Norwegian winger Mats Zuccarello has been a pleasant surprise for the New York Rangers; despite standing at only 5 foot 7 and going undrafted in the NHL, the 28 year old left wing has put up 34 goals and 108 points in the regular season over the last two years combined.
Now, they’ll get to see whether he’s able to keep up that production; the former MODO Hockey standout has been cleared to play opening night for the Rangers, finally stepping away from the uncertainty that came in the aftermath of a post-season injury last spring.
Zuccarello suffered a brain contusion in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this last April, holding the undersized forward out of the lineup as the Rangers took on both the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Initially only reported as an ‘upper body injury’, the contusion reportedly left Zuccarello without feeling in his arm for a few days and unable to talk; he seems to be back to full strength now, though, and will be in New York’s opening lineup on October 7th against the Chicago Blackhawks.
When held out during the post-season, Zuccarello had been realistic; he suggested that he wasn’t entirely confident he’d be able to play even if the Rangers had advanced to the finals, but instead suggested that he was focusing on looking ahead to the new year. That’s likely a good thing for the Rangers — with fellow winger Carl Hagelin shipped off to Anaheim to re-work New York’s cap situation this summer, the pressure to perform offensively will fall even more to Zuccarello than before. He’ll be aided by up-and-comers like Jesper Fast and JT Miller, Derick Brassard is only continuing to improve his offensive output, and power forward Chris Kreider is expected to have a career year of his own — but there’s still going to be that ever-present question of whether the Rangers are truly going to be top contenders for the Stanley Cup, and Zuccarello is still clearly a part of the answer to that.
Puck will drop on October 7th, with Zuccarello on the ice, at 7:00PM CST in Chicago, Illinois. In addition to Zuccarello, the Rangers have blue liner and captain Ryan McDonagh is back to full strength after breaking his foot in Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.