Late Saturday night, Kris Newbury was called up to the Rangers and Mats Zuccarello was reassigned to the Connecticut Whale. According to the Rangers, the reason for Zucarello’s demotion was to get him playing time, as he was averaging only 8:25 per game in New York’s three contests, and Newbury certainly earned the promotion, but one has to wonder where the Rangers can make the best use of Zuccarello’s skill set at the NHL level given their current roster.
If Zuccarello is to play in the NHL, it must be in a top six role. He is not a checker with a scoring touch, nor will he be most effective on the fourth line getting fourth line minutes, especially when the head coach does not roll four lines consistently.
So, hypothetically, where can the Rangers play him to get him the minutes he needs to be effective? If Brandon Dubinsky worked as a top line winger with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, then there might have been room for Zuccarello on the left wing of the second line. But as it happens, the coaching staff looks like it wants to keep the “Pack line” of Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Callahan together as the second line. Because the top line needs a go to the net, hang around the crease winger, which Zucarello is not (even assuming he has the skills to be on the top line), it has effectively has left Zuccarello on the fourth line, a place where Newbury, or another player with his skill set, will be more effective than Zuccarello.
So where? Frankly, at this point, I don’t see a place for Zuccarello on the Rangers. To me, it seems that it would be best for both Zuccarello and for the Rangers to make a trade with Zuccarello going the other way. I believe that he can play at the NHL level, but the Rangers are just not a good fit for him. With New York’s obvious need for a solid two-way experienced defenseman, and their slow start, a trade should be in the works to send Zuc somewhere where he can contribute and for New York to get the piece that they need.