The battle for forward positions has been the talk of training camp thus far, and several of New York’s youngsters have made strong cases to be on the opening night roster. Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo and Marek Hrivik have all impressed, while 2011 first-round pick J.T. Miller hasn’t gotten the opportunity due to injuries. With Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan out for the first chunk of the season, one or more of these players will likely be thrust into significant roles come October 3rd.
Chris Kreider has been skating with Brad Richards and Rick Nash for much of camp and it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’ll be locked into a top-six role at the start of the season. But after Kreider, the roster battle is still ongoing. Read more »
(Elise Amendola/Associated Press)
We’ve heard this a million times: The Rangers can’t score. The Rangers have no scoring depth. The Rangers rely on one or two guys to provide all of the offense.
These statements aren’t exactly inaccurate. The Rangers have, for a long time, been thin on forwards. Last season they were thin with depth forwards. Two years ago they were thin on secondary and tertiary scoring. Three seasons ago they lacked assistance for their one main weapon, but had secondary scoring to back it up. Each year, the Rangers have added pieces to address a need, but opened holes in other areas.
They signed Brad Richards to address the need to assist Marian Gaborik after the 2010-2011 season, but remained thin on assistance past that top line. They traded their vaunted depth after the 2011-2012 season to acquire Rick Nash, but the trade left them woefully thin on the bottom six. They addressed that by trading Gaborik and acquiring pieces that can –potentially– play a second line role. Then, this past offseason they acquired the last pieces for tertiary scoring. When you add in the development of home-grown players, you have a well-rounded forward group, when healthy.
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Think Miller is the first call up? Think again (Seth Wenig/AP)
One thing that we can be sure about next season is that there will be injuries. If we learned anything from this postseason, it’s that you can never have enough depth, because you never know when the injuries will begin to mount. It was one area that Slats worked very diligently to address this offseason, and he did a mighty fine job at doing so.
For the sake of this post, we are going to assume a few things:
- The entire roster is healthy. The point is to see who would be the first call up following an injury from a roster at full strength, then work our way down.
- Arron Asham and Darroll Power will be in the AHL. It’s a cap thing and a roster space thing at this point. The same goes for Aaron Johnson.
- Chris Kreider makes the opening day roster. J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg, and the other kids people might have penciled in, do not.
- No trades from now until the season starts.
These aren’t exactly ground-breaking assumptions, just things we have been able to infer from the roster moves so far.
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Pouliot and Zuccarello are not mutually exclusive. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images).
When the Rangers signed Benoit Pouliot to his one-year contract, there were some that suggested that Mats Zuccarello would be sent packing (Larry Brooks started this one). It was a thought process I understood, but was a bit puzzled by. The Rangers currently have Richards, Nash, Callahan, Stepan, Hagelin, and Brassard as the shoo-ins for top-nine work. Pouliot slides in nicely into the third line, so that makes seven players rounding out the top-nine. I’d venture a guess that people are handing a spot to Kreider, and it would shock me if he doesn’t make the team, so that makes eight. Zuccarello makes nine on a fully healthy squad.
For the purpose of this post, let us assume that Moore, Dorsett, Boyle, Asham, and Powe don’t magically find a scoring touch this season and find their way to a top-nine role. This leaves those five competing for fourth line (shutdown, on an AV coached team) roles.
This doesn’t take into account the injuries to Hagelin and Callahan. Although both should be ready for the start of the season, it is likely that at least one will need an extra week. Shoulder injuries are tricky, and it can really affect a guy’s game if he’s playing with a bum shoulder. Due to these, the Rangers are not only in need of a ninth for their top-nine, but two injury replacements.
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Forward usage chart
John Tortorella loved his matchups. One of the major points of his coaching style is giving tough minutes to those he could rely on defensively. If there is one area where he and new coach Alain Vigneault are similar, it is here. Both coaches are known for matchups and zone-starting, deploying the offensive players in the offensive zone draws and defensive players on defensive zone draws. This style plays to the strength of certain players, and particularly keeps the weak defenders away from big draws in the defensive zone. Explaining how players are deployed is tough, but luckily Rob Vollman has HockeyAbstract.com, where we can create player usage charts.
A quick note about the chart above, the Y axis is Corsi Rel QoC, the X axis is OZone start percent. The size of each bubble represents the average TOI per game (larger bubbles for more ice time), and the color represents the RCorsi (red is bad, blue is good). The chart is broken down into four quadrants, which tells us how each player was deployed: Shut Down, Two-Way, Less-Sheltered, and Sheltered. Put it all together, and you get how each forward was deployed on the ice, for how long, and how effective they were at driving puck possession. Also, I set the GP minimum to 20, so that’s why Mats Zuccarello doesn’t appear on this chart.
