When Mats Zuccarello was traded to the Dallas Stars on Feb. 23, 2019, the New York Rangers lost a warrior. In the spirit of the Rangers rebuild, moving Mats Zuccarello was a necessary move. However, the return does not do justice for everything the Norwegian-born forward brought to the Rangers.
Goodbye Mats Zuccarello
Mats Zuccarello joined in the Rangers in 2010 an unlikely hero. Standing at a mere 5’8″, Zuccarello’s small stature led to doubts in his effectiveness as a player. What he lacks in height however, he makes up in speed. Quickly praised for his skating prowess and playmaking abilities, Zuccarello became a fan favourite. In the 2013-14 season, Zuccarello tallied a whopping 40 assists. Thus, making him a key asset in the Rangers journey to the finals.
Unfortunately, one of the most notable moments in Zuccarello’s NHL career was a shocking tragedy. In a playoff tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers leading the series 3-1, Zuccarello took a shot to the head. Immediately recognizing he was not well, Zuccarello skates to the bench. In the haunting days that followed, Zuccarello received his diagnosis. A fractured skull and brain contusion.
Without the ability to speak, Zuccarello’s future was uncertain at best. Teammates such as Carl Hagelin and Derick Brassard came to his bedside, supporting him in what may be their final days as teammates. However, in the off-season to follow, Zuccarello made a remarkable recovery. Cementing him in the hearts of New York Rangers fans forever. A month of speech therapy and modified training processes aided Zuccarello’s healing process. However, Zuccarello’s disposition was the biggest factor in his quick return to the ice. According to his fellow Rangers, he never let his injury hold him back.
Better than Ever
Following that, he continued to excel. In fact, Zuccarello’s numbers continued to improve throughout his tenure with the Rangers. Come the 2015-16 season, Zuccarello earned a career-high 61 points. His charity organization, the Mats Zuccarello foundation, continued to be a passion point for the Norwegian Star. In 2018 he co-hosted the Henke & Zucca Summer Classic in Oslo with Henrik Lundqvist. The tournament benefitted the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation, the Mats Zuccarello Foundation, and Right to Play. Growing up in Norway, it was always Zuccarello’s dream to play at Oslo’s Ullevaal Stadium. Thanks to his success in the NHL, he was able to achieve his dream with one of his best teammates by his side.
Zuccarello continued to be an asset for the Rangers. Zuccarello was also a top candidate for the Rangers captaincy this season. He and Chris Kreider were expected to take the role after Ryan McDonagh was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2017-18 season. His determination to honour the New York Rangers legacy was evident in every step of his time on Broadway. Additionally, his longevity on the team made him a role model for the new players lining up to rebuild the Rangers team and reputation. Without Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers veterans will be Kreider, Lundqvist and Kevin Hayes (unless he gets traded), but no player can replace the heart Zuccarello brought to the Rangers.
As Zuccarello heads to Dallas, he gets the chance to compete for a Stanley Cup again. Players such as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn also sweeten the deal for Zuccarello. After playing on the tumultuous Rangers rebuilding team, it will be a nice change for Zuccarello. The Stars have a better chance at the cup than the Rangers do in the next five years. Saying goodbye to Zuccarello is no easy task for Rangerstown. He earned the honour of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in 2013-14, 2015-16 and 2016-17 for going above and beyond the call of duty as a Ranger. This Rangers team in transition will greatly miss Zuccarello’s spritely energy and undying courage. Best of luck Zuccarello, you’ll always be remembered fondly by the boys in blue shirts.