From a Weakness to a StrengthAugust 17, 2011, by
Hoards of experts, fans and hockey people looked at the Rangers roster last season and decided that the Rangers were weak down the middle. In all honesty that wasn’t the case whatsoever, but with the addition of Brad Richards what was considered a weakness is now very much a genuine (and widely acknowledged) strength. The difference last year was that the Rangers didn’t have a game breaker at center, they were absent from having an established, elite presence. What the Rangers did have however was depth, youth and upside; three appealing qualities.
The Rangers should be able to count on a few things this season that should allow them to stand eye to eye with almost every club regarding the center position. They should be able to count on an elite presence in Richards; a guy that can handle the tough assignments, they should be able to count on further development from the young centers (Stepan and Anisimov) and they should be able to take advantage of their depth by creating mismatches against other teams’ lesser lines.
However what makes the Rangers’ depth at center the envy of many organisations is the likelihood of more to come in the coming seasons. The Rangers may well be set for many years at the NHL level thanks to Richards/Stepan/Anisimov but the next wave looks promising too. Listed as centers, the Rangers can boast top pick JT Miller, Steven Fogarty, Oscar Lindberg, Andrew Yogan, Ryan Bourque, Mike St Croix and Max Campbell in the pipeline. Naturally not every one of these prospects will make it and not all of them will end up at center but many of these kids have tasted significant success in their young careers already.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect for the Rangers is the staggered development/timeline among their array of centers. With many jobs at the minor pro level up for grabs (and very few veterans blocking the paths of the kids) there are legitimate chances for centers to make their way up the system and motivation is a great aid to development. With some prospects about to begin their pro careers (such as Bourque) and others such as Miller or Fogarty just at the beginning of their careers the Rangers have the talent spread out.
Throw in to the mix the presence of a guy like Lindberg in Sweden and you have players at different stages of their development, not to mention differing contractual obligations to the Rangers. With players based in college, junior and Europe the Rangers shouldn’t have to make too many contractual decisions in any one summer. Having such a spread will allow the Rangers time to assess what they have in each player while hopefully enjoying continued development from the likes of Stepan and Anisimov at the NHL level.
The Rangers have centers right throughout the system. They have a nice young, skilled mix at the NHL level and should boast a similar blend at the AHL level this season. While it all starts with the marquee acquisition in Brad Richards there is a huge amount of talent making its way through the organisation behind him so there’s no reason that the Blueshirts new found strength should be anything but that for a few years.
Whether it’s in the big league, the minor league or at the amateur level the Rangers have depth and skill at center. It just takes one or two of the Rangers stack of centers to develop well and the Rangers could be the envy of the league, and all this without a lottery pick. Now, let’s just hope Brad Richards is more Messier than Gomez, hey?