Friday, December 24, 2010

Rangers Must Find Spot For Zuccarello-Aasen As He Proves To Be NHL Ready

Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
In his debut for the New York Rangers, Mats Zuccarello-Aasen did everything and more than the club and the fans could have expected.  Unlike with many rookies, including Derek Stepan, there was no getting of the feet wet in the NHL before being asked to move up into more important roles, rather Zuccarello was tossed in feet first on the Rangers top line with Brandon Dubinsky and Stepan.  Overall he would play 17:52 in his debut which he admitted after the game was more than he expected to play, but by the time the game was over there was no doubt that he had earned every second of ice he got on this night.  In his play he displayed all the attributes in his game from the skill in terms of his skating, passing, vision, and shot to his grit and willingness to play in tough areas to the attitude and belief he has in his ability and it will certainly leave every Rangers fan wanting more, though as of now we are unsure when exactly the encore will be.

In a move not dissimilar to that they made on Dale Weise following the Philadelphia game the Rangers sent Mats Zuccarello back to the AHL and the Connecticut Whale.  The main reason, at least the one given, is because the Whale plays their next game this Sunday, while the Rangers are off until Monday, December 27th.  No indication was given as to whether Zuccarello would be called up for the game on Monday at this time, but he certainly showed he is capable at this level on this night and whether he is here Monday or not he will be back in short order.  The main issues surrounding the decision come Monday will be the health of Marian Gaborik and if Gaborik is available whether there is another top 6 role for Zuccarello to fill because they do not want to bring him up for a non-top 6 role at this time.

Personally for me I think that in his game tonight Zuccarello-Aasen created as much or more than Gaborik has in any game in the last few weeks and possibly in any game with the exception of the Edmonton and Islander four point games.  Each time Mats touched the puck something good happened and he was a constant threat either for himself or his linemates with the biggest differences being his confidence in what he wanted to do and his willingness to attack the defense quickly.  The Rangers are a club that has a lot of guys who are big on doing the dirty work and not necessarily huge on skill.  To have a guy like Zuccarello-Aasen that is capable of adding to the overall talent level of this club you have to find a spot for him.

The easiest roster move to make to have a top 6 spot for him if Gaborik is healthy would be to scratch Todd White, and move Chris Drury down to the fourth line.  What you could have in that scenario is a set of lines that looks like this:


I think that is a good mix of skill and toughness, but I do not think that will be what we see come Monday for various reasons.  There has been an unexplainable hesitancy to give Artem Anisimov a chance to play with Marian Gaborik for whatever reason so that part of it is a stretch along with trying the Frolov combination again, but I was attempting to mix as little as possible.  The bigger problem is the sole focus it seems at times for Tortorella is on what is good for Gaborik so it might be Zuccarello who either gets moved down a line or stays down in the AHL if Gabby is back.  If the hobbit stays down there then look for Weise to get a call to take the fourth line spot and still leave Todd White out.  Personally I would love to send White down, call up Weise and Zuccarello, and bench Christensen but that will not happen if for no other reason than his shootout prowess.

In the end the question has shifted from earlier in the year being if Zuccarello would get a call to when and we all expect one way or another it will be soon.  The reality is yes it was only one game, but in that game by proving he belonged at this level he has created a good set of problems for the Rangers staff and management in that he gives them options, but he also forces them to find a spot whether it be this season or next.  To me that might be the most exciting part because as much as the youth movement is coming by having a couple guys even if only for one game prove they can handle their respective roles and play well should decrease any desire to go out and spend money on players that would just take their spots.