56° Good Evening
56° Good Evening
SportsColumnistsSteve Zipay

Mats Zuccarello hoping to 'create a spark' for Rangers

Los Angeles Kings's Justin Williams #14 vies against

Los Angeles Kings's Justin Williams #14 vies against New York Rangers's Matz Zuccarello during their ice hockey NHL season opener game at the Globe Arena. (Oct. 7, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

MONTREAL -- - If anything, Mats Zuccarello, the smallest Ranger, has a big personality.

In the crowded visitors' locker room Saturday morning after the Rangers practiced at Bell Centre, the local media flocked to the newest Blueshirt like Canada geese to a golf course.

And after a few questions, he gave them a quote they could fly with: "There are so many good players here that can fill every role, so I just have to try and play my game and work hard," Zuccarello said. "It's not like we are winning the Stanley Cup because I'm coming back, I'm not Gretzky! But I will try and create a spark."

No one expects the 25-year-old Norwegian, who had played 53 games with the Rangers over two years and 51 in the KHL this season, to be the rebirth of No. 99. Coach John Tortorella and his teammates can only hope that the Rangers -- in the precarious position of being on the playoff bubble with 14 games left in the season -- can provide some jump to a club that is dead last in scoring in the Eastern Conference.

"We'll give him some direction as far as our breakout, but we're looking for instinctive," Tortorella said. "Especially on the power play. I think he sees the ice, he's a creative player, that's what we need not only there, but five on five offensively, too."

The Rangers' leading scorer, Rick Nash, who was part of Team Canada, said: "I remember playing against him in the Olympics. He was one of the guys that we keyed on. I didn't see much in the NHL. He can bring energy and kind of a complete game."

Since the end of the KHL season, Zuccarello has been "skating every day with the national team back home, but I haven't played a game in a while, that's a little different. It's not going to take a long time to get into it. I just have to stick with the system and do what I'm told. I know almost everyone around here; I have a great relationship with most of the guys. I just have a good feeling coming in here."

Zuccarello's contract expires at the end of this season, after which he will again be a restricted free agent. He hasn't thought beyond that. "All I can do is do my job. I don't worry about that. I just have to worry about getting to the playoffs and playing every game. I would love to play better [than the last time here], but it's a good league."

Perhaps things won't change. But before Saturday, Zuccarello was the last Ranger to score against Canadiens goalie Carey Price, who had shut out the Blueshirts in his last three appearances at Bell Centre. The date was Jan. 15, 2011. And even if he didn't match that, there were at least 14 games remaining in his second run on Broadway.

A hobbit's journey

At 25, Mats Zuccarello, nicknamed the Norwegian Hobbit, has played around the world, including Saturday, rejoining the Rangers in Montreal.

Frisk Tigers, Norway, GET, 2004-2008

MODO, Örnsköldsvik, Swedish Elite League, 2008-2010

Hartford, Connecticut Whale, AHL, 2010-12

Rangers, New York, NHL, 2011-12

Russia, Mettalurg Magnitogorsk, KHL, 2012-13

Heard around...

J.T. Miller was missing a pair of dress socks after a condiment malfunction. Roommates Chris Kreider and Miller, relaxing and having post-game burgers in Ottawa, and Kreider, struggling to open a catsup package, sprayed Miller's legs, wrecking the hosiery. "I thought somebody got cut at first," Miller said. "Had to be five, six five feet away. Couldn't have aimed better if he tried. Never seen anything like it. Impressive." One decision the Rangers will make this week will be on Jesper Fast, the 21-year-old Swedish right wing, who is in New York. It'll be determined whether he'll stick or be assigned to the AHL Last lap: In the final 11 games of the season, the Rangers play teams against whom they are 8-3-1.

UMass from the past

Defenseman Conor Allen, 23, a Chicago native playing who decided to leave the University of Massachusetts-Amherst after his junior year, signed an entry-level deal on Friday. Perhaps he'll have more success than the last Blueshirt from the school, who also was a defenseman: Austria's Thomas Pock. The former Minuteman shuttled between Hartford and New York from 2003-04 to 2007-08 and played 59 games for the Islanders in 2008-09. He's currently with the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters.

Next up

Winnipeg Jets @ MSG -- Monday, 7 p.m.

New York Sports