No question, the Rangers made a huge splash this summer with the acquisition of Rick Nash. Thanks to the move the Rangers find themselves with more (legitimate) elite talent than they have had in well over a decade but at some stage even top line players need offensive support. Even the dominant Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s had role players step up when needed.
With the loss of Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov the Rangers lost two core role players. They lost two home grown Rangers that proved they had offensive ability, even if they lacked consistency. Unfortunately you have to give to receive. With those two gone however, it offers a bigger chance for another player or two to step up. Forget Callahan, Stepan and Kreider. All three could be needed in the top six and will be counted on to various degrees.
The opportunity that presents itself is a perfect chance for Brian Boyle to reassert himself as a critical piece in the Rangers line up. Boyle needs a good season. While he came on toward the end of last year, offensively he wasn’t as effective as he was during his breakout season a year prior.
Despite continuing in his role as a defensively reliable player Boyle will need to offer more up the other end of the ice given the Rangers’ up and coming array of centers in the system such as Steven Fogarty, Mike St Croix and Oscar Lindberg. Each offers legitimate NHL potential either as an offensive player or as a checking center while offering the benefit of significant cap savings as opposed to Boyle.
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While many are still concerned about the Rangers scoring woes, it’s worth noting that the Rangers now have two of the top ten post-lockout scorers in the NHL. The list, compiled at Kukla’s Korner, has Rick Nash at #7 with 231 goals, and Marian Gaborik at #10 with 228 goals.
It’s worth noting that two Rangers top this list because it does address one of the Rangers biggest concerns over the past few seasons: primary scoring. Prior to Gaborik’s arrival, the Rangers didn’t have a bonafide goal scorer when Jaromir Jagr left town. Aside from one injury shortened season, Gaborik has put together two 40 goal seasons of at least 75 points.
Nash of course managed to top Gaborik by three goals despite not having a single top line player to skate with in Columbus. That shows the type of talent that Rick Nash is.
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Although the Rangers are likely to benefit from a lockout –due to the injury to Marian Gaborik– there is still a solid chance that when the season starts, the club will still be without their top scorer from last season. Gaborik, who had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in June, is said to be out five or six months recovering from the surgery.
The acquisition of Rick Nash actually gives the Rangers tremendous flexibility when dealing with this injury. Nash is a rare forward that can play both wings, and play them at a high level. This gives the Rangers the ability to fill the spot opened up by Gaborik’s injury on either the left side or the right side.
The players that are likely to play on the top six –alongside Nash, Brad Richards, and Derek Stepan– are the ones you would expect: Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, and Chris Kreider. All three played on the top two lines in the playoffs, and are either decent offensive threats (Cally), or players with some great offensive potential (Kreider, Hagelin).
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In an attempt to take our minds off of the inevitable lockout, let’s turn our focus to the Rick Nash acquisition and if he will play with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.
The concept of a “super” line with these three sure is enticing. After all, it worked in Ottawa with Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatly. It has worked in the past with Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, and any winger that gets placed on that line (let’s be realistic here, you or I could play with those two and put up 35 goals). But what it gives a team in superior scoring talent, it takes away depth issues.
There are pros and cons to putting those three together, but it’s something that the coaching staff will at least look at when Gaborik is healthy. Whether that is before the season starts or after, well that’s up to the owners and the NHLPA.
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Brandon Prust is another example of Glen Sather’s recent ability to pull off trade theft. A throw in that became a core player and a great example of the black and blue, never say die Rangers identity. To cap it off, his last contract signed with the Rangers, a two year $800k/year deal, was a bargain thus further cementing Prust as a quality addition to the Rangers club.
With that said, there will be a market for Prust should he make free agency this summer and given his solid reputation as a fine bottom six player, excellent penalty killer and tough competitor with a little offense to his game, Prust will certainly have suitors outside of New York.
Prust therefore will have the opportunity to cash in should he choose to do so. The Rangers will likely have the opportunity to re-up him but may have to match or outbid other teams. Clubs such as the Leafs have been mentioned as a destination. What is a price that the Rangers would stop matching at? Can the Rangers replace Prust from within should he leave?
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Despite showing an unexpected offensive upside at the NHL level in his rookie year the Rangers will be better placed for a long term, successful era when Carl Hagelin is flying down the left wing on the third line. He won’t be a casualty of depth but could be the difference maker because of it.
Make no mistake Hagelin exceeded expectations this year (despite a generally subpar playoffs ), showed his flexibility in terms of ability to slide up and down the line-up, while also surprising many with his ability to play on the top line and not look out of depth alongside marquee NHL talent such as Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. However, there are a few reasons why Hagelin’s future may lie further down the line-up – something that is no insult by any stretch.
