EDMONTON, Alberta – Mats Zuccarello feels he could have played better during the regular season.
“The start was rough,” the Wild forward said. “There’s no doubt about that, and I’m the first one to admit that.”
And while he isn’t getting a do-over, Zuccarello can wrap up his first season with the team on the upswing if he contributes during the Wild’s qualifying-round series against Vancouver that starts Aug. 2 in Edmonton.
“I came here to be able to play playoff hockey, and we have a chance right now to do that,” Zuccarello said Wednesday during a video conference call. “So everything that happened before now is forgotten, so now we start the real season.”
It was only a year ago that Zuccarello was the Wild’s top offseason acquisition, with the two sides syncing up on a five-year, $30 million contract July 1 when the NHL’s free agent signing period opened for business.
But the 32-year-old right winger didn’t make an impact on the ice right away.
His first goal didn’t come until the end of October, in his ninth game of the season, and when he did produce, his points usually came in bunches.
Still, Zuccarello ended up with 15 goals (tied for the third most he’s scored in a season over the past six years) and his 37 points (in only 65 games) isn’t drastically off the pace he had during his past few seasons in New York with the Rangers where he’s spent the bulk of his NHL career.
Even so, Zuccarello believes the performance wasn’t his best.
“I’m not saying I would have 50 goals or anything like that,” he explained. “But just creating for teammates and creating more chances and stuff like that. I think it came at the end. I got more and more comfortable, got more into it.”
Although he wanted to fit in immediately, Zuccarello had to get to know his teammates and identify his niche in the group.
In New York, he was one of the oldest players and alternate captain; here, he was assimilating to a veteran squad that had its core established.
“It takes some time to know people and have people get to know you and you find your place,” he said.
Now, a year into Zuccarello’s tenure, coach Dean Evason senses that comfort level is there. The playoffs could be Zuccarello’s opportunity to make a statement with the Wild.
“We really expect some really good things of Zuccy,” said Evason, who has had Zuccarello lining up with left winger Marcus Foligno and center Alex Galchenyuk in training camp.
With 73 playoff games on his résumé, Zuccarello is one of the most experienced postseason players on the Wild’s roster.
He’s also had a knack for delivering on the NHL’s most meaningful stage, racking up four goals and 11 points in 13 playoff games last year.
Zuccarello also had four goals and three assists in 12 playoff games during his last postseason appearance with the Rangers, in 2016-17.
“To be very successful in the playoffs, you need every line going or at least every night you need to have a different line stepping up,” he said.
“You can’t win with one, not two lines. You have to have four good lines, which we have right now. That’s why I’m optimistic.”