He’s most known for being Kirill Kaprizov’s go-to wing partner so it was only fitting he be the second to receive his report card after Kaprizov’s. He finished the season third among Wild players for scoring and set new career-highs in both assists and points, unfortunately, he just missed out on goals, and that player was Mats Zuccarello. His career-high in goals is 26, the number he made it to this season was 24.
At the age of 34, it wouldn’t be surprising if his game started to slip, however, it did the opposite this season. Being paired with Kaprizov brought a whole new youthfulness to his game, as he kept up with his linemate’s speed and puck handling skills with ease. Besides his age, he’s on the smaller side for players at 5-foot-8 and 181 pounds, but he never let any of that stop him from being successful.
Zuccarello A Perfect Match
If the name Zuccarello was called this entire season, it was expected that you’d hear Kaprizov right after or vice versa. These two were nearly attached at the hip and seemed to be together all the time which worked out great for the Wild as they set up many goals this season. He originally broke the franchise record for most assists in a single season but held it for only a little bit until his linemate, Kaprizov snuck past him.
He played 70 games, the other 12 were missed due to injury or illness and in those 70 games, he scored 24 goals and 55 assists for 79 points. Prior to this season, his highest point total was 61 nearly six seasons ago and went down from there until this season. He found a perfect wing partner and they’ve had incredible chemistry that basically rejuvenated Zuccarello’s career. It wasn’t all Kaprizov either, he pulled his own weight and did his best to help make his partner-in-crime better as well.
His work on the power play can’t be ignored either. While the Wild’s power play struggled off and on, he was a major part of its success. He had 28 points right behind Kaprizov and seven were goals. Clearly, he had a great regular season with some bumps here and there like everyone else, though.
Zuccarello’s Decent Postseason
Zuccarello had four points in the postseason that landed him third amongst Wild players, not a terrible performance but obviously could’ve been better. He, along with his teammates didn’t seem to have the same level of competition as his linemate Kaprizov did. It could’ve been because he just returned from an injury right at the end of the regular season, but the Wild needed him to match the level of his linemate.
Similar to his teammate, there was one area that he could’ve really improved on and that was shots on goal. He had nine while Kaprizov had 27. Zuccarello had the pass first, shoot second mentality, and it really took a toll on their scoring. More than once he had some prime scoring opportunities only to pass instead of taking the shot. If he can work on taking the shot first, that’ll be a major step for next season.
It wasn’t all bad, as he did have flashes of good performances that included three takeaways and three blocked shots. Zuccarello was a good mentor for Kaprizov when it came to his experience in the postseason as well. This was his 10th time in the playoffs, so he knew what it took to stay composed and find that next level of play even if he didn’t show it very often.
Zuccarello’s Final Grade
Zuccarello’s regular-season play was nearly enough to earn him an A+ but the postseason does have to be factored in. As stated above, he wasn’t terrible but he wasn’t his normal self either. He has to be docked some for not taking more shots on goal as well as not committing as much defensively as he maybe could have. The same was said about Kaprizov in his report card. While none of these are bad things, they are just items to focus on and get better at.
He did have quite a big factor in how Kaprizov’s season went due to their chemistry. We all know he would’ve been successful no matter what, but it’s possible he wouldn’t have reached these numbers had he not been with Zuccarello. So, he gets some bonus points for that and his lower penalty numbers have to be taken into account as well. He made sure to be on the ice as much as he could when his team needed him.
The biggest item would have to be how Zuccarello turned his career around this season. His numbers were on the decline as would be normal at this point in his career, but he found a way to revive himself and do so on the top line. He scored 79 points and attempted to set some franchise records before his teammates snuck away with them. While it wasn’t the postseason everyone hoped for, the blame shouldn’t fall solely on him.
Overall he’s earned an A- just like his linemate Kaprizov. He has goals to work on over the offseason but he also did very well during the regular season. If Zuccarello can continue this production level, the top line for the Wild will have another great season and hopefully have a better outcome in next year’s playoffs.
Mariah Holland is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.