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The Rangers won’t find a better alternative than Zuccarello
Mats Zuccarello has proven he has NHL ability, even if he hasn’t proven he can score consistently over an 82 game season. However at this stage, whoever the Rangers employ for a scoring role among the top nine wing positions, they will be taking a calculated risk, especially when you look at the alternatives – viable or not – that are still available in free agency.
With a ten percent cushion on the cap over the summer, the Rangers shouldn’t be worrying about squeezing Zuccarello in. Given the likely amount he’ll command, he is worth the commitment, and the Rangers will surely be able to move a half million or so if needed. When looking at alternatives, it is pretty shocking what some players are rumoured to be commanding.
The Detroit Red Wings decided to go down the Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss route rather than keep Damien Brunner on board. A large part of that decision by Wings’ brass will have been about value for money, as Brunner is rumoured to be commanding over $3.5m despite just one abbreviated, yet promising season under his belt. Clearly, the going rate in the NHL is shooting up if you command $3.5m for a 12-goal rookie campaign. It’s this reason why the Rangers need to keep Zuccarello.
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Don’t just assume trades are coming (AP Photo/Seth Wenig).
When the Rangers made their depth moves on July 5, signing Benoit Pouliot (one-year, $1.3 million) and Dominic Moore (one-year, $1 million), many looked to the current RFAs and wondered if the Rangers had room for all of them. Capgeek currently has 12 forwards listed, which does not include the three RFAs, and does not include J.T. Miller. The number does include the recently waived Arron Asham and Darroll Powe, and the question-mark that is Chris Kreider. On the surface, it seems that the Rangers will make a trade.
Looking at the AHL roster, only two players (aside from Miller) have NHL experience: Micheal Haley and Brandon Mashinter. Everyone else is either new to the AHL (Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Michael St. Croix) or a prospect that is a question-mark (Ryan Bourque, Kyle Jean, Marek Hrivik). Suffice it to say, the Rangers are severely lacking when it comes to potential AHL call ups. Tack on the injuries to Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, and the Rangers are all of a sudden thinner at forward to start the season.
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Stepan is the next to get locked up (Photo: UPI /John Angelillo)
In case you missed it this morning, the Rangers re-signed their single most important RFA, locking up Ryan McDonagh to a six-year deal at a cap hit of $4.7 million per season. In doing so, the Rangers got a bargain on McDonagh, who is now signed until he is 30 years old, locking up three all important UFA years at a very reasonable price. With him on board, the next step for the Rangers is to lock up their #1 center: Derek Stepan.
In June, I looked at Stepan’s pending contract and compared his current career path to that of Claude Giroux. The comparison isn’t made at their current NHL level/production, but where they both were at this point in their careers. Without re-hashing the entire post (if you haven’t read it yet, you should), their career paths are shockingly similar. This isn’t to say Stepan should get Giroux’s absurd $66.2 million over eight years, but it is to say that Stepan should look to get Giroux’s second contract – three years at around $3.75 million per year.
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Zuccarello scores pretty goals, will AV get more out of him?
As Glen Sather talked about needing a changing in coaching styles and Alain Vigneault talked about giving his skill players ‘more latitude’, you could get a sense that next season has the potential to be a coming out party for a little Norwegian winger that never seemed to match up with John Tortorella. Could Alain Vigneault’s arrival be a blessing in disguise for Mats Zuccarello?
Known for maximising zone starts for his skill guys, a more puck possession style, and having run teams that have had actual powerplay success, it seems that Mats Zuccarello could be placed in the best situation to succeed with the Rangers that he has ever had. During his time on Broadway, Zuccarello has routinely been the Rangers’ most creative powerplay operator, he’s clearly better with the puck than without, and was never ideal for the grinding, throw the puck deep and chase after it style that was the hallmark of the Tortorella years.
While all the talk may center on what Vigneault can do with Rick Nash, what happens with Brad Richards, and how he’ll be able to get the most out of Chris Kreider the impact the new coaching regime could have on Mats Zuccarello could be huge. The talent has always been there.
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(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Despite a solid first season on Broadway, Rick Nash surely did not reach the heights his talent demands, nor did he become the irresistible force many anticipated. Not over a full season anyway. Some critics will argue that John Tortorella’s system stifled players such as Rick Nash (though the powerplay certainly didn’t help his production) but no one will argue that Alain Vigneault puts his key offensive players in the right situations to produce to their potential.
As has been pointed out over the internet – almost to death – the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows were consistently among league leaders in offensive zone starts under Vigneault. It can be assumed Rick Nash and maybe Derek Stepan will be similar benefactors in New York. Can we therefore assume much better numbers from Rick Nash? Nash is expected to be the leader of this offense and that won’t change with a new coaching staff. However with an improved powerplay, with more offensive zone starts, and with more puck possession and creative license, Nash should produce more.
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