GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The back of the dark blue t-shirts that the Rangers wear at practice read: “New Team, New Talent, New Time,” a catchphrase for the upcoming season.
There also will be something else new, something very visible: Mats Zuccarello, the Norwegian dynamo, with an ‘A’ on his jersey.
The gritty forward whose passion, competitiveness and intensity — which even a brain injury after being struck by a shot in April 2015 didn’t diminish — belies his stature. The 5-8 playmaker led the Rangers in points in three of the last four seasons. That, as well as his infectious attitude off the ice, are what persuaded captain Ryan McDonagh and coach Alain Vigneault to choose Zuccarello to join Marc Staal and Rick Nash as alternate captains.
Zuccarello, 30, began with the Blueshirts when he signed as a free agent in 2010, and then played a season in Russia. He rejoined the team late in the 2012-13 season. Never in his wildest dreams did he expect to wear a letter, he said.
But those who have watched the Olympian and three-time recipient of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, know the honor is well deserved. Zuccarello, also a shootout specialist, has totaled 86 goals and 176 assists in 383 games as a Ranger.
Thursday’s opener against the Colorado Avalanche also should be memorable for Kevin Shattenkirk, the offensively-gifted defenseman who grew up in New Rochelle. He acknowledged that he would initially be jittery in front of the Garden faithful and more than 120 family members and friends.
“It’s my last chance to play my first game as a Ranger,” said Shattenkirk, 28. “I’m trying to figure out how nervous I’ll be. The first couple shifts will be tough emotionally. I’m not going to try anything spectacular. Post-game is when I’ll be able to look at the whole thing and see how cool it was.”
Henrik Lundqvist happily recalled his last two games against the Avalanche, during which he reached impressive heights. Last Dec. 31, he passed Dominik Hasek for the most wins (390) by a European goaltender in the NHL in a 6-2 victory in Denver. Then in February, he made 32 saves in a 4-2 win at the Garden for his 400th win. Only 11 other netminders have done that.
Notes & quotes: Rookie center Filip Chytil was not deployed on the power play Wednesday, and Vigneault suggested that he might skate in shorthanded situations. “I might use Filip as a penalty-killer,” he said. “He’s a good skater, he’s got quickness and we’re trying to be a little more aggressive in certain situations.” . . . Andrew Desjardins remains on a tryout as a spare center/winger. “If he gets a better offer, we’re going to let him go,” Vigneault said. “For now, he’s a good insurance policy.” . . . Jesper Fast, who practiced in a regular jersey, appears closer to joining the lineup than originally estimated. The right wing, who underwent hip surgery in June, said it is now a matter of conditioning and timing. Vigneault mentioned that “it could be a week . . . or two.”