The Rangers took care of another important piece to their puzzle on Tuesday, agreeing to terms with popular forward Mats Zuccarello on a new contract. By doing so the two sides avoided an arbitration hearing which was scheduled for later this week.
Already this summer the Rangers have signed four of their own restricted free agents: defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Justin Falk, and forwards Carl Hagelin and Zuccarello. Center Derek Stepan is the last remaining RFA that needs to be signed by the club this summer. The Blueshirts also added forward Danny Kristo in a trade with Montreal this off-season, and signed unrestricted free agents Dominic Moore, Benoit Pouliot, and Aaron Johnson.
The soon-to-be 26 year-old winger will be entering his fourth season in the Rangers organization in 2013-14. He has appeared in 67 games at the NHL level with the Rangers, totaling 11 goals and 34 points in that span. Last year he played with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL---posting 11-17-28 numbers in 44 games---before signing with the Blueshirts on March 28th. Zuccarello helped spark the Rangers drive to the post-season by recording eight points (3-5-8) in the final 15 games of the season.
During the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs Zuccarello proved even more valuable to the Rangers, ranking second on the team with seven post-season points and six playoff assists, in 12 games. Only Derick Brassard had more assists and points for the Rangers during last spring's playoffs.
Zuccarello, who had been playing well down the stretch for the Rangers during the 2012-13 season, as well, missed the entire 2012 post-season because of a fractured wrist he suffered blocking a shot against the Buffalo Sabres. When he then decided to sign with Metallurg in the summer of 2012, it seemed as though that fateful blocked shot could be his last act wearing the Blueshirt. But now a whole new chapter has been created in Zuccarello's Rangers career.
Tuesday afternoon, Zuccarello tweeted from his @Zuccarello36 account, "Really excited to still be a part of the Rangers! Now off to New York to prepare for the season".
This will be a big year for Zuccarello in many areas, not the least of which is his anticipated participation playing for Noraway in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. During the 2010 games, Zuccarello made a name for himself in North America with a strong three-points-in-four-games showing with Norway, the same year he won the Swedish Elite League's scoring title and MVP honors.
How do you feel about the return of Mats Zuccarello to the Rangers? Share your thoughts below.