the guy who can put a team on his back and say, “gentlemen, follow me”. It’s not in his DNA. That being said, he is essential to the Rangers offensive attack. How many guys out there can score 35, 40 goals a season? He may not be a clutch player, but without him, the Rangers probably aren’t even a playoff team.

    Nash will never be THE guy. But, he can be part of a “posse”. Stepan, Kreider, Miller, Hayes, Brassard. All young guys who should only get better. All who can put the puck in the net. The more those kids emerge as consistent offensive threats, the less pressure there is on Nash to score, therefore the easier it will be for him to score in the playoffs. Very similar to the A-Rod comparison in ’09. The Yankees were loaded with other guys who could take the pressure off, and he finally produced.

    Also, while I get the whole notion of wanting to trade Nash, it’s similar to the Lundqvist conversation–in Hank’s case, it can’t happen because he has a no trade and an onerous long term deal. In Nash’s case, it likely won’t happen because he has a limited no trade with a slightly less onerous (but still very onerous) long term deal.

    In Hank’s case, he can’t be moved and won’t be moved. In Nash’s case, it is highly improbable that a deal can be made that would actually make the Rangers better in the short term, which is the only thing the Rangers should be concerned about right now. In my view, Nash is only tradeable in a scenario where you are looking to rebuild, which hopefully the Rangers won’t be doing for many years.

  • Well said Eddie! I also thouth Zucc was a marginal 3rd liner. Boy was I wrong.
    As for Nash, there is no reason to trade away a 30+ goal a season guy. Better supporting cast is what’s needed. Or better production from our present supporting cast. Tampa is looking to extend Stamkos not trade him and he had a quite scoring playoff.
    I also am against trading Klien, who is by FAR our most physical Ranger D-man on the current roster. He according to Hank has the hardest Ranger shot. Why he wasn’t utilized on the PP is a mystery to me.

  • Oh and one last thought on Zucc. Lets all remember he gave the Rangers a home town discount to stay even when he could have gotten more elsewhere. The exact opposit of Callahan.
    There is a lot to be said for someone who actually WANTS to play here.

    • Yeah I lost a ton of respect for Callahan as a Captain…not as much as a player. I will never favor a player over a team. Don Maloney used to be my favorite Ranger because of his heart…but once he left…it was adios…and Let’s go Rangers. Today many fans are fan of players not the team.

      Let me tell you, it was really tough to root for Esposito when he got traded to us. Espo was the Bruins Lundqvuist to us. I wonder how many fans of his would switch teams with him?

      And then not often you get a player like Zuccarello. I also was not a fan of his initially. That man has more heart and will and if just 30% of that heart was in Nash we would not be talking about Nash and in fact he would never have gotten traded by Columbus. I hope Stepan decides to take the Zuke route and not the Falsehan (Cally) route

      • My dog’s name is Gravy, when he passes and we get a new dog he will be named ZUCC My son and I voted.

        Love the guy

  • now im gonna talk about what he isnt. zuc isnt a sniper. in fact isnt a huge goal scorer. will pass on a breakaway. not a guy i want shooting from the point or the circles on the power play…. meaning we still need to upgrade the offense.

    • Actually, Zuuc has a fabulous shot and wouldn’t mind him shooting from anywhere. If you recall he used to use his shot more during his first time as a Ranger. The problem with him is that he doesn’t shoot enough, he’s got a pretty wicked wrist shot, and it’s not like he’s constantly shooting 2 feet wide lol. He will just refuse to shoot if his teamate even has a remote chance of getting the puck. It seems as if on every 9 out of 10 high quality chances involving an opportunity to pass, he’s gonna pass rather then shoot.. He’s too unselfish.

      I honestly believe that if he puts his mind to it in the off-season going into training camp with the mindset of making it a point to be more selfish, he can be a 40 goal scorer.

      • This is just false. You look at hedman or stamkos winding up to shoot… that’s what we’re missing. Not the little zuc shooting puffers from deep. He’s never hit 20. How on earth will he hit 40?

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