As discussed extensively, there is a good chance that the Rangers will pursue a high end, skilled forward this summer to help remedy the main causes of their playoff series loss to the Devils in particular. The main reasons the Rangers lost were inconsistent – to be polite – goal scoring and a (still) subpar powerplay. Bringing in someone like the oft mentioned Zach Parise should help remedy both areas of need. Needless to say, bringing in a big ticket like Parise means ice time and an integral role for the new recruit. It likely means top line duty and will bump other players further down the roster – including Hagelin.
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The bottom six forwards get a raw deal sometimes. Many base their usefulness on their offensive output, and unfortunately that is just not the role of the bottom six forward. Sure, contributing offensively is nice, but the role of these players is to shut down the opposition’s top lines. They are the ones that do the dirty work, they keep the opposing goons in check, they wear down the opposition.
So based on the above, let me reiterate these grades are based on the players executing their specific roles within our team concept. This isn’t just based on stats.
Boy did Boyle have some major responsibilities this season. He was generally responsible for lining up against the opposition’s top scorers and was given the job of shutting them down. He also was the guy that Torts turned to when he needed a defensive zone face off win. People look to his drop in scoring (11-15-26 this year, a drop from 21-14-35 last year) and they assume Boyle has just been awful. That’s not the case. Boyle started just 28.8% of all his shifts in the offensive zone, good for lowest rate on the team. But yet, he managed to finish 43.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone. The result: a player that did his job. He handled the defensive zone pressure and set up the Rangers in the offensive zone. Oh, and he was tied with Brad Richards and John Mitchell for second on the team in face off win percentage (51.8%).
In the playoffs, Boyle was clearly getting under the Ottawa Senators’ skin, which is why Chris Neil decided to target him with a head shot. Boyle was one of the most effective Ranger forwards before the concussion, and was clearly not the same after. Mid-season: B/Full Season: A-/Playoffs: B+.
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If you’re new to the site and have never read our report cards before, essentially what we do is break up the roster evals into 4 separate posts (top 6, bottom 6, defense, and goaltending+management). We include the mid-season grade we posted earlier this year, the full regular season grade, as well as a separate grade for the playoffs. Before we get started, let me reiterate these grades are based on the players executing their specific roles within our team concept. This isn’t just based on stats.
Marian Gaborik had a terrific regular season (41 g, 76 pts) and to no surprise really bounced back from an off-year last season. He proved to everybody that he’s more than just a one-dimensional goal scorer, which so many offensive stars seem to be these days (cough, cough Semin). He is a terrific passer, he is not a puck hog with a tendency for turnovers, and most importantly he makes an effort to backcheck, which is so critical to a team’s overall success. Unfortunately, he failed to really elevate his game during the postseason (5 g, 11 pts in 20 gp).
Steve Zipay reported yesterday that Gabby injured his shoulder early in the playoffs and needs offseason surgery. The report is a bit ambiguous, but we can probably cut him some slack for his sub-par performance, particularly for not attacking the net enough. Still, I’m glad he manned up and hoped over the boards. Had he not, I’m not sure we win that triple OT game against the Caps, and I’m not sure this fanbase would have ever forgiven him. Mid-season: A+/Full Season: A/Playoffs: B-
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John Tortorella wanted him, Glen Sather wanted him and the vast majority of the Rangers universe (media and fans) acknowledged he was exactly what this team needed last summer. Now, Brad Richards is proving the supporters right and the few (misinformed) doubters very much wrong.
Richards has been far from perfect in his first year on Broadway. Scott Gomez even outscored him when comparing debut regular seasons; but there is no doubting Richards’ impact on a young Rangers team in his first year. He’s every bit the leader that was hoped for.
Clutch: Richards has come up big all year long as his nine regular season game winners show. He’s leading the team in scoring in the post season and is making crucial plays all over the ice. In the triple overtime win it was his feed that set up the Gaborik winner. It was Richards who came up big in game five with the goal and in the same game check the video for number 19 back checking and breaking up plays in his own zone. Richards, in short, is a leader for the Rangers and right now he’s absolutely earning his large and long contract.
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The big news out of practice the last few days is that Mats Zuccarello has been skating with the team. Out for five weeks with a broken wrist, Zuccarello has pretty much been an afterthought when it comes to the Rangers in the playoffs. But now with Brian Boyle easing back into the game after suffering a concussion, and Brandon Dubinsky out with a lower body injury, the need for some offensive infusion has become apparent.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Zuccarello is the answer to magically save the Rangers. I’m just saying that with Dubi out, and John Mitchell struggling a bit, Zuccarello might provide some spark to the lineup. Carl Hagelin has also been struggling mightily offensively, so have a few other key players that are in there to get the Rangers offense going.
With Zuccarello appearing more likely to play sooner than Dubinsky, and Mitchell more likely thatn Ruslan Fedotenko to be sitting if Zuccarello plays, the question then becomes where Zuccarello fits in the lineup. Zuccarello may not fit in with the top-nine at even strength, but will he find some powerplay time?
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