Updated: September 25, 2013 12:01 AM
By STEVE ZIPAY firstname.lastname@example.org
EDMONTON, Alberta - When the Rangers arrived in Western Canada last week, Mats Zuccarello was poking around in the Banff Recreational Center locker area and unearthed an artifact.
"It was an old blue Jofa helmet with a 99," Zuccarello said. "Maybe one of [Wayne] Gretzky's, I guess, so I decided to try it on. It was pretty cool, I walked around with it and the guys were really giving it to me."
But Zuccarello didn't go near the ice.
"Oh no, I didn't have the [guts] to do that," he said with an impish grin.
No one would mistake the diminutive winger for the Edmonton and NHL icon, but the scene illustrates the humor Zuccarello has brought to the club in his second stint with the Rangers. In practice Monday, his exaggerated scoring celebrations led to goaltender Martin Biron aiming pucks at him.
Comic intentions aside, Zuccarello helped the Rangers secure a playoff spot last season after his KHL season finished, going 3-5-8 in 15 games, then 1-6-7 in 12 playoff games. He hopes to far surpass those numbers in a full season -- and contribute to another Blueshirts playoff appearance.
Tuesday night, Zuccarello fed Marc Staal for a first-period goal in the Rangers' 5-3 loss to the Oilers. J.T. Miller scored in his first game of the preseason but the Rangers dropped their third of four games and face former coach John Tortorella in Vancouver on Thursday.
Last week in Philadelphia, Zuccarello set up center Derick Brassard's goal in the second period in a 3-2 Rangers win and had three shots in 14:58, including 3:28 on the power play. That pair, joined by left wing Benoit Pouliot, was impressive, and was getting a second opportunity against the Oilers. Pouliot assisted on Dan Girardi's third-period goal.
"Poulie has good speed and can shoot, and me and Brass are kind of the same player, trying to make plays," said Zuccarello, who signed a $1.15-million deal during the summer. "[The coaches] are telling us to shoot more, but we know that. Sometimes, we can pass a little too much, I think. But I'm really happy to play with those guys."
Zuccarello, who is 6-for-12 in shootouts, had 11 goals and 34 points in 67 games over the last three seasons since signing as a free agent in May 2010.Along with the team dinners and charity work, Zuccarello enjoyed the scenic landscape in Banff, where the Rangers practiced for four days, and said it reminded him of home, "if you go up in the north in Norway."