Mats Zuccarello strong play this past season only reinforced why he is an integral piece of the New York Rangers’ core. The 5’7’’ right-winger maintained his role as the team’s spark plug between his skilled production and fearless play. His actions on and off the ice were rewarded in three of the last four seasons (including this season) with the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award as well.
Zuccarello tied his second-highest season point total with 59-points (15 goals, 44 assists). Those 59 points led the Rangers in scoring, while also accumulating the highest number of assists on the team (44).
Thirty-nine of Zuccarello’s points were scored at 5v5 – equating to 2.01 points per 60, which ranked third on the team behind only Chris Kreider (2.11) and Pavel Buchnevich (2.11). Those 39 points broke down to seven goals and 32 assists (team leading 1.65 assists per 60, 0.88 primary assists per 60). Twenty-four of his points were primary (1.24 per 60).
Despite his small stature, he still (at 5v5) hit 79 times and blocked 43 shots. He led the team with 56 takeaways as well.
Defensively, Zuccarello helped the Rangers in their zone exits – many of which were possession exits. Offensively, Zuccarello also helped lead the Rangers into the zone, with his carry-ins – between possession, passing, and dump-in entries. In addition, his exceptional passing consistently helped spark the Rangers offense.
5v5 Primary Shot Assists by type. Zucc does pretty much everything to spark the Rangers offense. Hayes looks pretty good too. pic.twitter.com/7JGPttqwdf— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) June 15, 2017
Zuccarello’s play on both sides of the ice was highlighted throughout the season. With Zuccarello on the ice, the Rangers were able to create offense for and suppress that against – which was noted by his 51.43 Corsi for percentage (ranking third on the team), 56.53 scoring chances for percentage (second highest on the team), 53.94 expected goals for percentage (third highest on the team), and 57.78 goals for percentage (third highest on the team).
In the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Zuccarello earned 7 points (four goals, three assists) in 12 games. Of those seven points, one goal and one assist were scored on the power play. At 5v5, all five points he scored were primary points (1.59 per 60, ranking third on the team).
Looking at his on-ice play from the playoffs, Zuccarello had a 48.82 Corsi for percentage, 61.70 scoring chances for percentage, and expected goals for percentage of 52.90.
Also, Zuccarello hit 30 times at 5v5, plus 10 takeaways (the second highest on the team, trailing only Jimmy Vesey) and 10 blocked shots (second highest of the forwards, behind only Mika Zibanejad).
Although Zuccarello did score in Game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens in the quarterfinals, his play through the start of that series was not what the Rangers demanded on him.
The Canadiens played a physical style of hockey and their strategy provoked the Rangers. Players like Brendan Gallagher and Steve Ott distracted Zuccarello from playing his game throughout the series. When Zuccarello was distracted and aggravated in those games, it clearly showed in his play as he sacrificed his offensive contributions to play physical – resulting him in accumulating 12 penalty minutes in the first three games.
However, Zuccarello found his scoring touch for the most important game of that series: Game 6. And he returned to playing physical to make productive plays, rather than in retaliation to the Canadiens’ actions. Zuccarello scored two goals, one of which was the series clinching goal. Not only was his on-ice play key, but when the Rangers struggled in the first period of that game it was Zuccarello that settled his teammates and told them to “rise to the occasion.”
Furthermore, Zuccarello was one of the Rangers most valuable players this season and postseason, earning him an overall grade of an A-.
*All data is at 5v5, sourced from Corsica.hockey.