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Zuccarello hopes for trade resolution with Rangers soon

Forward thriving despite uncertainty, has 18 points in his past 13 games

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello is in wait and see mode with 15 days remaining until the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET. The New York Rangers forward, in the final season of a four-year contract, is staying calm and playing well, but he'd really like to know if he's going to be traded, and to what team.

"I just wish sooner rather than later, just to clarify it," Zuccarello told NHL.com prior to the Rangers' 4-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.

"But I'm here now. I'll play my hardest and do my best. That's all I can control."

 

[RELATED: 2018-19 NHL Trade Tracker]

 

The expectation is that Zuccarello will be traded because he's a 31-year-old who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and the Rangers, seven points out of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, are one year into a rebuilding project focused on getting younger and quicker.

Even though Zuccarello a fan favorite and the game against Toronto was his 504th in an NHL career spent entirely with the Rangers, it's unlikely that he fits into New York's plans beyond this season.

Zuccarello knows this. He knew it at this time last season, when the Rangers announced publicly they were going to rebuild and a few weeks later traded defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Nick Holden, and forwards J.T. Miller, Rick Nash and Michael Grabner in four separate trades.

Video: TBL@NYR: Zuccarello nets wrister in 500th NHL game

There was speculation Zuccarello could be moved in the offseason. He wasn't, but he wasn't re-signed either. 

However, Zuccarello, who has 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists) in 41 games, is making the most of his difficult situation, playing his best hockey of the season right at the time trade speculation around him has picked up. 

Zuccarello has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 13 games since Jan. 8. He had points in 10 consecutive games he played before getting shut out in the Rangers' 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.

"I think it tells you what a lot of people already knew around here; how mentally tough he was, how driven he was, how competitive he was, what a great teammate he was, and is," Rangers coach David Quinn said. "All those things are is."

It's not surprising either that Zuccarello's season started to turn last month. It was then, when the Rangers were on the road to play the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 8, Zuccarello had a long talk with Quinn.

He laid out his feelings and the reasons why he was struggling in the first half with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) through 28 games. Zuccarello also missed 13 games because of injuries. 

Video: NYR@CBJ: Zuccarello lights lamp off face-off win

"The whole situation, everything, I kind of let it get to me a little bit more than I should have," Zuccarello said. "I was thinking about it too much and just being negative and just wasn't myself." 

So, Zuccarello spoke to Quinn, who responded with positivity and encouragement, telling Zuccarello how much he likes him and how neither of them is in control of what general manager Jeff Gorton might do, so they might as well try to win as many games as they can together for as long as they can.

"It's all my fault to let it get to me, but at the end of the day I'm a human being with feelings," Zuccarello said. "It was a little bit of a tough time and I made it tougher on myself, but it's all good now."

It is, partially, because Zuccarello is trying to keep his mind in the present instead of thinking about the future and where he might be playing after Feb. 25. 

"I don't read the news," he said.

He still can't shield himself from friends, family and fans asking and sometimes telling him where he might be going. That happens often.

"I signed a picture the other day for a fan in New Jersey who was in the hotel," Zuccarello said. "He said, 'Hey, can you sign this?' I said, 'Sure.' And he says, 'I need you to get this signed before you go to Calgary.' I'm like, 'What? Whoa.' I had another guy tell me, 'Good luck because it's cold up there.' You just learn to ignore that because it's new stuff every day."

Keeping perspective helps, Zuccarello said.

"At the end of the day, we live a really good life," he said. "We're NHL players. No matter where you play in this league, you're living the dream, you're playing in the NHL. We're privileged to be able to do what we love as a job. So you just have to deal with it."

For a little while longer.

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