We’re finally, FINALLY, approaching the end of our countdown of the best Rangers of the past decade and today we’re gonna focus on the best skater to dress for the Broadway Blueshirts.
#2 Mats Zuccarello
Career as a Ranger: 2010-2018
Career Numbers as a Blueshirt: 113 goals, 239 assists for 352 points in 509 games played (1.94 Pts/60). 51.17 CF% (2.57 C/60), 53.31 xGF% (0.33 xG/60). 81.4 GAR, 15.4 WAR
Best Season As a Ranger: 2015-16: 26 goals, 35 assists for 61 points in 81 games
One of, if not the most, beloved Ranger of the past decade, Mats Zuccarello defied the odds in his Rangers career. He was an undrafted European free agent signed out of MODO of the Swedish Elite League, he was this 5’9” Norwegian forward that earned the reputation as the “Hobbit Wizard” overseas but there were questions as to whether he could withstand the big, bad NHL.
Then, he came over to the US for the 2010-11 Connecticut Whale/Hartford Wolf Pack season where Mats put up 29 points in 36 games earning a call up to big club that season and he made a pretty solid first impression with 23 points in 42 NHL games. That didn’t really seem to impress head coach John Tortorella as the next season saw Zuccarello only get 10 games on Broadway before being sent to spend the rest of the season in the AHL, putting up 36 points in 37 games.
For the 2012-13 campaign Zuccarello went to the KHL for most of the season, skating for Magnitogorsk before he came back to the NHL and Broadway and never left. It was no secret that Zuccarello and Tortorella didn’t mesh well and with the regime change in the 2013 offseason, it was thought that Zucc was going to be one of the biggest benefactors of Alain Vigneault’s new system. That 2013-14 campaign was a revelation for the Norwegian forward as he found instant chemistry with winger Benoit Pouliot and center Derick Brassard, creating a third line that really glued the entire forward corps together. It was also during this time that the fan base really took to the Hobbit as we witnessed not only his dazzingly skill and vision but his quirky personality that was infectious and spread through the team.
After that 2013-14 run to the Stanley Cup, Zuccarello cemented himself in the Rangers top six as the team made their playoff pushes over next few years consistently pushing the 60 point mark and establishing himself as the beating heart of the locker room and, in a way, the fanbase. However, the very next post season with the Rangers all geared up for a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final; Mats Zuccarello took an errant Ryan McDonagh point shot right to the side of his head in the first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After seeing Zuccarello go down with what ended up being a skull fracture and brain contusion the wind came out of the Rangers’ sails and their last great push for the Cup ended at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After that 2014-15 season, the Rangers began a gradual decline in play under AV, though they still pushed for playoff spots time and time again. Zuccarello remained a consist scoring presence on Broadway but as the team announced they were heading into a rebuild, and with Zuccarello’s contract ending at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, it was time to painfully say goodbye to one of the most loved Rangers to ever don the sweater. While the tear down that began the season before seemed like the right thing to do, it was hard to see Zuccarello move on. Especially after everything he gave to the team on and off the ice.
Favorite Zuccarello Moment: There were probably bigger goals in terms of circumstance but what better way to encapsulate Mats Zuccarello’s tenure on Broadway than with a hat trick with all three goals assisted by Derick Brassard?