Should Zuccarello be top or bottom 6 when he returns to the Rangers lineup?

Zuccarello scores 2 (Getty)

Mats Zuccarello is poised to return from his injury that’s plagued him for the past few weeks. Prior to the Rangers tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning (aka Rangers-South), the Rangers were 4th in the Metropolitan division and 19th in the league with 31 points. So, since theRangers decided last season that this will be a rebuilding year we’re going to see some changes in the current lineup and overall team makeup by the end of the year, at least until the trade deadline in February.

The question then becomes when Zucc comes back, where will he fit in? It’s no secret that Zuccarello’s name has come up in trade rumors steming all the way back to last season’s trade deadline. Recently he admitted that he’s aware of the trade rumors and knows he may not be on this team next season, so do you show him off more by slotting him up top or do you give him a limited role and try to minimize his ice time so he can ease back in and try to avoid more injuries?

Looking at the current lineup, there isn’t a concrete set of guys. We’ve seen everyone get flipped throughout the lineup and it seems that Quinn shuffles his guys more than AV did. The obvious solution is to slot Zucc in his usual top 6 role, drop Strome or Chytil to the third line, Fast goes down to the 4th and either Fogarty/Belesky is back down to the AHL.

Now if that’s the case you could be stunting Chytil’s growth since in a week (or at least as it’s been reported) Buchnevich is set to return to the lineup from his broken thumb and might slot back up in the top 6 to get some good ice time and keep his confidence up. Throwing Zucc back into top line minutes isn’t something he hasn’t seen before, and he could make an impact because we all know what kind of player Mats is, but should they?

Should they rush Zucc back into high pressure situations right after he sustained this injury? It might be a good idea, especially since on Friday the Blueshirts play the Arizona Coyotes (or as I like to call them, the desert Rangers). It won’t be a challenging matchup and Zucc can gain some serious confidence back and reignite some lingering chemistry with former line mates.

More ice time usually means more scoring chances, more defensive and offensive zone time and we know Zuccarello plays both the power play and penalty kill. Slotting the hobbit in as many situations as possible is a good way to showcase his trade value, if that is the casE coming towards the end of the season. More points, ice time, experience and overall play increases the return the Rangers would get in a potential trade for the Norwegian winger.

Zuccarello could also benefit from a lesser role when he comes back. Remember that this year is “retooling” year so pushing the players is moot at this point if their final goal is to sell at the deadline, which they should be doing.  Now ‘lesser role’ doesn’t automatically mean 4th line minutes but it could mean not playing the penalty kill or possibly stepping back on the power play. If he does play bottom 6 minutes we can expect it to be with players such as Fast or Strome, letting the younger players keep their roles and gain more experience.

Knowing Zuccarello, he’ll be happy to help the team succeed and advance in any way and if that means playing fewer minutes he won’t complain. Moving on, Mats being healthy is the only way they can sell him for the highest value at the deadline, therefore playing less decreases risks of another potential injury.

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