Just a few years back, it was a nigh impossible task for Mats Zuccarello to stay on the Rangers’ NHL roster. However, on Thursday night, he proved it to the world just why the Norwegian forward is currently being considered as the best player the New York Rangers have on their roster apart from Henrik Lundqvist.
Those who still believe that Zuccarello is over hyped, should look at the embarrassment St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester had to go through as the Norwegian scored a first-period goal and then added two assists as the Rangers won the game comprehensively (6-3) at the Garden.
By doing so, Zuccarello is now the team’s leader in both goals (eight) and points (15) in just 16 games. Moreover, the Norwegian is playing with more freedom and confidence that he always struggled to show while he had to rely on order s from John Tortorella, who is now the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
And Lundqvist, a man who has seen all the highs and lows of playing in the NHL, has been keenly observing Zuccarello’s journey. The Swede says that his teammate has now got the confidence he once lacked and remembered the first time he met him in the Winter Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver.
“I think the biggest thing is he now has the confidence to play the game,” Lundqvist said of Zuccarello. “This is the way he played the first time I saw him in the Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver. I saw this little guy with the longest stick ever and making these incredible plays and I’m like, ‘That kid is good, but he’s small.’
“When he came here, I was so impressed in practice,” Lundqvist added. “But it’s not easy to play that game as a rookie maybe because you need a lot of confidence to make the plays. But now I think he’s just letting his game go and you can see the result. He’s making the difference for us on a lot of nights.”
The team’s alternate captain, Derek Stepan is already a huge fan of his teammate and believes that Zuccarello really had to struggle to become the man that he is today, citing the horrific brain injury he suffered in last spring’s playoff which almost put his career on the stake.
Zuccarello however, believes that he has been able to achieve all this due to the fact that his teammates have supported him on the ice.
“Seventy-five percent of their offense was coming off our puck management,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Once we cleaned that up in the third, we were fine.”
Six months after returning from such a horrific injury meant that Zuccarello would always struggle to return to his best. However, thanks to some really good work by the team’s medical team, the Norwegian spent a good part of summer to recover, playing in a specially reinforced helmet just to be on the safe side.
Now that he is back and in great form for that matter, it is clear that Mats Zuccarello is going to be the difference maker the team badly needs when it comes to season defining moments.