New York Rangers are on the right path with Zuccarello

Ryan Kennedy
Mason-Zuccarello

Avoiding arbitration, the New York Rangers and leading scorer Mats Zuccarello agreed on a one-year pact Tuesday that will pay the 5-foot-7 winger $3.5 million for the 2014-15 campaign.

According to New York Post scribe Larry Brooks, the two sides continue to work on a long-term deal for the Norwegian national and that’s great news for Rangers fans.

Zuccarello really came into his own this past season, particularly in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where he was one of the Blueshirts’ best players. Though he is small in stature, Zuccarello gave opposing defensemen fits with his low center of gravity and bevy of moves in the offensive zone. More importantly, that post-season run didn’t seem to be a fluke.

During the regular season, Zuccarello was a solid possession player for New York, with a Corsi For percentage of 53.8 percent. That was good for eighth among regulars, but now factor in the loss of Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot and Brad Richards – all of whom had even better fancy stat results. Now, Zuccarello’s presence in the next few seasons becomes even more relevant to any potential team success.

It’s pretty amazing to think how much the left winger progressed this past season. When Zuccarello first came over to North America in 2010, he was a bit of a curiosity. Known as ‘The Hobbit’ due to his height and passing resemblance to actor Elijah Wood, he was a rare Norwegian free agent in demand. In his first two seasons, he spent more time in the American League than on Broadway and went to the KHL for a spell after that. But perhaps it was just a matter of the Rangers not rushing him.

Zuccarello earned the most ice time in his career this past season, but it wasn’t a dramatic spike. He had always been used on the power play, just now it was a bit more frequently. The reward for New York was a 59-point campaign that saw the left winger flirt with 20 goals and successful post-season that helped the Rangers all the way to the final.

A young core has emerged in New York, with Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Zuccarello among the most important players. McDonagh is locked up long-term, as is fellow defenseman Dan Girardi. Zuccarello and Stepan will need similar deals now if the Rangers want to keep the good times rolling.