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Mats Zuccarello would like long-term deal with Rangers

New York Rangers' Mats Zuccarello dives during the

New York Rangers' Mats Zuccarello dives during the first period of an NHL game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. Credit: AP / Karl B DeBlaker

ANAHEIM, Calif. - With 1:16 remaining in regulation last week, the Rangers' net was empty and with Dallas leading 3-2, Stars center Cody Eakin looked up and saw a chance to ice the game.

The only player between Eakin and the goal was diminutive Mats Zuccarello, on one knee and holding his stick like a goaltender in the slot in front of the barren crease.

The Norwegian winger, known more for his creative passing and shootout skills, blocked Eakin's wrister. The Blueshirts would lose, but a few days later, Zuccarello was still grinning about the save.

"I always wanted to be a goalie," Zuccarello before the Rangers played the Ducks Wednesday night. "A dream come true right there."

For Zuccarello, who also has played in the Swedish Elite League, the KHL and the AHL and represented Norway in the Winter Olympics, the dream at age 27 is for some stability and a longer-term deal with the Rangers, the team for whom he has played since 2010.

A restricted free agent, Zuccarello, who had 19 goals and 40 assists in 77 games last season and went 5-8-13 in the playoffs, was scheduled to have an arbitration hearing July 25. But he and the club agreed to a one-year, $3.5-million contract, which makes him an unrestricted free agent this summer.

After Jan. 1, one-year players can sign extensions, but the Rangers are juggling cap space, both currently and long-term. And their pending free agents include six top players: Marc Staal and Martin St. Louis are unrestricted, and Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast are restricted.

"If they want me . . . I haven't heard anything, so I don't know," Zuccarello said. "It's too early to worry about it, I'm just focusing on the next games. If they don't have room for me, I'll be somewhere. Next year, I think I'll play somewhere; where it is, I don't know. I hope it's here, that would be the best thing for sure, but it's not up to me, all I can do is play hard."

After a slow start, Zuccarello has six goals and 14 assists in 34 games, well behind last year's pace. He is 2-for-5 in shootouts and an outstanding 11-for-24 in his career.

With his assist on Miller's power-play goal on Dec. 29, he became the all-time leader in NHL points by a Norwegian player, surpassing Espen Knutsen, who scored 111 in 207 games. Zuccarello scored his 112th in 176 games.

Knutsen, 42, told Norwegian tabloid VG that he thought Zuccarello was a role model for young players and foresaw a long NHL career. Whether that continues with the Rangers is unclear.

"This is my team, this is where I've been my whole NHL career," Zuccarello said. "I've got all my friends here. Figure it out: This is for sure where I want to stay. I feel like I've played well."

His line, with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash, is "playing against a first line almost every game, so I also take pride in my defensive play," Zuccarello said. "I just try to go out and work hard every night, that's the mindset I have. It wouldn't change if I had a longer deal."

But a multiyear deal is clearly Zuccarello's desire. "I would like them to have faith in me for longer years," he said. "I've had one-year deals for a long time now, so it'd be nice to get some stability."

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