B-Rich has started well
Highlighted by his two goal performance in the impressive win over the Kings, Brad Richards has started the season well; which is a great sign for the Rangers. Having played a lackluster preseason – which came on the heels of his well documented (abysmal) 2012-13 season – Richards has begun to lay to rest the lingering concerns for this season.
He is skating well, looking to put the puck on net, and is getting separation from defenseman – something he did all too rarely last season. Perhaps most importantly is the lack of blind, drop passes on the blue line which were littered throughout his play last season.
While it’s only two games in to the new season – one of which was the sloppy Coyotes’ loss – the start laid down by Richard’s bodes well for the team. An in-form Richards would be hugely beneficial because, while Derek Stepan was much improved against the Kings (wasn’t everyone?), Stepan still has work to do to get back to his form of a year ago. If Richards can give the Rangers a strong year it’ll give the Rangers excellent depth down the middle.
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Taylor Pyatt has not been a successful addition
The Rangers were particularly sloppy against the Coyotes, were outdueled in net and on special teams. But no one will panic after one game that came on the heels of an awkward, disjointed preseason. That said there are a few players who are surely on shaky ground. One particular player who doesn’t figure to be part of the future is Taylor Pyatt.
Taylor Pyatt started his Rangers career in strong fashion and bookended last season with a solid playoffs, but Pyatt could be expendable on a team where cap space is a necessity. He cannot keep up on the ice and is as inconsistent now as the talented winger has ever been.
While Pyatt was not the worst Ranger forward on the ice on Thursday he was simply ineffective. No shots, no particularly strong shifts or physical play, nothing to demand the attention from the coaching staff or demand more ice time moving forward.
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How will Zuccarello fare this season?
Today it all begins. The Rangers open their season today as the season, tone setting, nine game road trip gets under way tonight in Phoenix. Let’s jump straight into the first Musings of the new season.
It will be interesting to see how Derek Stepan starts tonight. Will he be a step behind? Will the lack of reps, preseason games, training camp, and a new system implementation hurt him? He’s going to be under the microscope and has a lot of responsibility to shoulder.
A player that could thrive under Alain Vigneault’s (apparently) more open system could be Michael Del Zotto. Like so many Rangers, this is a big year for him. Is he finally going to put it all together and be a consistent offensive threat from the blueline? Or does he become expendable after this season? A good year from MDZ likely means an improved Rangers PP.
Most unpredictable player heading into tonight? Mats Zuccarello.
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Rick Nash is facing a huge amount of pressure. Starting Thursday
As the Rangers prepare to open their season on Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes, they will do so missing two of their presumptive top six forwards and with their de facto top line center behind the eight ball thanks to Derek Stepan’s (partial) holdout. Throw in the continued struggles of the likes of Chris Kreider and the less than inspiring preseason of Brad Richards, and the pressure on Rick Nash to lead an offense has never been greater.
Despite being part of a far more talented collective in New York, Nash wouldn’t even have faced this level of expectancy in Columbus, where he was the lone elite talent. In New York this season, the Rangers’ burly power forward is expected to lead a contender’s offense for the first time, and do so in a legitimate big sports market (sorry Ohio).
At the start of last year it was assumed Brad Richards was still a top line center. The excitement of Chris Kreider’s arrival was still very real, and the Rangers of course still had a guy called Marian Gaborik. Fast forward a year and the Rangers begin the season without Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, Richards is a shadow of his former self, and Kreider is in the AHL.
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Could Hrivik be well placed to become a Ranger despite being in the AHL?
With the Rangers facing the reality of opening the year without Ryan Callahan for at least a game and Carl Hagelin for much longer – without even considering the lack of practice time for Derek Stepan – would the Rangers be best prepared leaning on the veterans to begin the year?
With Jesper Fast and JT Miller tentatively penciled in for the Coyotes game, the Rangers intend to employ two important pieces of their future, now. Neither player figures to be in the top six based on practices and the varied reports from the beat writers.
As we saw with Chris Kreider, if a prospect doesn’t deserve to be with the big club, he won’t be. Sometimes even when a prospect deserves to be (as could be argued with all of Oscar Lindberg, Marek Hrivik, Danny Kristo, or Connor Allen) it’s in no ones interest to see those players marginalised for the sake of numbers.
