ST. PAUL -- When Mats Zuccarello signed with the Minnesota Wild this offseason, coach Bruce Boudreau started daydreaming about his potential as a playmaker.
In Boudreau’s mind, the crafty Zuccarello was going fit perfectly on the top line, perhaps opposite a proven goal-scorer like Zach Parise.
That hasn’t happened so far.
Not only has Zuccarello failed to register a point through the opening week of the regular season, he’s a minus-4, trailing only Eric Staal on the Wild. Staal is a minus-5.
He was a liability during the 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators in the season opener, then was pretty much invisible in the 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche a couple of days later.
“I haven’t played good at all,” Zuccarello admitted. “It’s just making plays. I feel like I don’t see anyone out there. I don’t know. I’ve got to be better. I’ve been terrible.”
After spending nearly a decade with the New York Rangers, and building uncanny chemistry with his former linemates, it’s understandable that it’s taking the 32-year-old Zuccarello time to adjust to his new surroundings.
Not that he’s using that as an excuse.
“It’s more me,” he said. “It’s about finding my spot and getting comfortable with myself on the ice. I think my teammates do a really good job talking to me and giving me confidence.”
That starts with making the simple plays, which Zuccarello has struggled to do with his new team. He has opted for the flashy plays too often, almost like he was trying to prove himself to his teammates. Those attempts have rarely worked and often negated potential scoring chances.
“If you’re coming to a new team, you want to show them why they signed you, and you want to do everything in that first game,” Zuccarello said. “It’s simple plays that I normally do that right now are difficult for me. Just think positive and have confidence and make the play when it’s there.”
It probably doesn’t help that Zuccarello is extremely hard on himself. You would think he’s in the midst of a 50-game scoring drought with the way he’s talking about his play.
“You expect more from yourself,” Zuccarello said while simultaneously coming to the realization that he needs to stop overthinking. “I’ve got to relax, calm down, let the game come. I don’t have to chase it and try to do everything the first shift or make seam passes everywhere. Just make the easy plays. It just comes down to me. It has nothing with my teammates or anything. It’s straight up me.”