With the 2019 NHL Entry Draft now behind us, the focus of Ken Holland is firmly on both free agency and trade negotiations. Holland has been busy in both regards in the past few days. One name connected to Edmonton? That of free agent winger Mats Zuccarello.
Zuccarello was Edmonton’s top target to enhance their wing depth in December and early January when GM Peter Chiarelli was fighting for his job. The Oilers quickly fell out of the race, and paying the price to acquire the rental winger wasn’t an option. Expectation is there will be interest now that the speedy winger is bound for free agency.
Why Is He Out There?:
Zuccarello entered the free agent courting period on Sunday to the surprise of many. He scored eleven points in 13 games for the Stars during their playoff run, and added an element of speed and skill to their secondary scoring lines. For a team that wants to win now, he was a great fit.
Contract talks were pretty consistent between the sides all spring, but they simply could not close the gap. The belief is that Dallas isn’t looking to go long-term with Zuccarello. After all, he is 31 years-old and will be 32 before the season starts.
Zuccarello is listening to the pitches of other teams currently, as Dallas did not meet his contract demands early in the process.
What Does He Do Well?:
If Edmonton wants to address their lack of speed up front, this is certainly one way to do it. Zuccarello is a fast train and one of the few guys in the NHL that I believe can keep up with Connor McDavid on a regular basis. He’s only 5’8″ and 184 pounds, but the crafty veteran makes up for it with his elusiveness and ability to make guys miss.
Zuccarello is a skill forward, there is no doubt about that. He’s more playmaker than sniper, but has consistently scored 15-20 goals a season since the 2013-14 campaign with the Rangers.
Zuccarello’s 2018-19 season was bizarre. He admitted early in the season that he was struggling with the trade rumors on a rebuilding Ranger team. Once he got that off his back and cleared his mind, Zuccarello started to play like his old self. He ended up dressing in 46 games for New York and finished with 37 points (11-26-37) prior to his deadline deal to Dallas.
Unfortunately for Zuccarello, he was hurt right away and only played in two regular season games with the Stars. He posted three points (1-2-3).
For the most part, Zuccarello has been a very strong possession player during the course of his career. In his 46 games with the Rangers, he posted a Corsi For percentage of 48.8% at five-on-five. That’s not great, but was a +3.7% Rel on a poor team in the midst of a rebuild.
In Dallas, with better skill around him, Zuccarello posted a 56.3% CF%. That was +8% relative to teammates. He thrived with the Stars in his two regular season and 13 playoff games.
All numbers via hockey-reference.
Here’s a look at Zuccarello’s scouting report via The Sports Forecaster.
Is a great passer and one of the most gifted hockey players his country has ever produced. Is very creative with the puck and has plenty of offensive ability. Uses a long stick to give him a reach advantage. Is woefully small by National Hockey League standards, so he can wear down physically over the course of 82 games (and injuries can be an issue). Also needs more work on his defensive game.
Long Range Potential: Diminutive but creative and excellent playmaker.
Where Should He Play / Where Will He Play?:
The crafty right winger (who is a left-shot) is certainly still a top-six forward at the NHL level. After his slow start with the Rangers, he proved that yet again in 2018-19. On a contending team, he’s likely your second line right winger.
In Edmonton, Zuccarello would no doubt be the top right wing on the club immediately. He could form a dynamic trio with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the top line, or he could comfortably slide in on Edmonton’s second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
What Will He Cost:
At 31 years-old, this is likely Zuccarello’s last real payday in the NHL. He’ll also see a raise on his $3,150,000 AAV. I could see Zuccarello getting three or four years on the open market, with an AAV around $4,000,000 being the ask. I think the money is right on, and the term wouldn’t be too bad if you could get the deal at three years.
Of course, signing a contract that looks fair in free agency almost never happens.
The Oilers like this player and they will try and talk to him at some point this week. He’s a veteran leader that brings speed, skill and some creativity to a forward group that is lacking all of those things. He’s a little older than I’d like, but Zuccarello would fill a big hole in Edmonton’s top-six forward group and make the team better upon arrival.
Expect to hear some chatter surrounding Zuccarello-to-Edmonton this week.