Rangers must decide how to replace Mats Zuccarello's offense

Mats Zuccarello skates during a game against the

Mats Zuccarello skates during a game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Photo Credit: Getty, 2011

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Derek Dorsett might have been the happiest Ranger after Saturday's on-ice testing and drills and a few bumps with teammates in practice.

The fearless forward, who has been sidelined with a broken leg since Jan. 3, reported no pain and targeted Thursday's game against Chicago for his return, the first game for the Rangers after the Olympic break.

Dorsett, who has watched Daniel Carcillo fill in capably on the fourth line after his acquisition in a trade with Los Angeles shortly after the injury, is impatient by nature and is jumping at the chance to pull on his regular No. 15 jersey.

"If it was up to me, I would've played three weeks ago," said Dorsett, who added that his leg feels "leaps and bounds" better than during his first skate three days ago.

Without Mats Zuccarello -- who broke his left hand in the Olympics and is expected to miss five or six games -- coach Alain Vigneault's plan, barring a setback, is to put Dorsett in the lineup Thursday and not summon a forward from Hartford.

"If there's a chance Dorse can play, then we have 12 healthy forwards, so we'll probably stay that way," Vigneault said Saturday. "If there's a chance that he may not play, then when [general manager Glen Sather] gets back, we'll figure out what we're going to do . . . He'll have contact on Monday. I think it's just a matter of how he feels conditioning-wise more than anything else."

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The drawback is that Dorsett, 27, won't provide anywhere near the scoring that Zuccarello (43 points) brings.

The Norwegian winger skated on the third line with Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot, and Vigneault could insert Dorsett there. It's also possible that Brian Boyle could be moved up, and Dorsett, who has five points and 103 penalty minutes, could join Dom Moore and Carcillo on the fourth line.

Still, it's unclear how long the Rangers (32-24-3, sixth in the Eastern Conference) will go without adding some short-term offense. The AHL candidates include J.T. Miller, who has played 25 games with the Rangers this season, and Jesper Fast, who made the team in camp and has produced well with Hartford since returning from a high ankle sprain.

Notes & quotes: Marc Staal sat out his second straight practice for treatment of back spasms. Vigneault said Staal's back "seized up" Thursday, but "usually that's a couple of days. I can't see anything major."

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