Heading into the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, the Nashville Predators were looking to upgrade their top six forward core in preparation for another Stanley Cup run. They eventually settled on Wayne Simmonds, and traded Ryan Hartman and a conditional 2019 fourth round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for the power forward.
For the rest of the regular season, Simmonds scored only three points in 17 games with the Predators. Heading into the playoffs, he was closer to being a healthy scratch than being a viable scoring option for Nashville. In his first two games against Dallas, he managed only a single assist before missing Games 3 and 4 due to injury.
Contrast that with Dallas Stars forward Mats Zuccarello, who was acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for a conditional 2019 second round pick and a conditional 2020 third. Like Simmonds, Zuccarello had only three points in the regular season. The difference, of course, is that Zuccarello only played two games after getting injured in his Dallas debut.
In the playoffs, Zuccarello leads the Nashville-Dallas series with three goals scored. He has no assists in four games, but is nevertheless tied for second in points, ranking behind only John Klingberg (five points). What’s more, each goal has come in a different game, including the game-winner in Game 1.
If the Stars end up winning the series, Mats Zuccarello will be a big reason why. The forward has provided Dallas with some desperately needed secondary scoring alongside rookie Roope Hintz. He’s been a huge pain in Nashville’s side, and not just because he’s lighting up the scoreboard:
So, I never realized just how physical and - dare I say it - pesky Zuccarello is. He has skill the Stars need, but he's a fireplug.— Brandon Worley (@brandonworley) April 18, 2019
What’s most impressive about Zuccarello’s play, however, is how well he fits into the Stars’ lineup. Remember, he only played two games with Dallas before this playoff series due to injury — that’s not exactly much time to develop chemistry with anyone. Yet Zuccarello looks like he’s worn victory green his entire career (or at least since 2013), never looking out of place in the Stars lineup.
That will be important this offseason when Zuccarello will be an unrestricted free agent. If the Stars re-sign Zuccarello, they will send their 2020 first round pick to the Rangers instead of their third. While that condition might tempt the Stars to try to sign a different free agent forward like Jeff Skinner instead, Zuccarello is now a known commodity. They know he fits into the locker room, has chemistry with some of the players, and — most importantly — produces points.
But that’s a story for another time. For now, let’s just enjoy how great Zuccarello has been for Dallas so far. Of course, it’s quite possible I’ve now jinxed him and he’ll be a no-show for the rest of the postseason. I highly doubt it though. In fact, this might not even be his final form...
“I think there’s another level in him,” [Jim] Montgomery said. “It’s the first time he’s played four games in a row in two months. Let him get in a rhythm, let him get his hockey legs and all of that. We’re talking about a guy that’s done nothing for two months and now he’s already producing like this.”