Last year, the Rangers had several rookies playing key roles in the organization. Derek Stepan was fifth on the team in goals (21) and fourth in points (45), while Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer were counted on as a second pairing, eating up big minutes against tough opponents. These three, especially Sauer and McDonagh, are going to be expected to improve –or at least be on par with last year. Sophomore slumps could really hurt the Rangers.
Don’t think a sophomore slump is possible? Look at Michael Del Zotto. He was impressive offensively in his rookie year (defensively he needed help), but his numbers fell off a cliff in his second season. Regression for Stepan, Sauer, and McDonagh is a definite possibility, and something that could potentially cripple the Rangers this year.
Stepan’s offense falling off a cliff is unlikely, but it is also equally unlikely to affect the Rangers drastically with the addition of Brad Richards. In fact, you can argue that a sophomore slump from Stepan is almost impossible because Richards and Marian Gaborik will be the focal points for opposing teams. This allows Stepan to float under the radar a bit as a third line center.
As for Sauer and McDonagh, their ability to shut down offenses and eat big minutes is no longer a secret, and you can be sure that coaching staffs are reviewing video to see if there’s a weakness. The fear is that as teams adjust, that Sauer and McDonagh might try to do too much, like the way Del Zotto tried to do too much last year.
The saving grave for this pairing is that they are generally defensive defensemen, although McDonagh certainly has the ability to add offense to his game. If they just focus on making the small adjustments, and not worry about adding an element to their games that they don’t have, then they should be fine. I don’t expect a Del Zotto-esque collapse, but it is possible that they regress a little bit.