The Rangers are a very deep team this season, especially at forward. They are in a position where –when fully healthy– they have three scoring lines and a solid defensive fourth line. However there is one glaring weakness (on paper); the apparent lack of physicality and toughness on the roster. Even with a healthy Ryan Callahan, the Rangers are at risk of being surprisingly vanilla, with just three forwards (Callahan, Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett) slated to play who regularly throw their body around. Arron Asham is a fourth, but he seems destined for the 13th/14th forward role.
On defense, it doesn’t get much easier. The club doesn’t have a “nasty” defenseman who makes life hard on players who go to the front of the net. Ryan McDonagh is the closest thing they have, but he doesn’t have a history of beating people down in front of the net at the NHL level. Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi led the team in hits for defensemen, and we saw them being more physical in front in the preseason, but they still don’t qualify as that “nasty” player.
The Metropolitan Division is going to be a tough division. Teams like the Devils, Flyers, Caps, and Isles all have their own “tough guys” who could run amok if not kept in check by the Rangers. Of course very few of these guys around the division can actually play the game of hockey, but they could catch someone with their head down. It is going to be up to Dorsett and maybe Boyle to keep these guys in check.
One thing should be made very clear: This is not about the makeup of the team and using their bodies to outwork the opposition. It is about making the Rangers a tough team to play against, one that will make you pay for going to high-priced areas. It’s why a guy like Asham is a necessity for this team, especially if Dorsett struggles at the get-go. Both Asham and Dorsett are physical guys who can actually –you know– play hockey.
The Red Wings are a team that have won, and won consistently, without deploying a fighter. However, they’ve consistently dressed guys who can play physical hockey and, when needed drop the gloves. Can the Rangers follow in that mold? They don’t need a “fighter” at all, they just need to play physical as a team, and ensure they won’t be walked over as a soft team.