In the eyes of head coach John Tortorella, forward Mats Zuccarello earned a spot on the Rangers roster in training camp. He showed improvement in his footspeed and his decision making with the puck, and those were the two major factors that contributed to his descendance to the AHL for a majority of last season. But still, three games into the regular season this year, Zuccarello again finds himself with the Connecticut Whale. What gives?
Well, the reason Zuccarello is in the AHL this season differs from why he was there last season. Simply put, there is just no roster space for him to stay with the team. The first three lines are completely filled with players who deserve and have earned the right to be there. That leaves only the fourth line for Zuke, which doesn't make sense on several levels.
First, Zuccarello is far too skilled of a player to be skating on the fourth line. Did you see how lost Mike Rupp looked trying to keep up with Mats on Saturday against the Islanders? Zuke doesn't fit there and I think that's been made quite obvious if you ask me.
Secondly, for a younger player, it's not healthy to be playing fourth line minutes. Zuccarello is still in the development stages of his game and to be sitting on the bench more often than not every night is not going to help him one iota. This is the reason why he was assigned to the Whale, because he will at least get the ice time that he deserves down there.
But for how long can this go on? Once Wojtek Wolski returns from his groin injury, there will be even less roster availability and Zuccarello will likely never be recalled unless the team starts experiencing additional injuries. And he is not a career AHLer either, so to keep him down there for extended periods of time does not seem very fair to me.
This is where I see opportunity knocking on the door of general manager Glen Sather. Zuccarello doesn't have much of a future here in New York, which is what I've been trying to point out so far in this article. So maybe it would be wise for Slats to pick up the phone and make it known that Mats is on the trading block. And what do the Rangers want in return? The much needed veteran defenseman they've been looking for.
Now before you jump down my throat, I am aware that Zuccarello alone will not bring in a veteran defenseman. However, I think he would if he was offered in a package with a draft pick or a prospect. Let's face it, Zuccarello is unneeded here while a replacement for Marc Staal is. Brendan Bell and Jeff Woywitka are not going to get the job done, and I think we've already begun to see that. The Rangers need a player with broader capabilities and Zuccarello is a prime candidate to use as bait.
Desperate situations call for desperate measures, and that's what the Rangers are looking at right now. As I said yesterday, offense is not the problem right now - it's the defense that we should be worried about. Here's an opportunity to get temporary aid; it would be foolish of Sather not to take advantage.