Sometimes, all a player needs is some time away from the NHL in order to succeed.
This is exactly the case for New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello. After spending much of last season down in the AHL and part of this year playing overseas, Zuccarello is back in the NHL and has shown that he belongs with both the Rangers and the league as a full-time player.
When Zuccarello rejoined the team last season, then Rangers' head coach John Tortorella said that he needed to be proactive and get something done with the hockey club in order to stick around. Tortorella told Zuccarello that he must produce in order to stay with the Blueshirts.
Zuccarello, 26, must have gotten the message loud and clear last season because he has carried it over into this season. Zuccarello has showed the team and new head coach Alain Vigneault that he belongs with this hockey club and that he can be a key contributor on a nightly basis.
As of this writing, Zuccarello is second on the team in scoring with 25 points (eight goals and 17 assists), just two points behind team leading scorer Brad Richards (nine goals and 18 assists). Zuccarello is someone who goes hard to net, knows how to create scoring chances for his teammates and is now one of the team's best forecheckers when it comes to going in the corners to get the puck.
This has been a long time long time coming for the man everyone calls “Frodo” because of his small stature. Things have not always been easy for the Norwegian-born forward but since has come back to the team, Zuccarello’s game has changed for the better.
When Zuccarello first came to the Rangers back during the 2010-11 season, he was someone that could create some offense and score some big goals in the shootout. That season, Zuccarello scored six goals and added 17 assists for 23 points in 42 games to go along with a few game-deciding goals in the shootout for the team.
With that said, Zuccarello could not do much else as a player. He had trouble staying on his feet as he could easily be knocked off the puck and he was also someone who had a lot of trouble in his own zone.
If you want to be a full-timer in the NHL, that kind of play will not work. After playing in just 10 games in the 2011-12 season and having two goals and one assist for three points, he was sent down to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL where was just about a point-per-game player with 36 points (12 goals and 24 assists) in 37 games.
After the season, however, Zuccarello went to the KHL to play with Magnitogorsk Metallurg and did well in 44 games with the team. Zuccarello scored 11 goals and added 17 assists for 28 points while also contributing four points (two goals and two assists) in seven playoff games.