By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
Rangers fans can breathe a deep sigh of relief now that top line winger Mats Zuccarello has revealed symptoms stemming from a scary playoff head injury have subsided.
“No issues,” a smiling Zuccarello confirmed Tuesday.
Although Zuccarello is getting reacclimated to skating and conditioning, the most important thing is he’s over the brain contusion and skull fracture that caused him to lose the ability to speak for four days.
The injury caused the 28-year-old Norwegian to miss the final 14 games of the 2015 playoffs.
“I feel good,” Zuccarello said following the Rangers’ first day of informal skating. “I feel awful on the ice, though. Hopefully, that’s going to come. My head feels fine. I’m ready to go.”
Zuccarello said he only began skating consistently just before he arrived in New York two weeks ago. He was given the green light to participate in his annual charity game in Norway on June 19. Zuccarello wore a new helmet that offers greater skull protection while skating at the Rangers’ practice facility on Tuesday.
“Obviously, I haven’t skated for that long,” Zuccarello said. “I’ve been working out hard. It took me time to get going before I could do everything. I feel like I’m on my way there. We still have a week before the season starts. Hopefully, I’ll be ready to go. I couldn’t do everything I wanted to right away. I had to wait a little bit. I haven’t been skating for that long. Other than that, I feel good. It’s going to come as we go on the ice more and more here.”
The Rangers will begin training camp on Sept. 17 and open their preseason schedule at home against the rival Devils four days later. Zuccarello said he is targeting the preseason opener for his return. He was asked directly whether he thinks he can play immediately.
“I hope so,” Zuccarello said. “That’s my goal. Hopefully, I’m ready to go right away. I feel bad today, but it’s going to take some time to just get back on the ice – timing and stuff. It’s the same for everyone.”
Since making his Dec. 23, 2010, NHL debut, the 5-foot-7 winger has always played an energetic, fearless style. When asked whether he would have to alter his game because of the injury, Zuccarello said, “I’m as good as new – as the doctors say,” adding “just go in and play my game.”
Zuccarello explained that he still endures occasional speech issues. He admitted that he probably should continue speech therapy. While speaking on Tuesday, Zuccarello spoke clearly and without any sign of difficulty.
“When I talk Norwegian, you can’t hear it,” Zuccarello said. “My English is a little off sometimes. I can manage with that.”
Zuccarello stated that he has a final follow-up checkup scheduled “this week or next week.”
Heading into the 2015-16 season, he is healthy and has a clear mind.
“I don’t think about it,” Zuccarello said. “All I think about is getting back to shape and back to being playing-ready. Nothing more.”
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey