‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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For the struggling New York Rangers, the right player is coming to aid their playoff hopes at precisely at the right time. According to various reports, the Rangers have reached an agreement to re-sign 25-year-old winger Mats Zuccarello.
Since Zuccarello is already property of the Rangers, he will not pass through waivers once his out-clause to leave the KHL’s Magnitogorsk Metallurg is exercised. He is expected to join up with the Rangers by this weekend.
The pint-sized 5-foot-7 Norweigan is blessed with a great amount of offensive punch. Before suffering a fractured wrist toward the end of the 2011-12 NHL season, Zuccarello gave the Rangers’ power play some much-needed jump.
It was unfortunate that the injury derailed Zuccarello’s chances of taking part in the 2012 NHL playoffs. But he now not only has a chance of auditioning himself for the 2013 playoffs, but also has an opportunity to prove that his future is in New York rather than Europe.
In 44 games in the KHL, Zuccarello scored 11 goals and added 17 assists. The Blueshirts have struggled to find consistency on the power play this season, and currently rank 25th in power-play percentage among NHL teams at 14.6 percent.
Affectionately nicknamed “The Hobbit” by some, Zuccarello is a gifted offensive talent whose quick-moving legs, remarkable vision and skills on the puck can cause problems for any defense.
It’s also important that the Rangers were able to acquire a difference-making player without having to sacrifice any organizational assets. General manager Glen Sather is unwilling to move Michael Del Zotto, J.T. Miller or Chris Kreider, and the Rangers are without a 2013 first-round pick after including it in the package to bring Rick Nash to New York. This leaves the Rangers with few pieces to dangle in trade talks as the April 3 NHL trade deadline approaches.
The Rangers do not want to be locked in a playoff dogfight during the final games of the season. Re-acquiring Zuccarello is a step forward in possibly avoiding that circumstance.
It’s up to Sather to get creative to figure out how else he can improve the Rangers’ fortunes without sacrificing their future.
This team clearly lacks finish, and Zuccarello will help address their well-documented scoring woes. On Sunday night, the Blueshirts were unable to find a go-ahead goal against a hot Washington Capitals team that is looking to leap above them in the Eastern Conference standings. Currently, the eight-place Rangers are being chased hard by the Caps, the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders in a tight playoff race.
Zuccarello will certainly make an impact, but he isn’t the be all and end all solution. The Rangers must find their path up the Eastern Conference standings to avoid a potential No. 1 versus number No. 8 first-round playoff meeting with the dominant Pittsburgh Penguins.
If the Rangers have any ambitions of going far in the playoffs, they’ll need more new faces before the trade deadline passes. This is a win-now team.
Perhaps Sather will have to give up some of the Rangers’ future in order to bring in the right kind of players to give the Blueshirts at least a “puncher’s chance” of returning to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Do you think that Zuccarello will make a big impact in his return? What move would you like to see the Rangers make before the April 3 trade deadline? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.