In a blog post during the most recent Olympic games, I told my readers to make sure they keep an eye out for Norwegian dangler Mats Zuccarello-Aasen as he was going to get a shot with an NHL club soon and make a name for himself. Just a few short months after that he was signed by the Rangers, and here he is now providing offense at the greatest hockey stage in the world. Zuccarello has all the right personality tools to make it with the Rangers, and after being successful at every level he’s played at Zucc is beginning to win over the Garden crowd and the Rangers coaching staff while finding his legs at the NHL level. Although a young guy he has built up a few accolades along his hockey career. Here’s more of what you need to know about Rangers winger Mats Zuccarello (Aasen).
Height: A generous 5’7″
Weight: A generous 174 lbs
Drafted: Undrafted free agent
NHL Experience: Currently in his rookie season
Contract (new feature of the player profiles): $850K (plus bonuses up to 1.75 million) RFA in June 2012
Before the NHL:
Before the NHL the Norway native Zuccarello was first a professional in his home country. Making Norway’s top league by the time he was 17, Zuccarello didn’t find immediate success in this league. It was not until he was 18 that he found sustained success in this league, and his last season in the league (aged 19-20) Zuccarello became a force.
After moving to what is considered one of the top international leagues, the Swedish Elite League, Zuccarello began to find his offensive game and sustain it. Playing for MODO in the SEL Zuccarello was one of their top players. In his first season with MODO Zuccarello recorded 40 points in 35 games. His next season in MODO however was one of his top offensive production years in the SEL and it was what finally garnered overseas interest in Zuccarello. In this season (interrupted by the Olympics) Zuccarello led MODO with 64 points in 55 games. He was able to lead MODO in points while playing with players like Forsberg and Naslund. Not only did he lead his team in points but he led the entire SEL and was able to win their MVP award.
After being signed by the Rangers, and having a very impressive training camp and pre-season, Zuccarello was still assigned to the AHL in order to get better acclimated to the North American game. When he was being sent down Tortorella said that Zucc was saying all the right things in order to become a great professional. He knew he needed to learn and pay his dues, even though he was coming off an MVP season over seas Zuccarello had no problems paying his time in the AHL and learning the game. Although he got off to a slow start with the Whale, before his call up Zuccarello was absolutely on fire bringing his season totals so far in the AHL to 25 points in 33 games.
The international circuit could be considered where Zuccarello gained most of his respect, especially in the Olympic games in Vancouver. But before he was opening eyes at the Olympics Zuccarello was putting up points in the highly touted World Junior Championships. Playing for Norway’s Under-18 team twice, and then Norway’s U-20 team twice, Zuccarello was able to help provide offense to this teams.
Zuccarello also represented Norway at the World Championships where he has combined for 7 goals and 1 assist in 19 games as he has represented Norway in this tournament for the past three years.
Now the Olympic games, where my first knowledge of Zuccarello came from. I was immediately drawn in by the fact that his stick was taller than he was, and not only that but his uncanny ability to stick handle with it. Although he didn’t light the world on fire in his 4 games with Norway as he only recorded 1 goal and 3 assists, Zuccarello (along with Vikingstad) made names for themselves as the clear best players on Norway. It was what eventually led to NHL teams scouting Zuccarello and wanting him to join their organizations.
Skipping the usual NHL success section to jump right into…
Outlook 2010-2011 and Beyond:
The reason I skipped the NHL success section is due to the fact that Zucc is a rookie, and it’s basically unnecessary to have two sections dedicated to one season, so here we go.
Zuccarello has found himself a great niche on this Rangers team. He’s proved that he’s willing to do everything and he’s also showing off his offensive skill. Although he’s not the biggest guy in the world he has no problem going to the dirty areas of the ice and trying to grind and work the puck while holding possession.
And even after a slow start as he continues to learn the defensive style that Tortorella wants to play Zuccarello has not been a liability in his own zone as some skilled forwards tend to be.
He seems to be well liked in the locker room as he has mentioned Avery’s bar Warren 77 in post game interviews, and on the ice the players show a lot of emotion with each other which is always a good sign.
As far as stats Zuccarello has been impressive with 11 points (3 goals) in his first 17 games. He’s won games for the Rangers as he is now 4-4 I believe in the shootout, and he also has 1 OT winner. He also has an even +/- and no penalty minutes so far this season. Future Lady Byng winner?
As far as outlook Zuccarello is signed through next season and is a Restricted Free Agent when his contract expires. I think this kid has an insanely bright future on Broadway as he fits in with the New York mold and his play on the ice speaks for itself. There is really no identified ceiling yet of Zuccarello’s potential. He could end up exactly like Marty St. Louis and easily become the best Norwegian NHLer of all time, but this is obviously all speculation to this point.
It’s tough to think otherwise however as in his young career Zuccarello has done everything right. Not to toot my own horn but I’ve been rooting for this guy since the first game I saw him play in Vancouver, and I’m proud to say that he’s a part of the New York Rangers organization, it’s going to be a ton of fun watching him develop his NHL career.
About the Author
Written by Adam Gavriel