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Kreider would be best served with big minutes in the AHL
Depending on who you ask, Chris Kreider getting sent down to the AHL to begin the year is either the right thing to do or a terrible setback for both player and organisation. Everyone has an opinion on Kreider, indicating just how important his development is still deemed to be. Yes, the Rangers would prefer to have one of their prized assets ready for the regular season but if he’s not there it isn’t a disaster.
Given the way Kreider has been mismanaged in the recent past and given the relative depth the Rangers have with NHL veterans – for the short term – Kreider would be best served playing big minutes in an offensive role in the AHL rather than scrapping it out for unproductive ice time with the likes of Powe and Asham at the NHL level.
If Kreider starts the year in Hartford, he would surely be playing with the likes of Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast or Marek Hrivik, all offensive players at that level and all likely to produce offense for the Wolf pack. Confidence and momentum are key considerations for a prospect and Kreider would be far better served being placed in a position to succeed and built up slowly.
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The Rangers preseason means nothing. Bring on Thursday.
In another one sided preseason game, the Rangers were out of luck in Las Vegas as they lost 5-1 to the LA Kings including conceding the first goal inside 15 seconds. Jon Quick made 22 saves while the Kings scored two goals on the powerplay.
On a night of few bright spots, JT Miller continued to play catch up after missing preseason time as he scored the Rangers lone goal. Given his pro experience and strong play in the preseason Miller is a strong candidate to be one of the kids to stick around to start the season. At the very least Miller has made plays been noticeable and used his body effectively. The two goals in three games are almost a bonus.
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Sather always does things on his terms
Remember when Ales Hemsky was considered an elite prospect? Remember the last time the Edmonton Oilers were considered a well run franchise? The answer to both questions is probably a long time ago. Despite multiple lottery draft picks the Oilers have been ‘on the cusp’ of being a playoff team for too long (although this year may finally be the year they reach the post season).
How does the Oilers’ underperforming relate to the Rangers? Glen Sather has once again shown how a consistent strategy and sensible planning goes hand in hand with a successful franchise. With the announcement of Derek Stepan’s new deal – two years for $6.15m – the Rangers made a mockery of clubs such as the Oilers who appear in a constant rush to sign players to excessive deals before they’ve actually earned them.
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Vigneault will be looking long term, not just trying to cope in October
While the vast majority of NHL teams have trimmed their rosters down in preparation for the season, the Rangers are still carrying a large, oversized squad as they continue to work out what they need to cope with a harsh start to their regular season. The results haven’t been positive (yet) but when has the Stanley Cup ever been awarded in September?
The short of it is that Alain Vigneault is taking a long hard look at numerous players before cutting the roster down and it’s the right approach. With injuries to key players and with an extended road trip featuring multiple presumptive cup contenders it’s imperative the new coach knows what he has at his disposal not only now but in case of all eventualities moving forward. What it also allows however is long term planning for the Rangers.
The Rangers stand to benefit from having greater insight into the likes of Conor Allen, Jesper Fast and into the less heralded prospects such as Tommy Hughes. Knowing the timetable for Oscar Lindberg’s readiness (which appears to be now by the way) or Marek Hrivik’s NHL ability should allow the club to plan beyond this season. Alain Vigneault is having to acclimatise himself with a new franchise, a new conference and is doing so to a deeper level than many may feel necessary in the short term.
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Henrik Lunqdvist’s next deal – pivotal?
When Sidney Crosby signed his last contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins he did so without huge fanfare, while signing for a large amount of money over a significant period of time. Some wondered why the Penguins took the risk given Crosby’s recent history but the fact remained, the Penguins locked up arguably the best center in hockey.
While signing on the dotted line, Crosby left dollars on the table. Whether it would have been with Pittsburgh or elsewhere Crosby could have named his price to all 30 NHL clubs (yes Crosby haters, ALL 30) and each team would have begged him to sign. In a financial world where Crosby could have signed for an annual cap hit of $12.86m (20% of the current cap) he signed for a cap hit of 8.7m. Not chump change for sure but clearly money ‘given up’.
When Crosby signed on the dotted line he clearly cashed in (a twelve year extension worth an 8.7m cap hit is clearly ‘cashing in’) but he also made sure the club were given some financial wiggle room. He notably didn’t take the maximum contract on offer and in doing so set the tone for others within the franchise to perhaps do the same.
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