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Mats Zuccarello Winning The Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award Was Perfect

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Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In a lot of ways this felt like Steven McDonald’s final Extra Effort award. Not that his memory won’t live on, not that his son Conor and wife Patti Ann won’t do a wonderful job with the award moving forward. I think you saw last night that’s not the case at all.

But this is the last season for which McDonald was around to watch. Well, at least to watch it with us.

Mats Zuccarello was named this year’s Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner. It was his third such victory in his seven-year career with the Rangers. That includes his first three seasons in the NHL (42, 10 and 15 games respectively). So if you look at when he’s been a full-fledged New York Ranger? He’s won the award in three of the past four years. Only Cam Talbot two years ago kept it from being a clean sweep.

Outside of Henrik Lundqvist, it’s hard to find a Ranger who in recent memory has had more of an impact on the organization than Zuccarello has. He’s a guy who will dress up like a dolphin or ninja turtle for Halloween. He’s a guy who will play pranks on anyone in the locker room. He’s a guy who has starred in commercials you could only dream about.

He’s also a guy who, at 5’7” will fight anyone in the NHL. He’s gritty, has the heart of a lion and is one of the Rangers most feared offensive players.

He’ll also pass on a breakaway, not shoot in the slot and make passes and plays that will blow your mind. He’ll do otherworldly things with the puck I’m convinced no one else in the NHL can do. He’ll also do things that I could probably do if I was on the ice (i.e. pass on a breakaway).

In other words: He’s not perfect. But in a way he is perfect. He’s just Zuccarello. It is what it is. He’s like the Rangers: You love them for all their flaws, but they make you happy. Somehow the flaws almost make them more lovable. Like a puppy that chews your shoes. (Ask me about this if Pavel Buchnevich sits during the playoffs, though.)

To honor Steven McDonald, who better than Zuccarello? Who better than a guy who would quite literally do or give anything for the sweater on his back? It’s very hard to try to compare the act of playing hockey to a man who was shot in the line of duty and did so much for the community thereafter. It’s actually impossible.

Without disgracing what Steven McDonald both went through and overcame, Zuccarello feels closest to the hockey comparable. Winning the award meant a lot to him, not just because he won the award but because of when he won it. He even said as much to the Rangers official website:

"[I'm] honored. It's a proud moment for me," Zuccarello said. "I think a lot of guys on our team could have had that award. I am really humbled that I was the one, especially this year. Every year, for me, this is the biggest award to win and I'm really proud of it. Obviously you couldn't have done it without your teammates and your team. I think everyone shares this award and especially this year."

The overwhelming reception for Conor and Patti Ann last night was heartwarming. We all might disagree on where we see the Rangers going, which stats to use or who we thinks fits best where, but no one ever disagrees on Steven McDonald. No one ever disagrees on what he and his family mean to this organization and this fanbase.

So here’s to you, Steven. I know you were smiling when Zuccarello was picked as the winner.

We all were.