Wed 26 May 2010
On Wednesday the New York Rangers confirmed hockey’s worst-kept secret – The Hobbit is coming to Madison Square Garden as the Blueshirts signed RW Mats Zuccarello-Aasen to a two-year contract worth $900,000. Ranger fans will have to add MZA to their lexicon much like they added MDZ for Michael Del Zotto.
If what Damien Cox wrote in the Toronto Star (3/23/10) is true, then the Rangers beat out a group teams including the Atlanta Thrashers, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Edmonton OIlers, and Detroit Red Wings. Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported that the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs expressed interest as well.
Aftonbladet said that Rangers President/GM Glen Sather spoke with MZA in late March and invited him to visit New York to better acquaint himself with the team. In response to Sather’s interest Mats responded, “I was speechless…I’m not used to this. It’s a really big deal…. I want to go to a club that can have patience with me and believe in me. ”
The 22-year-old native of Oslo, Norway does not have your prototypical NHL body (5-foot-7 and 170 pounds on a good day), but he does possess, what Larry Brooks of the NY Post called, “world-class skills”. MZA represented Norway at the 2010 Winter Olympics Games and scored one goal and two assists in four games. As a member of the U-20 and U-18 teams, he has played 22 games and scored four goals and 12 assists.
The Rangers could not announce the signing of the Swedish Elite League (SEL) superstar until the World Championships were completed – as per the NHL’s deal with the SEL, according to Brooks. MZA lit up the SEL to the tune of a league-leading 64 points (23 goals and 41 assists) in 55 game with Modo while racking up an impressive 62 PIM for someone of his size. For his efforts, MZA won the GuldhjÃ¤lmen Award as the SEL’s Most Valuable Player. In his first year with Modo, MZA scored 12 goals and 28 assists in 35 games with 38 PIM.
Among his teammates in Sweden were former Rangers Markus Naslund and Niklas Sundstrom. According to Brooks, Naslund once again came through for the Rangers. After opening salary cap space with his NHL retirement, Naslund helped out the Blueshirts by recommending Zuccarello-Aasen to the Rangers.
While Zuccarello-Aasen can play both wings, his biggest contribution might come on the point on the power play as that was his big selling point when talk of him signing with the Rangers first surfaced.
Of course, the inevitable comparisons to Fabian Brunnstrom were made in the press. Brunnstrom made a big splash when he signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent prior to the 2008-2009. The much sought after Brunnstrom made history when he became the third player in NHL history to score a hat trick in his first game. However, it has been all downhill since. In 99 NHL games, Brunnstrom has scored 19 goals and 21 assists.
Gabe Desjardins of BehindTheNet.ca developed a formula that translates points from other leagues into an NHL Equivalency. Using Desjardins’ formula, Zuccarrello-Aasen’s 99 points in 83 SEL games would translate into about 70 NHL points.
In comparison, Brunnstrom played only one year in SEL (54 games) and scored 37 points – which translates into about 29 NHL points.
Granted, player outcomes are decided on the ice and not on paper based on mathematical formulas. However, it seems that MZA comes to the NHL with a better statistical resume than Brunnstrom. At the very least, the Rangers het a third or fourth line forward who pays for himself by injecting some life into the Blueshirts inconsistent power play.
Rangers Assistant GM/Assistant Coach Jim Schoenfeld offered his take on MZA after scouting him during the recent World Championships. MZA tallied three goals and an assist in Norway’s six games.
â€œI wanted to get a good look at him,â€ Schoenfeld told Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com. â€œHe didnâ€™t disappoint.â€
If Zuccarello-Aasen’s stellar play in the SEL does translate into NHL success, then Brooks is correct when he wrote “… the greater challenge would then fall to Blueshirts’ equipment manager Acacio Marques (an Iona College graduate like myself), who would then have to figure out how to sew the player’s name on the back of his uniform.”
Here is Mats Zuccarello-Aasen’s scouting reports from EliteProspects.com:
Assets: Fantastic technical skills and great passing ability. Can finish with aplomb. A magician who can do spectacular things with the puck. Great vision and can man the power play point. Defensively responsible and doesn’t mind heavy traffic.
Flaws: Size and strength. Not a great physical player.
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