KANATA, Ontario -- Mats Zuccarello didn't play against the Senators Thursday night, but he had a chance to watch the game.
"This is something I wanted to do when I got the chance. It was a pretty easy choice," said Zuccarello, 25, who joined the Rangers for the morning skate but was a healthy scratch after terminating his deal with the KHL's Mettalurg Magnitogorsk and signing a prorated $700,000 contract for the rest of the season. The left wing played 52 games over two seasons with the Rangers before becoming a restricted free agent -- which he will be again in June -- and opting out last summer rather than accept a qualifying offer.
Disappointed when he left New York, Zuccarello settled in with the KHL. "There were a lot of good players, skill players, and it was more physical than I thought, so it was a good experience for me to go there. I had no issues, except maybe the food was a little different," Zuccarello said.
Nor was there a language issue. "[Former NHLer] Paul Maurice was the coach, so it was the Russians who needed translators," said Zuccarello, who was 11-17-28 in 44 games and 2-2-4 in the playoffs.
Can he quickly readjust to the smaller ice surface and NHL pace? "It might take a little bit of time, but the system here is clear, so if you pick up the system, it'll come automatically," he said. "When it's time for me to play and everybody feels I'm ready, I'll get enough information and I'll be ready to play."
Once he left New York, Zuccarello never thought he'd return. "I had a great time and have some good friends here, so it's nice to come back, but I wasn't thinking about that when I left,'' he said. "When I heard there was interest, I was happy."