Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said while the letter on the jersey is new, Mats Zuccarello has long been a player the Blueshirts have looked up to for what he brings to the team both on and off the ice.
"He's huge. He's a wise talker in the room but he keeps it loose at the right times," McDonagh said of Zuccarello, who on Wednesday joined Rick Nash and Marc Staal as alternate captains. "He's got a good feel for where a lot of guys are at with their game and where our team is always at there and how we need to improve as a group."
On the ice, McDonagh said the Norwegian's attitude and determination inspires the squad, especially Zuccarello's fellow forwards.
"Certainly on the ice, his play speaks for itself," McDonagh added. "The rest of the guys definitely take note of that. The way he's fearless out there, competes and blocks shots and goes to hit guys twice his size. It gives you a lot of motivation and enthusiasm for our forward group."
Despite it being one of the most anticipated games of his life, Kevin Shattenkirk said Thursday has gone unusually normal as he prepares for his first game as a Ranger.
"For me, I'm just happy with how this morning has gone. It feels like a regular morning skate, another gameday," said the New Rochelle native.
That, though, is expected to change at around 6:30 pm.
"I think really until tonight when we step out for warmups will I start to realize what's going on," Shattenkirk said. "Just be happy about it. It's going to be a fun night. Get the nerves out of the way early and make sure after the first couple shifts that I'm just starting to play my game and help us win a game."
Shattenkirk is expecting about 120 family and friends to be in attendance tonight. And while some players shy away from playing for the team they grew up following, Shattenkirk is embracing it.
"Just knowing this year, the entire year, there's going to be a lot of people watching and supporting and criticizing," he said with a smile. "It's going to be a new wrinkle in things and a fun wrinkle."
While it's just been preseason, head coach Alain Vigneault said the 28-year-old defenseman has been as advertised.
"Everything we've heard about him from St. Louis, from his short time in Washington, had been extremely positive about him being a team-first guy," Vigneault said. "I think he's definitely proved that in coming here … [Taking] less term, less money, he comes to his hometown team and he wants to be counted on. He wants to be the guy. I think that says a lot about his mental makeup. I know he's going to be a little nervous at the beginning there. Good excitement, good nerves. Our whole group is going to be that way. We're really looking forward to puck drop tonight."
New York's youngest defenseman Tony DeAngelo will make his Blueshirts debut alongside veteran Marc Staal, and the 21-year-old is looking forward to skating alongside a player with the experience of No. 18.
"I think I can learn a lot from him on the D side," he said. "Even in practices, his gap control and stuff, he knows what he's doing. I think that will help me a lot, too. Looking forward to it and we'll get some chemistry as we go along here."
The pair has been together for one preseason game and a handful of practices, but DeAngelo's strong play, especially with the puck, has impressed Staal early in his tenure on Broadway.
"I've played with a lot of different guys. I've only played that one game with him, but seeing him in practice I think he can do things with the puck that you're not expecting, the forwards are not expecting him to do," he said. "That's what makes him dangerous. I'm sure he's excited and I'm excited to start playing with him throughout the year. Hopefully we work really well together."
Vigneault said it was difficult to know that Filip Chytil was hours away from playing in his first NHL at Madison Square Garden, as the 18-year-old looked loose and comfortable at the morning skate. Sometimes, the bench boss said, that's a good thing.
"I looked at him skating around the ice today, I don't know if he knows that this is our first game," Vigneault said with a laugh. "He was just smiling, having a great time soaking it all in.
"Kids sometimes you don't know the pressure that you're under and you just go out and play," he added. "It seems that's the way he was this morning. Probably didn't expect to be here for game one and here he is. He's having a blast and hopefully he can play well for us."