In praise of Mats Zuccarello

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According to NHL.com’s player database, Mats Zuccarello checks in at 67 inches tall, making him one of the six smallest players in the league.

For the Rangers, though, Zuccarello’s presence looms large.

The 26-year-old Norwegian — his country’s lone NHLer — sits second on the Blueshirts in points (35) and goals (13), and has been a major catalyst in New York’s recent turnaround.  Zuccarello has four goals and seven points in January, coinciding with the Rangers’ 7-2-1 mark and ascension to second place in the Metropolitan Division.

“I think his hockey sense is up there with the best in the league,” Derick Brassard said of Zuccarello, per the Wall Street Journal. “That’s why he’s having a lot of success. He plays bigger than his size, and he’s really strong on his stick.

“But I think the main thing is his hockey sense.”

A skillful playmaker that never really found a fit under John Tortorella, Zuccarello’s blossomed this season under Alain Vigneault — though times weren’t always good. “Zuke” had just one point through his first nine games of the season and was a healthy scratch in a late-October game versus Philly.

Since then, he’s been tough to stop. Zuccarello has 34 points in his last 41 games, all while averaging a career-high 17:17 TOI per night. He’s also drawn the admiration of his Ranger mates.

“It’s the way he sees the game,” Henrik Lundqvist told the New York Times. “He can slow it down and make that pass that opens everything up.

“He’s such a smart player.”