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Zuccarello wants to learn so he can play

TAMPA, Fla. - He's played in Norway, Sweden and the AHL, and now Mats Zuccarello wants to learn as much as he can to stick in the NHL.

After playing less than seven minutes in a 3-1 victory over the Devils in the final game of 2010, the speedy 5-7 winger asked the Rangers' coaching staff to show him videos to dissect his defensive play.

"I didn't play much when we had a one-goal lead, and I told them, 'I want to know what you're not happy with and what I can do better,' " Zuccarello, 23, said before playing 12:33 in his fourth NHL game, a 2-1 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night.

Adjusting to the North American game, with its narrower rinks, and particularly to the Rangers' system, hasn't come as quickly as he hoped, although he scored 23 points in his last 21 games with the Rangers' farm team, the Connecticut Whale.

From the videos, Zuccarello said, he learned he "can play closer to the boards, to be in position to pick up loose pucks, just details like that. I want to get more playing time. To me, it's more important to help out there. You want to know the system, to adjust, so your linemates don't get insecure with you out there."

Zuccarello skated on left wing with Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan in the win over New Jersey, but Saturday night, in the opener of this two-game Florida trip, Zuccarello was back on right wing, his natural position, with Alex Frolov on the left side and Artem Anisimov at center.

In his NHL debut Dec. 23, against the Lightning at Madison Square Garden, Zuccarello - who was signed to a two-year deal last May - played 17:52 and scored in the shootout. He recorded his first NHL point with an assist on the final goal in the 7-2 rout of the Islanders on Dec. 27.

Coach John Tortorella has made no long-term NHL commitment to Zuccarello, whom he has called intelligent and coachable, beyond the next few games.

"He's improved, but I'm not sure where it all goes right now with him," Tortorella said Saturday. "You can see his skill. Where I really like him is in tight, in close, situations where he can make a play and other people can't. He has some vision, you can see his offensive instincts.

"Where it goes, as far as where he fits with the team, I'm not exactly sure, because we're pretty banged up [with Ryan Callahan and Erik Christensen injured] and I want to play Gabby with Stepan and Dubi. We're going to allow him to play and then make our judgment: Does he stick with us, or does he still need some work in the minors?"

Tortorella did say Zuccarello "certainly hasn't hurt himself in the games that he's played in. I only used him seven or eight minutes [7:36 in New Jersey] because we were brutal early on and I changed things around and kind of lost things in the rotation.

"A young guy's gonna have to live through that when you're struggling through a game. He's going to play some more games here and we'll see where he can help us, or if he can, right now. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself in his development in trying to force him."

New York Sports