Don’t let Mats Zuccarello’s size fool you. When it comes to the heart, he is bigger than most players on that New York Rangers ice.
Whenever Mats Zuccarello touches the puck on Madison Square Garden ice, the familiar sound of the fans says it all.
Zuccarello, a veteran Ranger who has played for the team since 2013, has always been a fan favorite. More importantly, he is a reliable, hard working, take no crap teammate that every other Ranger wants to play with. His work ethic is contagious and, despite not having an “A” on his jersey, he is viewed as a locker room leader.
The start of his NHL career was not as glorious as many people believe. In typical Zuccarello fashion, he had to work hard to get himself into the NHL. Zuccarello spent most of the 2011-12 season in the AHL, where had had 12 goals and 36 points in 37 games. In 10 games with the Rangers, he scored twice and finished with three points.
Zuccarello signed with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League for the 2012-13 season and played 44 games in Russia before re-signing with the Rangers on March 28, 2013. He became a full-time NHL player in the following campaign and catapulted into a top-six role.
A consistent scorer, penalty killer, first power play forward and an excellent skater, Zuccarello is the heart beat of this Rangers team. Don’t let his size fool you though; he may be the smallest player on the team — heck maybe smallest in the NHL — but his desire is undeniable. He will never back down from going into the corners to dig out a puck or battle the biggest guy on the other team. The “hobbit,” as Henrik Lundqvist tends to call him, will always do what he can to win with the Rangers and leaves it all on the ice every game.
His importance to the Rangers was never more apparent than when he was injured during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In Game 5 of the of a first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2015, Zuccarello was hit on the left side of his head by a Ryan Mcdonagh slapshot. You could immediately tell that something was wrong. He struggled to get back to the bench, and after going to the locker room to be looked at, he was taken to the hospital. Derick Brassard, one of Zuccarello’s best friends, said he visited his linemate the day after he was injured and said “it wasn’t easy, but at the same time he was taken care of by our doctors. They did a really good job with him. It was just too bad he couldn’t play in the conference final”.
Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News reported that Zuccarello suffered a brain contusion, had bleeding on the brain and had a hairline fracture of his skull. He had trouble speaking for about four days, but with help of a speech therapist, was able to get his speech back. He did not play in any games for the rest of the playoffs. His loss halted the team’s playoff run, one that many believed would result in a Stanley Cup win.
In Zuccarello style, he would be ready for the start of the next season. The 2015-16 season was his most productive one to date. In 81 games played, Zuccarello scored 26 goals with 35 helpers for 61 points.
When it comes time to play the game, the hard working, hard hitting Zuccarello comes out to battle. What makes his story so impressive is his heart. He never will give up no matter the situation. This man is the heart of the team in so many different ways.