(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
When you think of Mats Zuccarello, you have to think of The Lord of the Rings. He’s nicknamed The Hobbit, after all.
But after his work in with the Rangers this season where he now has nine goals and nine assists on the season, you may have to paraphrase another J.R.R. Tolkien quote to describe him, because Zuccarello is Martin St. Louis as he should be.
Two years ago, the Rangers paid a steep price bringing in St. Louis at the deadline. Although they took the necessary steps in the playoffs, it was clear that old No. 26 had some wear on his tires and he wasn’t the same player that starred in Tampa.
But at age 28, Zuccarello is become what St. Louis was, a pint size scoring machine, who wows the competition and fans, alike.
“He keeps getting better every day,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “He takes real advantage of the chances that he gets. And when he plays like that, you get a chance to win every night.”
Right now, outside of a certain goalie that wears No. 30, Zuccarello is the Rangers best player on the ice. He is the straw that stirs their drink.
“To quote Dan Boyle, ‘I don’t think there is a guy in the NHL who is playing better hockey right now,” said center Derek Stepan. “ At this point, it’s not uncommon to talk about him after the game.”
No. 36 is a spark plug. He brings energy on the ice and is making his line mates better. At the same time, it helps Zuccarello that he plays with Rick Nash. Even though, Nash isn’t scoring, he takes the double-team, which opens the right wing with open ice. That’s where Zuccarello excels.
And the result is a top line scorer, who is pacing the best team in hockey right now – yeah I said it and check the standings.
When Zuccarello took a puck to the skull in the last game of the Penguin series last year, it was very obvious how much the Rangers missed him. What made it even more scary is how he lost the ability to speak for a few days and for a short time, his career looked over.
That’s why it such a feel good story that No. 36 is playing so well right now and it’s not just that he is scoring, it’s the type of difficult goals that St. Louis used to score when he was in his prime playing for John Tortorella in Tampa Bay.
“There’s no doubt that he’s been playing real well and his enthusiasm is contagious,” saod Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “There’s no doubt that he is well liked and respected by his teammates and I think everyone is happy he’s playing so well right now.”
Hopefully for Zuccarello this will continue. Like St. Louis, the Norwegian is a late bloomer. St. Louis’s first 30 goal year came at age 27. Right now, Zuccarello is 28 and through the first 18 games on the year, he has almost half his career high in goals, (19 of them two years ago).
He’s breaking out and it’s a sight to see.
Two years ago the Rangers acquired what was left of Martin St. Louis. Now that he’s retired, they are seeing what they hope he would be in the play of Mats Zuccarello.