Who Is This Year’s Surprise?August 15, 2011, by
Since the dawn of the “New NHL”, the Rangers have dressed a team that may not seem like much on paper, but always has a few surprises up its sleeve to get the job done offensively. In the 2005-2006 season, it was Martin Straka who stole produced at a level (76 points) that none thought possible after the Rangers signed him. He followed up that 76 point campaign with a 70 point campaign in 2006-2007, where none of us thought he could do that twice in a row.
In 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 it was Brandon Dubinsky who burst on to the scene with 40 points in each season, showing he can provide some much needed secondary scoring. Then it was Vinny Prospal in 2009-2010 who surprised the critics. A trio of Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Derek Stepan last season showed that the Rangers just might be on to something here.
Each season the Rangers have had expectations shattered by a single player who surprises the league. This year the candidates begin and end with the left winger on the line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. If it winds up being Wojtek Wolski, with his incredible skill (if he plays consistently), he could feasibly hit the 70 point mark. Dubinsky and his ability to do the dirty work could compliment that line well; and if he’s on that line, he could also hit the 70 point mark.
Looking past that first line, there are really two names that stick out to me as players to watch to have a surprising year: Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh. Del Zotto is likely to be the front runner for that point position on the first powerplay unit next to Brad Richards, assuming MDZ remembers how to play the game of hockey. Just putting him on that unit could potentially rocket him out of the fan dog house (side note: still don’t get all the MDZ hate).
As for McDonagh, he may be more of a defensive guy, but he has some good hands and makes a pretty good first pass. If he’s given an opportunity –or gains the confidence– to contribute offensively, I think he can really turn some heads with smart passes while racking up the assists.
For the Rangers to be successful, they are going to need the usual suspects to contribute, that we know. However, a well hidden fact is that the Rangers have been the beneficiaries of surprising seasons from a few players. These surprises vaulted them from mediocre to playoff contender, and they may need one of those pleasant surprises to take the pressure off of Gaborik and Richards. After all, that duo has enough pressure on them as is.