Mats Zuccarello, the Norwegian Hobbit who lit up the Swedish Elite League, and has been on a hot streak for the Connecticut Whale, is "as creative a player as there is in that league (the AHL), for sure,” GM Jim Schoenfeld said today. “And more creative than many in this league.”
Schoenfeld chatted with Newsday and several reporters after practice this morning at CONSOL Energy Center and responded to questions about playerson the team's AHL affiliate, which I mention in our live chat at 2 p.m. Here's more on Zuke:
“He's made giant strides...He makes unexpected passes, he’ll make unexpected plays,” said Schoenfeld. “If you’re more of a meat-and-potatoes, straight-line guy (on his line), it might not be a great marriage. So what happened is, the players in Hartford that are playing with him have become more aware that a pass can be coming at any time. They’re sharpening their awareness of what to do playing with him, and he is realizing the North American game, and so he’s moved a little off of his European way, so they’re meeting more halfway.”
Schoenfeld said that if he continues to progress and raise his level of consistency, and the team has a need for a Top 9 forward, Zuccarello, who is playing on the right side with Kris Newbury and Brodie Dupont, could see some time in the NHL this season. "Tremendous hockey sense and puck-handling skills...his skating is something he's working to improve on."
As for the defenders on the Whale, who have won four straight, Schoenfeld said Ryan McDonagh, in his first year out of Wisconsin, has improved.
On McDonagh: "Every time I see him, he's a little better. His reads were good, his intelligence, his neutral zone gap. His puck handling has improved, his shot has improved; he's not going to be an offensive guy. The thing we asked him to do is when you make up your mind to finish, you finish with force, and for awhile, you're half in half out, but once you make your read to go....he's getting better in that regard. He has the power and strength and timing to be a physical force."
On Valentenko: "he a good skater, a strong skater, but the game is not a long-distance race, it's from here to that door. Those are the races you ahve to win, so it's that explosion. We've notice imporvement, he's on the line, but not where we want him to be."
Barabara Underhill, the Canadian skating coach, has been in Hartford three or four tiems working with small groups of players on techniques. Underhill has been credited with Brian Boyle's improved skating, but that's only part of the picture. ."He learned how to scrap, he took the whoile thing this summer, I don't want you think to thnik it was a magic bullet. He worked his butt off all summer to be a more complete player. He's become not a just a fourth line guy, now he's a goal scorer, he's on at important times."
Schoenfeld denied reports that forward Tim Kennedy or his agent has requested a trade. "No one asked me or Glen, I would know. He's on a one-way contract and they don't want to see him get buried there. For any player in Timmy's situation, the best thing you can do is play your (butt) off because somebody's watching you every game, whether our team or some other organization, and if we get a call, we have to evaluate whether it's a deal that makes sense to us."
Kennedy "was a guy I wanted to play with Zuccarello, we thought that we be a good fit, he hurt his groin and now you're starting behind, and he comes back and he's not quite on top of his game, and Zuccarello's moved a bit."
Goalie prospect Scott Stajcer, the fifth-round pick in 2009, has injured his hip. He is being evaluated and could need surgery.