New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather today expressed interest in bringing back Mats Zuccarello from Russia.
The question is—should they?
Zuccarello, currently playing for the Mettalurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL, played with the Rangers in parts of two seasons.
Sather said he is thinking about bringing him back:
“I’m definitely interested in talking to Zuke,” Sather said before the Rangers’ 4-3 loss to the Jets last night. “I’ve always liked him as a player. We’ll see what happens.”
His team is in the KHL playoffs, so any deal would have to happen after that ends.
With the Rangers struggling to score goals, should the team bring him back?
Read on to find out.
Zuccarello does have skill. That is not debated.
The 5'7" winger has put up 28 points in 44 KHL games this season. In 52 games with the Rangers, Zuccarello has eight goals and 18 assists.
Head coach John Tortorella is quite the fan of Zuccarello, saying that:
“I thought he brought something we know he has, the creativity of the game. He’s very well liked in the locker room, very well respected in our locker room. He brings a creativity. He sees the ice. It’s a gift that he has.
That's something the Rangers don't have a lot of. The power play has been dismal this year. In fact, it's the worst in the league. Bringing in someone like Zuccarello, who can open up the ice and see passing lanes, would help.
What's more, he brings talent and an unique skill set to the team:
Torts on Zuccarello: "He ups our talent level...he made some plays that other guys would not even have thought about"
— Jim Cerny (@JimCerny) December 26, 2010
That sore of creativity and vision would serve the Rangers well as they look to try to create additional offense.
Also, Zuccarello would fit nicely with the speedy Carl Hagelin. Between the two of them, perhaps centered by Derek Stepan, defenses would have a hard time containing their speed.
Zuccarello is also great in shootouts, a valuable skill for any team.
Is he the best player in the world? No. But you could do a lot worse than Zuccarrello, and some of the players the Rangers have trotted out this year have been a lot worse than the Norwegian.
The biggest knock on Zuccarello has been, and will always be, his size. At only 5'7" and 174 pounds, Zuccarello will have a hard time taking a NHL-style beating.
In addition, the bigger ice surface in the KHL allows him more room to escape and be creative. In the NHL, that room is gone.
Zuccarello is a liability on defense and offers no penalty killing ability.
The big thing, though, is size. Not many players are like Martin St. Louis. Zuccarello has to be able to be effective in five-on-five situations. If he only plays on the power play and doesn't get in the rhythm of the game, chances are he'll be less effective.
Why is his size such a detriment? For one, he can easily be neutralized by bigger players and doesn't have the strength to protect the puck with his body.
For another, if he doesn't have space to operate, he cannot be successful. He needs to be able to see the ice—literally—and have enough time to make plays. If he does not, the bigger players will maul him.
Zuccarello has one skill, and that's on the power play. Other than that, he doesn't offer much.
So should the Rangers bring back Zuccarello?
It's not as easy as it looks.
Yes, Zuccarello can be an asset on the power play, and the Rangers need as much help as they can possibly get.
But, that's all he does. He's marginal at best at even-strength, and offers nothing defensively.
Here's what I foresee happening: Zuccarello makes a splash in his first few games, but begins to see less playing time as Tortorella gets frustrated with his lack of defense. That lack of playing time makes him cold entering the game for the power-play and he's no longer as dynamic as he was when he first got here. That leads to some healthy scratches and then him going back to Russia at the end of the year.
My reasoning behind that is simple—you cannot play for Tortorella, or in the NHL in general, if you do not contribute defensively.
Consider this: Chris Kreider has offensive skill and would probably benefit the Rangers on the power play. But his lack of defensive awareness leaves him on the bench more often than not. He's averaged just over 10 minutes of ice time per game. J.T. Miller, on the other hand, is playing close to 13 minutes per game.
Zuccarello may help on the power play, and let's not mince words, they need help. But a power-play specialist will not gain much traction with Tortorella and it seems like he'll be spending more time in the press box than on the ice.
While it can't hurt, the Rangers should pass. They have limited cap space, and shouldn't waste it on someone who is only going to be playing for a few minutes per game.