2016 Rangers Report Card: Mats Zuccarello is a tiny beacon in the darkness
After suffering a very serious freak head injury in the first round of the 2014-15 playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mats Zuccarello came back in 2015-16 to establish himself as a bonafide first line forward.
The Numbers: 26 goals (+11), 35 assists (+1), 61 points (+12), and 54% CF in 81 (+3) games played.
(All numbers in parentheses designate change from 2014-15, all numbers at even strength and courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com and Corsica.hockey)
The story: To talk about Mats Zuccarello’s 2015-16 campaign, you have to go back to the freak injury he suffered during the 2014-15 playoffs. Five games into the Rangers first round series with the Penguins, Zuccarello took an inadvertent slap shot to the head from Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. The injury was severe enough that Zuccarello was afraid he wouldn’t be able to speak or walk again.
So to not only come back from a head injury like that, but to come back and establish himself as probably the best forward on the Rangers really made Zuccarello’s 2015-16 season a memorable one. It doesn’t hurt that the diminutive Norwegian winger is one of the most likeable players the Rangers have had in years.
Spending most of his time on the ice with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard, Zuccarello established a career high in both goals and points this season, getting help from a bit of shooting help along the way. As I said in my J.T. Miller Report Card, there are times when a player can create his own luck through his solid play and it’s hard to argue that the vertically challenged left winger didn’t do just that this past season.
That’s not to say that everything was perfect for Zuccarello this season, like many forwards, the undersized Norwegian’s possession play was damaged by the reigns that Alain Vigneault placed on the breakout and offensive play in general. Hopefully, this season provides some much need unleashing of an offense that Mats Zuccarello is a central piece of.
Final Grade: A-
There were very very few players that deserved anything close the A range of grades but Mats Zuccarello is definitely up there (probably only one of two players on the Rangers to deserve the grade). Coming back from that injury to be a top line player and bring a smile to all of our faces makes Mats Zuccarello the best forward on the Rangers.