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Zuccarello ready for 'new start' the postseason will provide

Wild forward was at his most effective in the final games before COVID-19 paused the 2019-20 season

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- For the first time in his NHL career, Mats Zuccarello was truly calling a place other than New York City his North American home. 

Sure, there was the trade that sent him from the New York Rangers -- the only team he had ever known in the League -- to the Dallas Stars. But he didn't have much time to reflect on that move. 

"I think going to Dallas, it was a midseason, go on the day, no thinking kind of mentality coming in," Zuccarello said. "Coming here, it was a new fresh start with a team that I admired for a long time and hated playing against and thinks it should be in the playoffs every year."

It's been more than a year since Zuccarello signed a five-year contract with the Wild, uprooting both his personal and professional life and laying down new roots for the first time. 

Nobody could have forecasted the year that has transpired, including the COVID-19 stoppage that halted what was his first season in a Wild uniform, one that Zuccarello said hasn't lived up to his own standards.

Zuccarello topped 50 points in each of his final three full seasons in New York and in four of his past five there overall (he finished with 49 points in the other). He had 37 points when the Rangers traded him to the Stars at the trade deadline and posted a goal and an assist in his Dallas debut, a game in which he broke his arm and missed more than a month of action.

Had that injury not happened, he likely would have been over 50 points last season too. 

Tweet from @mnwild: Just Mats being Mats. 😄#mnwild | #LetsPlayHockey pic.twitter.com/QYv5esjcjR

His first season in Minnesota, however, was a big-time adjustment. Coming from New York, where he was a veteran alternate captain on a young team, Zuccarello had to adjust to playing on a more veteran club with a leadership structure already in place.

It wasn't easy. 

"You don't have the same mindset or the place on this team that you had on the former team," Zuccarello said. "It takes some time to get to know people and have them get to know you and you find your place where you fit in. I think that's just normal."

That adjustment took its toll on the ice too, as Zuccarello posted just 37 points in 65 games. In that regard, Zuccarello is his own toughest critic.

"In terms of individual play, it has not been the best in my view," he said. "I think every player reflects on their season and their play and judges themself. Everyone else can judge you but nobody will judge you as hard as yourself. There's no question in my mind that I could have been better. I'm not saying I would have 50 goals or anything like that, but just creating for teammates and creating more chances, stuff like that, I think it came at the end. 

"I got more and more comfortable as I got into it, but the start was rough, there's no doubt about that, and I'm the first one to admit that. But as long as you know yourself and you know what you can work on, hopefully that's going to be better."

Wild coach Dean Evason agreed with Zuccarello's assessment regarding his play late in the season before the shutdown, noting that he was at his best and most effective in a Wild uniform on the team's trip to California.

"It takes some time. He was a very popular figure in New York and he's bounced a couple of times since then," Evason said. "He's a very personable guy, very team-first game. And it may have taken a bit of time to get comfortable amongst his teammates. He's very comfortable, not complacent, but comfortable around his teammates. We expect some really good things of [Zuccarello] for sure."

Nobody expects more of himself than Zuccarello, however. He views the upcoming best-of-5 qualifying series against the Vancouver Canucks -- and anything that might follow -- as a new beginning. Now more familiar with his place in the dressing room, his place in the lineup and fully healthy, Zuccarello is hoping for big things over the remainder of the summer.

"I look at it as a new start. I came here to be able to play playoff hockey and we have a chance right now to do that," Zuccarello said. "Everything that happened before is now forgotten and now we start the real season."

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