It’s amazing what a year’s time can do to a team’s makeup in personnel. Case in point the New York Rangers, who for the first time in what honestly seems like ever, are entering a legitimate youth-oriented rebuild. In looking at potential forward lines under new coach David Quinn, there is but one winger who is 30 years of age who now stands to be the veteran presence amongst these forward ranks. Many fan favorites were dealt away – believe me as a fan of the squad it still hurts. Alas, the only constant is change.
That one guy just so happens to be one of the most savvy and underappreciated fan favorites, Mats Zuccarello. The Norwegian Hobbit has become one of the most consistent point producers across the league over the past five seasons and though he’ll never be a scoring champion, it is criminal to think that once upon a time the Rangers could’ve lost him just because John Tortorella wasn’t a fan of his.
To put his consistency in perspective, over the past five campaigns the diminutive forward has averaged 56 points a year. In only one of those seasons did he fall beneath the 50-point plateau while scoring at least 15 goals in each campaign, with 150-plus shots, and playing no fewer than 77 of a total 82 regular season games. Everyone talks solely about star status players but arguably your depth is where you win championships. Reliable, steady options like the former Modo star are the types of players that bring forth fantasy titles. What you are getting in a player like Zuccarello is someone you can trust year in and year out in his prime to give you a 50-point campaign seeing healthy ice time both at even strength and a man up. With him in particular it is not out of question to consider utilizing a keeper slot on him for more owners need to covet said consistency than potential ceilings. Much in the mold of a Derek Stepan as far as what he brings to the table, I’d rather own a roster from top to bottom with guaranteed 50-point assets than one where the building scheme was one of high-ceiling potential. I guarantee the first option always beats the secondary one for its consistency that always outdoes scoring streaks.
Well that’s in the past on more competitive teams, so what will he do for me now? A valid question on what will surely be considered a spotty team. Above is what I see as the potential lines in the coming year and while the defense (not listed) is indeed spotty, the forward depth is not terrible if you ask me. David Quinn will instill an up-tempo style in the Rangers game plan which is right in the wheelhouse of every one of these players. If Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson acclimate quickly, the bottom six will make it very difficult on defensive assignments. Chytil is incredibly slick and already producing offensively at a young age in the AHL. Mika Zibanejad holds this team’s fortunes in his hands. Now 25 years old, he must break out finally as a bonafide number-one center with Chris Kreider matching that and fulfilling his potential to be one of the more dominant power forwards in the league.
Looking to advanced statistics, Zuccarello’s 2017-18 was much in line with seasons’ past, save a couple of categories. For one, his CF% was meager at 46%. This was a squad that sold off major assets and it was expected that because they were no longer a strongly competitive squad, possession would not be in their favor. Zuccarello’s PDO was below 1000 for the first time since 2011-12, which speaks very positively to the Norwegian actually, in that he was not getting lucky and his production was more so a showcase of his true abilities. Seeing his lowest offensive zone starting percentage since 2011-12 as well, his third straight season above the 50-point plateau cements his place as a more than competent NHL winger.
Zuccarello saw a smorgasbord of line combinations throughout 2017-18 yet was still able to post another solid offensive season. Never to be mistaken for a superstar forward for fantasy purposes, the Oslo native is what one can quantitate as an elite complimentary piece. For many a season in my keeper setting, I was lucky enough to roster mighty mite and in each of those campaigns I went to the title round. Though he is not the sole reason for my appearance at the big dance, he more than played a large role in getting there.
If on the fence in a deeper setting about keeping him, don’t be. Do not fear age 31, as he has much left in the tank with him only playing five full seasons to this point in time. Hunger for a championship does not begin to speak to Zuccarello’s love of the game and his ability goes far beyond the big stick he carries. Though the Rangers will not likely contend for a cup this year, Zuccarello will be looked to heavily to lead the way for many a young player on this greener squad. Count on yet another solid season for the feisty little guy and let him help you attain fantasy glory at the end of the campaign.
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