Listed at five feet and seven inches, the shifty 161 pound Mats Zuccarello-Aasen should have everything going against him hockey-wise. That's not the case for the tiny Norwegian anymore.
In training camp, it was clear that Zuccarello had to adapt to the North American rink and game. Compared to European rinks, North American rinks are much smaller and pose more of a threat for smaller players as they have less room to maneuver in. The game is also very different. The North American style calls for a hard hitting, north-south game while the European game requires more finesse and is an east-west game.
So Rangers management made the right decision and assigned him to the Hartford Wolf Pack, now known as the Connecticut Whale. He started off very slowly, but eventually became a scoring machine at the AHL level. Scoring most of his points in the last 20 games, Zuccarello has managed 24 points in 32 games with 13 of those points being goals. He has become a star at the AHL level, but will he top out as an AHL star/NHL tweener?
The answer is no. The kid's skill is off the chart. He was the league-leading scorer in the Swedish Elite League for a reason (He even outscored Peter Forsberg, just saying). At only 23 years old, he has the opportunity to become a star at the NHL level.
A few days ago, Rangers star forward Marian Gaborik experienced groin pains and head coach John Tortorella made the right decision in sitting him out for the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Once the news of the injury hit the web, many fans were hoping to see a Mats Zuccarello-Aasen call up on the AHL transaction page and they did.
In his first game in the NHL, the rookie winger logged 17:52 minutes of ice time, playing in the top-six and important power play time. He didn't score a goal or record an assist, but his skill set was very obvious to Rangers fans and it seems as if the hype machine was right for now. He helped out on the game-tying play in which fellow Rangers rookie Derek Stepan scored the goal. Zuccarello though really showed off his skill in the shootout, scoring a pretty goal that kept the Rangers faithful's hopes alive for a few more rounds.
The kid has skill and that as advertised European finesse. He deserves to be playing for this club every night. The kid has heart and skill, but where does he fit?
Ideally, the right winger would play on his off wing and play on a line with Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan. That would give the Rangers a pretty versatile forward lineup:
Insert Ryan Callahan and hopefully Vinny Prospal into the lineup a few weeks later and the Rangers will have a pretty solid squad. Zuccarello would give the Rangers more scoring and even more skill. Although the Rangers have been scoring very well this season, they haven't been getting scoring from their more skilled players.
Skillful players give the Rangers skillful scoring and playmaking. They are creative, make the entire team better and score when their team needs it the most. Zuccarello fits that mold as he has that skill and most importantly the heart. This Rangers squad never gives up and Zuccarello does the same. It makes literally no sense to have Todd White or Derek Boogaard playing over a player like Zuccarello. He makes the team better while the other two slow the team down and don't offer much.
When the Rangers become healthier, fitting Zuccarello into the lineup could be a problem unless a trade or two is made. Alexander Frolov has been playing better of late, but it is quite obvious that he is not living up to what Rangers management wanted him to be. He seems to be the only Rangers forward that could be on his way out soon.
Other than that, Zuccarello could play for the Rangers against the Islanders on Monday. However, Tortorella has said that Zuccarello may be sent down to play for the Whale on Sunday, making it really tough for him to play in the game on Monday. That is no problem for Zuccarello though, as he has described his first NHL game as "the best night in his life".
Expect Zuccarello to play for the Rangers full time soon if he continues to impress.
Stay tuned for more updates coming soon!
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