The New York Rangers have had a very tumultuous season so far. Many of their key players have either missed time due to injury or have under-performed, sometimes at disturbing levels. However, not many seem to be talking about one of the few bright spots on this year’s team, the great play of Mats Zuccarello. After starting last season in the KHL, Rangers general manager Glen Sather showed faith in him by bringing him back for the team’s playoff run. Sather then rewarded him with a new contract, and his faith has been justified by a breakout season for the young Norwegian winger.
Zuccarello is currently second on the team in scoring with 23 points. This matches his career high set in his rookie season. Assuming he stays healthy, he is projected to finish the season with 17 goals and 55 points. Night in and night out, Zuccarello has been one of the Rangers’ key playmakers. He has also added some physicality to his game despite being only 5-foot-7, 179 pounds.
As great as this is for the Rangers, it also speaks volumes of where they are as a team. Zuccarello was projected as a bottom-six forward for this year’s Rangers team, and he is carrying the weight of the top-six forwards that are struggling. Him and Brad Richards are the only Rangers having above-average seasons so far. Zuccarello’s breakout season is great, but it is not enough for the Rangers to reach an elite level as a team.
Zuccarello may be cast as a bottom-six forward, but he is playing like a first liner right now. If the rest of his teammates follow suit and start playing at an above-average level, Zuccarello’s breakout season will mean even more to the Rangers than what it does right now.