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One of the most important things for a young player is simply getting on the ice. For the New York Rangers Mats Zuccarello has played very well in spurts since being called up in December, but recently he has been buried on the fourth line and yesterday he was a healthy scratch against the Bruins. With the team on its playoff push his role has been diminished and he is not seeing the type of ice time you would like to see him get to continue his development.
With the combination of the shortening of the rotation and the relative ineffectiveness of the line Zuccarello has seen his ice time over the last six games, prior to his scratch, peak at 12:37 while being under 8 minutes on two occasions. The question becomes, is it better for Zuccarello to go down to the AHL and play in a top line role with huge minutes or stay with the Rangers in his current role?
There is certainly something to be said for playing at the NHL level and getting the experience of a playoff push and the playoffs up here, but there is more to be said for his ability to help the Rangers in the future if he goes down and gains the playing time and confidence of a playoff run as a key contributor for the Whale. This suggestion is not a slight on Zuccarello and his ability to contribute at this level. In fact it is intended in the opposite way as I want to see him be able to be the impact player his talent will afford him to be and the best way to do that is to play.
When you are a skill play and a playmaking type player you need ice time to really get into the flow of the game and produce, but instead Zuccarello is buried on the lower lines with quality players, but without the chance to be on the ice. The Rangers system has become roll four lines for the first two periods, then take the three players coach John Tortorella feels he is not getting production from that day and use them sparingly if at all in the third. Typically this has led to the Rangers not using the rookies and Wojtek Wolski/Sean Avery in big situations during the third as they either seek to protect a lead or look for a crucial goal to get back in the game.
If Tortorella is not going to trust and turn to Zuccarello in spots to produce, the best move is to let him go down and continue to work on his game, specifically his finishing, in the midst the AHL playoff race.