Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello, who last spring was hospitalized with a fractured skull after being struck by a shot and has returned this season to score 24 goals and 57 points, has been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the New York chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
The trophy is awarded annually to an NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.
The 28-year-old Norwegian was hit by Ryan McDonagh’s slap shot last April 24 in Game 5 of the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against Pittsburgh and suffered bleeding on the brain and lost his ability to speak for four days.
In his initial stages of recovery, Zuccarello’s thoughts were far from resuming his career.
“First I was focusing on just getting better and hockey was not No. 1 in my mind,” he said on a conference call Monday. “The guys were in the playoffs, and I was watching every game. Then after talking with the doctors [and hearing he might make progress], my No. 1 thought was, ‘When I’m going to be back and play again?’ I told myself maybe I could be ready if we made the Finals. I don’t think there was any chance of that. The injury was too serious, but that was the goal: I had to stay positive.
“This summer, I took some extra time off. My training didn’t go as good as the last couple years, but my No. 1 goal was to be 100 percent healthy and have no issues.”
Asked if he had any flashbacks while playing this season, Zuccarello said: “I don’t feel like I think about it. I feel like I’m playing on my instinct the same way I did before. People talk about me having a good year. Obviously, I’ve scored more goals. I think I could be more consistent. That’s what I’m going to work on, get a full summer of working out and being stronger, hopefully, next year.
“But being injured like that and coming back, for sure it’s good to be on a good team, I get a lot of help from my teammates and the team and staff that’s believed in me and helped me. I have a lot to say thank you for.”
Zuccarello’s 57 points this season are second-most on the team.
PHWA chapters announced nominees for each team Monday. Rangers forward Dominic Moore won the trophy in 2014.