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Mats Zuccarello, His NHL Career Risen from the Ashes, Continues to Prove That Size Doesn’t Matter

February 3rd, 2014 at 10:14 PM
By Ricky Cibrano

'Mats Zuccarello' photo (c) 2011, Anna Enriquez - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/It was the great philosopher Yoda who once said: "Size matters not." It's a saying the New York Rangers' Mats Zuccarello appears determined to prove true each and very time he steps on the ice.

Zuccarello may not have the powers of The Force like our fuzzy green make-believe friend, but what he does have in spades is heart. At a generously-listed 5-7, the Norwegian winger is both the Blueshirts smallest and feistiest player. Peer through the trees duking it out in any post-whistle scrum, and sure enough, in the midst of it all will be the diminutive Zuccarello.

The large chip perched atop the relatively small shoulders of the 26-year old has served him exceedingly well this season. Now in his 4th year with the Rangers' organization, Zuccarello has blossomed into one of the Blueshirts most consistent and creative performers up front. With 39 points, he's tied for the team lead with Brad Richards, and his 15 goals trails only Rick Nash. Since being made a healthy scratch early on, everyone's favorite hobbit-wizard has 39 points in 48 games.

With his sudden success, it's become easy to forget that not that long ago, Zuccarello's future in the NHL was very much in doubt.

When he was signed by the Rangers in the summer of 2010, Zuccarello was coming off a season that saw him take home MVP honors in the the Swedish Elite League, one of the top professional organizations in the world. He was lauded as a player built in the mold of Martin St. Louis–small and creative, the type of forward who wouldn't have been given a chance in years past, but could thrive in the "new" NHL.

However, after splitting time between the Rangers and Hartford/Conneticut of the AHL his first two years, and struggling to find consistent ice time in his stints with the big club, it seemed as if Zuccarello's time on Broadway was at an end before it really even began. With the NHL lockout looming heading into the 2012-13 season, the winger signed a two-year deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL.

That was that. Like some many other European players, he'd given the NHL a shot, but appeared destined to play the rest of his days far away oversees. The Norwegian even tweeted a farewell and thank you to Rangers' fans for their support.

But, when the Rangers stumbled out of the gate following the conclusion of last year's lockout, they began searching for ways to improve the team's depth. With options slim, they gave Zuccarello a call, and the winger was amenable to coming back to take another crack at the NHL once his KHL season ended.

The diminutive one joined the Rangers for the final 15 games of the 2012-13 campaign, and unlike in prior stints under John Tortorella, he actually played–16:25 per game, to be exact–allowing him to score 8 points, and another 7 in 12 playoff games. It was enough to show he belonged, and with a new coach and new system better tailored to Zuccarello's skills on the horizon, the Blueshirts wisely elected to keep him in the fold heading into this year.

Like so many Blueshirts, Zuccarello, a pending restricted free agent, will be due a raise in the offseason. The question regarding the littlest Ranger–an afterthought not long ago–was once: Can he play? Now, it's become: Where would his team be without him?


 

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Tags: Brad Richards, Hockey, John Tortorella, Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, New York, New York Rangers, NHL, Rick Nash

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