New York Rangers: Injury to Mats Zuccarello Opens Up Opportunity For First Line to Prove Their Worth

By Alex Weinstein
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The X-rays are in, and New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello has a fracture in his hand. Hand and foot injuries take a long time to heal fully, so the Rangers may be without Zuccarello for an extended period of time. Zuccarello has been the spark plug to ignite the Rangers’ offense this season as he currently leads the team with 43 points in 58 games. This could be troublesome as Zuccarello is their key contributor at even strength and on the power play. While New York should be worried about Zuccarello’s health, it also opens up opportunities for players who need to start producing more to finally contribute to the team’s efforts in the 2013-14 NHL season.

There have been two Rick Nashs this season. One has the magic ability to disappear while the other one can’t stop scoring goals. The latter is the Nash that everyone wants to see and is the one that the Rangers need in order to be successful. While Nash does not need to keep up a torrid pace of a goal per game that he had during an 11-game stretch of the season, a point per game pace should be expected from the talented winger that has produced similar numbers in his career. Nash is incredibly skilled, has a huge frame and can shield the puck from defenders. His hands can keep up at full speed and his shot is deadly when he wants it to be. We have seen glimpses of the unstoppable Nash before, and he must return if the Rangers want to succeed without Zuccarello.

Hand in hand with Nash’s production comes Derek Stepan. Nash’s linemate, Stepan has to turn it on after an Olympics where he won’t play unless there are injuries. He’s on pace for the second-best point total of his career, but he was averaging a point per game in the shortened 2012-13 campaign. Stepan needs to find a middle ground between the two and he has to add on to his paltry 10 goals on the season. Stepan and Nash have been products of each other’s production and need to increase their output without Zuccarello in the lineup.

Paging Chris Kreider. The rookie was one of the hottest players for the Rangers in the months of November and December, but has disappeared since Jan. 14. In fact, his only game with a point since then was a three-point night where he scored one goal and registered two assists against the New York Islanders. While the Rangers don’t need Kreider to score at a point per game and he is on pace for a respectable 44 points in his first full NHL season, the talented and strong winger needs to attack the net more to get back on track. Some of his non-existent production can be attributed to his linemates, but Kreider has the ability and the tools to produce offense as well.

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