Saturday, January 8, 2011

Zuccarello-Aasen Providing Rangers With Magic Touch

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When Mats Zuccarello-Aasen was called up to make his NHL debut for the New York Rangers December 23rd game against Tampa we were not fully sure of what to expect.  What was known was his prowess overseas in the SEL where he was the best player in the league last year.  What was known was that he struggled adjusting to the NHL and North American style during the preseason forcing the Rangers to send him down to the AHL.  What was known was he struggled initially in the AHL as well, but had turned his game up to a very high level after that point.  What was known was the skill in passing, vision, creativity and more that he could and would bring to the table.  What was unknown was whether he could translate his game to the NHL level of competition.

What we learned right off the bat was when he was thrown in on the team’s top line with the injury to Marian Gaborik he did not blink at all from the atmosphere or the pressure and he went out and played excellent hockey showing all of those skills and proving he belonged at this level.  The day after his debut I wrote about how he showed his place was at this level and that the Rangers would be compelled to find him a spot on the roster no matter who comes back from injury. 

Even in his first NHL game there was no hesitation, no lack of confidence in his game and his ability.  That was evident in the shootout of his debut when the coach asked him if he wanted to be a shorter and he wanted the chance.  On that play he showed glimpses of his flair for the dramatic as he stepped up as a shootout participant and calmly finished as if he had been at this level in those spots for years.  The combination of skill he showed in the game and on his shootout goal proved for many that this team needed his added skill to let the tam continue to mature.  What I did not, and I would guess very few did, fully grasp at the time was how much the “Norwegian Hobbit” had a magical touch that would be able to propel the Rangers forward to wins as he has the last two games.

In his seven games for the Rangers Zuccarello has what might seem like a mere one goal and two assists but consider that in his short time he has a game winner in overtime, a game winner a shootout and another shootout goal and you wonder what he will be able to do when he fully adapts to the NHL game.  The skill is obviously there and has been on display in various forms in each game that he has played at this level.  When Zuccarello has been partnered with Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan that trio has worked very well together and created chances, but the Frodo from Modo has not been able to cash in.  Some of those are Zuke himself and on others he was just robbed of the reward, but if he continues to play the same way he has been the luck that he needs to cash in those chances at other points of the game will come, which combined with his flair for the dramatic will be make him an even bigger fan favorite then he has already become.

One thing has become crystal clear over these two weeks Mats Zuccarello has spent on hockey’s biggest stage, for this Norwegian Hobbit there is no stage or event that is too big for him to handle and maybe it is because he can waive his magic wand and shrink everything else around him down to his size.  There is no telling how long this magical run Zuccarello or the Rangers are currently on will last, but what is clear is that as special as the season has been for the Rangers overall the Frodo from Modo is going to play an instrumental part in determining if they can pull off the biggest trick there is; winning the Stanley Cup.

In the meantime I am left with questions, Is what Zuccarello is doing right now more luck than skill?  Can what he is doing be counted on to continue or will the magic run out?  How vital is Zuccarello to the Rangers this year when the other guys come back from injury?  Will Zuke be here for the rest of the season?  Maybe the simplest solution to answer those queries is to ask Zuccarello-Aasen himself since right now when it comes to the tough spots he has all the right answer and there is pure magic in that fact.