It’s a pretty good problem to have when one of the key reasons a stud defensive prospect could be hesitant to join your team is because he’s afraid he wouldn’t be able to supplant the club’s current top-four defensemen and play significant minutes.
But the Rangers are so stacked with Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto that coveted 21-year-old unrestricted free agent Justin Schultz, who supposedly wants major responsibility from the start, may be unwilling to sign with New York.
And what if the Rangers could add Michael Sauer back into the mix?
The 24-year-old has been out since December with a severe concussion, but at the draft GM Glen Sather said that Sauer is “feeling better” and “making progress.”
Sather sounded cautiously optimistic and though Sauer is still just barely taking forward steps, Sather did express hope that Sauer could play in 2012-2013.
It seems like ages ago, but Sauer was actually much more important to the Blueshirts than McDonagh less than 18 months ago.
It was Sauer that was New York’s ace third defenseman behind Staal and Girardi. Alas, concussion woes – which have plagued Sauer’s family – have made him an afterthought and the Rangers have had no choice but to plan ahead with the thinking that Sauer is retired.
Again, that’s still a possibility. It would be no shock at all if Sauer suffered a setback and on the advice of his doctors, hung up his skates for good.
But if Sauer does begin making significant progress and can get up to speed, then the Rangers’ defensive unit could be truly scary.
Top prospect Tim Erixon is a solid bet to anchor one of the bottom-pairing slots and New York will almost certainly bring in a free agent blueliner or two.
But Erixon will go through growing pains and there aren’t many players on the market that could be as valuable as Sauer.
At his best, Sauer was the most physically intimidating Rangers’ defender and fit into the team’s system perfectly. Though not the most mobile player, Sauer was extremely reliable in his own end and more than willing to sacrifice his body for the team.
If that Sauer returns at some point next season, then New York’s top-five might be the envy of the league. The Rangers may struggle to put the puck in the net, but if the defense is even better than last year in front of Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist, then the team’s scoring problems might be overlooked.