Call him Frodo from MoDo. The Norwegian Hobbit's next adventure will be a trip to New York.
Mats Zuccarello Aasen, a diminutive 22-year-old speedster from Oslo who put up big numbers and was named MVP of the Swedish Elite League last season, has agreed to a two-year contract with the Rangers worth $1.8 million.
“It just seems like the best opportunity for me,” Zuccarello Aasen
told Newsday in a phone call from Norway this afternoon after his signing became official. “The Rangers told me I would have a good chance to make the team and that’s what I plan to do. I’m going back to Sweden to train with MoDo (his Elite League team) and then come to New York for camp.”
Zuccarello Aasen, who has an Italian grandparent and whose nickname derives from his resemblance to actor Elijah Wood from “Lord of the Rings”, stands just 5-foot-7 without skates. But his stats have been huge.
In two seasons with MoDo, the right wing (who shoots from the left) posted 35 goals and 69 assists in 90 games. Last year, he led the league in scoring with 64 points in 55 games. He registered a goal and two assists in four games for Norway in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and three goals in six games during the recent World Championships in Germany.
On a Rangers team in need of playmaking and scoring, Zuccarello Aasen, who was pursued by several NHL clubs, including Toronto and Detroit, could be a potent asset, like players of similar stature, such as Martin St. Louis and Brian Gionta.
“The biggest difference won’t be just the (smaller) size of the rink” in the NHL, he said. “It will be adjusting to New York, but it all comes down to playing hockey. I’ve talked to a lot of players and they said the Rangers have such a great tradition and it will be a great place to play. I’m really proud they wanted me.” Among those players were former Rangers and MoDo teammates Markus Naslund and Nicklas Sundstrom.
Although Zuccarello Aasen notched 58 goals and 65 assists for 123 points in his final two years with Frisk Asker in Norway, he went undrafted, in part because of his size and the competition level in the Norwegian league. Only four Norwegians have played in the NHL, with the best-known being Espen Knudsen, who played parts of five seasons with the Mighty Ducks and Blue Jackets through 2002.
"Yeah, he was the guy I followed," Mats said.
In his conversation with Rangers GM Glen Sather, he said, the club president told him the travel was easier in New York than with Western teams, and that sentiment was echoed by Ole-Kristian Tollefson, another Oslo native, who played in Columbus and Philadelphia.
"I've never been to New York, but I'll get there a week or so before camp to get settled," he said. "Oslo's not that big of a city and I'm told New York is is in the middle of everything."