Mats Zuccarello entered the 2013 offseason without a contract, but he earnestly wanted to remain a New York Ranger. To accomplish this, he elected for arbitration, which guaranteed him a roster spot for the 2013-14 season.
The minute Norwegian forward that goes by the nickname Hobbit has had an average NHL career to date, but how much patience should management have given the struggles Zuccarello has had thus far?
Management should show some patience. If he continues to slump, however, he will be replaced in the lineup. Players like Danny Kristo have had a hot start in the AHL and Zuccarello could be the next player that head coach Alain Vigneault puts on notice.
Kristo is a 23-year-old forward who was acquired this offseason and the 5'11" winger has been one of the Hartford Wolf Pack's best players this season.
Given the amount of players currently sidelined by injury, Kristo would have a great chance to prove himself in the top six if the Rangers recalled him. If Zuccarello doesn't perform soon, Kristo could be given a true opportunity to showcase his abilities.
Due to the fact that Zuccarello wanted to remain a Ranger, there is extra pressure put on him to perform. So far this season, he hasn't shown gratitude to the organization that gave him a chance to be an NHL player.
A 64-point season with Modo of the SEL in 2009-10 and strong international showing with Norway in 2010 led to the Rangers inking Zuke to a contract. As time went on, it looked like the team made the right decision.
During Zuccarello's first professional season, he recorded 29 points in 36 games with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL and was eventually added to the Rangers' roster.
Once recalled, the Oslo native recorded 23 points in 42 games and it was looking like general manager Glen Sather had found a true diamond in the rough.
The following season, Zuccarello was sent back to the AHL because he didn't fit in with John Tortorella's game plan. He would record 36 points in 37 games, and then three points in 10 NHL games after being called up by the Rangers late in the season.
Zuke was tired of playing in the AHL and opted to defect to the KHL for the 2012-13 season, but he rejoined the Rangers after his commitment to Metallurg Magnitogorsk was fulfilled.
Once back with the Rangers, it was evident that Zuccarello was a changed player and there was a reason to have him on the roster. Previously, Zuccarello was hindered by his small stature at 5'7" and 175 pounds, but he was able to improve his all-around game in the KHL.
After playing a few games for the Rangers, it was evident that Zuccarello was skating faster, more aggressive and a feistier player.
The new and improved Zuccarello went on to record eight points in 15 games and another seven points in 12 playoff games.
This was the player the Rangers wanted in their lineup, so the franchise looked very smart when it inked Zuccarello to a one-year extension worth $1,150,000. In Sather's mind, he was keeping a player who was averaging 0.50 points per game and could be a solid secondary scorer.
It is by no means Zuccarello's fault that Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are injured, but there is no excuse for him to have zero points and only seven shots through seven games in 2013-14.
Zuccarello is a creative playmaker that has skated with talented forwards such as Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards, but he has nothing to show for it thus far. No one is expecting him to put up Sidney Crosby-like numbers, but he should at the very least have a goal or two by now.
The Rangers have had a number of struggles to date and need players to produce. Injuries have depleted the Blueshirts of many of their top scorers and a shakeup could be coming soon.
Zuccarello is one of the players that could be making a difference. If his struggles continue, he should start worrying about his job.
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