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In praise of Mats Zuccarello

Jan 21, 2014, 2:24 PM EDT

Mats Zuccarello #36 of the New York Rangers celebrates a goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during their game on March 6, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.
(March 5, 2011 - Source: Al Bello/Getty Images North America) Getty Images

According to NHL.com’s player database, Mats Zuccarello checks in at 67 inches tall, making him one of the six smallest players in the league.

For the Rangers, though, Zuccarello’s presence looms large.

The 26-year-old Norwegian — his country’s lone NHLer — sits second on the Blueshirts in points (35) and goals (13), and has been a major catalyst in New York’s recent turnaround.  Zuccarello has four goals and seven points in January, coinciding with the Rangers’ 7-2-1 mark and ascension to second place in the Metropolitan Division.

“I think his hockey sense is up there with the best in the league,” Derick Brassard said of Zuccarello, per the Wall Street Journal. “That’s why he’s having a lot of success. He plays bigger than his size, and he’s really strong on his stick.

“But I think the main thing is his hockey sense.”

A skillful playmaker that never really found a fit under John Tortorella, Zuccarello’s blossomed this season under Alain Vigneault — though times weren’t always good. “Zuke” had just one point through his first nine games of the season and was a healthy scratch in a late-October game versus Philly.

Since then, he’s been tough to stop. Zuccarello has 34 points in his last 41 games, all while averaging a career-high 17:17 TOI per night. He’s also drawn the admiration of his Ranger mates.

“It’s the way he sees the game,” Henrik Lundqvist told the New York Times. “He can slow it down and make that pass that opens everything up.

“He’s such a smart player.”

  1. lowenni - Jan 21, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    As a Caps fan I have to hate the rangers but I can’t help but love this guy! Plays with a lot of heart and has worked his ass off to get back in the league after a few hard years. Good for The Hobbit, hope he continues to find success with the Rags (just not against the Caps)

  2. davebabychreturns - Jan 21, 2014 at 2:38 PM

    I’m guessing it would take a chunk out of the profit margins on his jersey sales but he needs to put the “-Aasen” back on his name.

    “Zuccarello,” what is this? How does this fit any of my rigid pre-existing stereotypes about Norwegians?

    • cofran2004 - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      I know, right? I was thinking Italian the first time I saw his name shortened like this.

      Great player though. With his heart alone, imagine what he would do if he was a foot taller? He’d be a beast. Well… a bigger beast. He’s already world-class.

  3. cameltoews - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    It’s been awesome watching him play. He is not afraid of anyone and will always stand up for himself or a teammate.

  4. nysportsrule - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:06 PM

    Need a third period goal? Zucc is the guy to go to.

  5. bct11554 - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:12 PM

    I want this guy off the team at the start if the season. Boy I was wrong. Guess that’s why in posting here and not in hockey

  6. bct11554 - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    This also another reason why torts had to go. He got nothing from Krieder and Zucc.

  7. pfhockey - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    The next St.Louis?

  8. rpiotr01 - Jan 21, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    It’s an indictment of Torts that Zuc, Kreider and Richards are all having such strong seasons. He was a burden on their shoulders that thankfully has been lifted.

    • gaborik104life - Jan 21, 2014 at 4:28 PM

      I’ll agree with you on Zuc and Kreider but Richie sucked because he decided to not train once the lockout occurred. He was making stupid plays and looked sluggish out there making passes that would get a player in high school scratched. A veteran of many years as he is should have known better. I’m very happy with his play currently and it is that of night and day between last season and this one but it had very little to do with Torts.

    • barkar942 - Jan 21, 2014 at 5:42 PM

      I tend to disagree with you about inditing Torts for Zuc and Kreider.
      I think what Zuc learned under Torts has made him a massively better player all around. Have you really watched his defensive play now? He never wavers from hustling to get back to make the solid defensive play and then instantly turns it into a rush the other way with some of the best passing I have ever seen in the game.
      I still feel that Torts was 100% correct on Kreider. He still at times makes some bonehead defensive plays that turn the other way for the opposition. I grant you he has tremendous up side potential, but he still at times over peruses the puck or makes a dumb play and ends up in the box. AV has given him a longer leash, sometimes I feel a little too long. Given time, he will hopefully learn to make better hockey decisions more often than he does now. Tremendous potential in the long run.

  9. gmenfan1982 - Jan 21, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    I liked Zucc when he first came up with the rangers 2-3 years ago. A shame that Torts wouldn’t play him. Always looked like he had the skill. Glad to see he’s killing it right now. Fearless out there. Aggressive.

  10. bleedrangerblue - Jan 21, 2014 at 6:16 PM

    Zuucccc!!

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