New York Rangers Mats Zuccarello
(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

With Ryan McDonagh traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will lead the New York Rangers? Mats Zuccarello is the obvious choice if he remains a Blueshirt come next season.

The New York Rangers are in need of a leader in the locker room, and on the ice—a captain to replace the one that was traded away less than three weeks ago. Forward Mats Zuccarello, an eight-year veteran of the team, seems to be the player who has earned the opportunity.

The organization first needs to determine if Zuccarello is a long-term player with the team or if he is going to be the next player traded come the summer.

The Rangers are in a rebuilding mode. They have been calling up the kids of the organization, Neal Pionk and John Gilmour to name a few, over the last two months. General Manager Jeff Gorton traded Nick Holden, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner at the trade deadline in order to make the team younger and faster in the years to come through the NHL draft. Sellers for the first time as opposed to buyers.

Zuccarello now finds himself in an unusual spot. His name was rumored in some trades as the deadline approached, but nothing transpired and he remained a Ranger.

He has been the player many of the new kids and fellow veterans look to for answers and advice. He is the little guy with a giant heart who will never back down from a hard fight and always stands up for his teammates.

Zuccarello will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season as he turns 31 years old on Sept. 1. and will be earning $4.5 Million.

Do the Rangers anticipate re-signing Zuccarello on a long-term deal? Is he part of the Rangers plans during the rebuilding process? Will he be involved in a deal prior to the NHL draft so that the organization can get yet another high draft pick? Plenty of questions asked, with no answers in sight.

The organization needs to address these issues in a timely matter. With the Rangers spiraling out of the playoff race, the offseason will begin in about five weeks for the team.

If the Rangers decided to rebuild with Mats as a core piece, along with Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal, signing Zuccarello to a long-term contract should be the first thing GM Gorton completes. The second thing would be to get the “C” on his number 36 jersey as fast as he can. Zuccarello would be a great leader, a centerpiece of the transition.

Next to Henrik Lundqvist, Zuccarello is the most popular Ranger. Fans love him and he brings credibility to a team lacking confidence and experience.

Of course, there is the downside of not trading Zuccarello. His scoring production has declined over the last three seasons. He has only scored more than 19 goals once in his career (26 goals in 2015-2016). He is known as a playmaker more than a scorer and over the last three seasons, he has averaged 55 points.

Zuccarello would get the Rangers some value, especially if they move him early in the season. He would definitely help a team who is in the “win now” mode which is something the team needs to consider before making any decisions on who will be the next captain.

Trading another Rangers captain cannot be an option. Not less than one season after they traded McDonagh. The organization needs to be very sure on the next move they make here. Naming Zuccarello captain, then trading him could really diminish all the work the team is doing to rebuild and get back to winning meaningful hockey games in March and April.

Zuccarello should be the next captain of the Rangers. A leader which lays it all on the ice and is not afraid to say when his team is playing bad, such as following a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Mar. 9 when Zuccarello admitted that the other team was better in all the aspects of the game.

Tough thing to admit when your own team just wasn’t good enough, but that’s what we should expect from Mats: honesty, no matter how hard that is to do.

When the organization determines what they truly want to do with Zuccarello they will then be able to find their next captain.

A graduate of St. John's University class of '91. I have been a fan of the New York Rangers since the days of Peter Puck. Founder of Ranger Proud, the Facebook page that covers all news, notes, pre /post-game stats, and player quotes. I can be reached at [email protected]