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Mid-Season Report Cards: Bottom Six Forwards

Today we are going to be talking about our unheralded, but no less vital bottom six forwards. Prior to Tortorella’s arrival, the Rangers bottom six was typically composed of too many wannabe skill players like Matt Cullen, Marcel Hossa, etc. The last few years we finally started to value players who understood that their role is to forecheck, backcheck, hit, score dirty goals, and protect their teammates.

Before we get started, let me just reiterate these grades are based on these respective players executing their specific roles within our team concept.

Brian Boyle: Boyle has much improved at faceoffs this season (51.5% vs. 48.5%) and it’s a big reason why the Hagelin-Boyle-Mitchell line was out possessing the opposition. He’s gotten some flak for his offense being down, but he’s pretty much doing everything defensively you could ask from a third line center. He forechecks, he blocks shots, and he doesn’t turn the puck over. I would like to see him lay people out a little more often given his size.

With that said, we are going to need more scoring from our bottom six in the second half and beyond. Boyle is on pace for 4 goals and 16 points, which is down from last season’s 21 goals and 35 points. Icetime isn’t much of an excuse as his avg. icetime last season was 15 mins and change. This season he is skating 14 mins and change. Essentially he’s playing one less shift per game. Grade: B

Ruslan Fedotenko: Feds has been one of the most reliable trenchmen in the game for the past 10 years. Every season he gives you steady corner play, second chance efforts, and 30 points give or take. Most of his strengths are often overlooked because he’s not a puck carrier or a fighter, but he is a strategic insertion in this lineup and he executes Tortorella’s puck pursuit system to a T. The only reason I didn’t grade him higher was because he played on the second line for a while and did squat with it and he could stand to be more physical when playing in a bottom 6 role. Grade: B-

Carl Hagelin: Hagelin is a bottom six player this season, but he won’t be next season. He may not even be a bottom sixer by the end of this season thanks to his explosiveness, escapeability, and positional awareness. As he’s gained more experience, he has also gained more trust from his coach, which is evident in the increase in situations he is being utilized.

The question really is what is this kid’s ceiling? It’s hard to know at this point, but what really impresses me about Hagelin’s game is that his puck handling keeps up with his foot speed. Rico Fata could skate like the wind too, but he had no hands.

Many will write that Hagelin is too small or that he needs to bulk up. To which I say, BS! How many times have you seen him get pancaked and lose the puck? Grade: A

John Mitchell: While many of Avery’s supporters blame his current status on Rupp and Erik Christensen, Mitchell too deserves culpability. Of course Mitchell deserves a spot on this roster over Avery, so you won’t hear any complaints from me.

Mitchell has been a possession monster for us, as he currently leads the team in relative corsi. He’s also been dynamite on the draw (FO 58.6%), he’s quick, and he plays gritty without taking dumb penalties. I’m not sure who scouted this guy in Toronto, but whoever it was deserves credit. Like a glove! Grade: B+

Brandon Prust:  He really is the essence of what fourth line hockey is all about. It’s not about the fighting. It’s the blocking of shots, the making the opposing defensemen pay on icings, protecting teammates, etc. Straight up enforcers are slowly becoming extinct and guys like Prust, who can actually skate, are taking over. Hopefully he stays healthy, as will need him when we make a run. I would like to see him improve on the forecheck, as I thought he was better in that regard last season. Grade: B-

Mike Rupp: Many of our readers hated this signing and even I was on the fence, as I was skeptical about Rupp’s skating. But observing him since his return and seeing on 24/7 how Torts leaned on Rupp in the locker room revealed to me his importance to this hockey club.

Look, Rupp isn’t going to score 2 goals a game, he isn’t going to goad guys into fighting, and he isn’t ever going to replace Avery’s jersey sales. Still, fans should appreciate him for standing up for Del Zotto when he got sucker punched and for not letting Prust fight every heavyweight. They should also realize this guy can win faceoffs (54.5%), he’s plays an honest, hardworking game, and he’s not going to cost us with bad turnovers and bad penalties. Above all else, he’s coachable and he has a ring. Grade: B

Sean Avery, Erik Christensen, Wojtek Wolski:  I can’t grade them as they’ve barely played and I doubt they will see Garden ice unless someone gets injured. I will say this though, Christensen & Wolski both seem like good character guys and both have some skill. If they get their chance, they have to learn to play below the dots & along the boards. Producing only when the defense forgets about them isn’t going to cut it in this system. Grade: Whatever

*Here is Justin’s mid-season report for the goalies & Dave’s report for the defense. Stay tuned for reports on our top 6 forwards and our coaches.

20 Responses to “Mid-Season Report Cards: Bottom Six Forwards”

  1. Bobby G says:

    I have to point out one thing I just noticed about Fedotenko when I looked up his profile on NHL.com. This guy has made the playoffs every single season since the 00-01 season. That a decade of nonstop playoff hockey under his belt. This guy is the definition of experience and reliability.

  2. Bobby Tux says:

    You are also forgetting Zucarello. He is potentially tradeable to a team that values his offensive skills. Additionally, WW and EC might get time on the team in order to showcase for a trade. I have no particular player in mind, but a bottom 6 Tortella system player should be considered for depth in the playoff run. Currently, there is no substitute that fits that mold (potentially Newbury, but he has not had Torts trust in limited play). The Rangeds have depth on D and insurance on the Top 6 with Hagelin so the need for Bottom6 needs to be filled via trade.

  3. Walt says:

    Good analysis, and spot on with what you say. Personally I would prefer Prust on the third line with Boyle, they just seem a fit for each other. Defensivly, your not loosing anything, and this might jump start both of these guys offensivly. Mitchell on the fourth line, with Feds, and Rupp will also give you offensive capabilities, grit with the bottom six players, and balance with these lines.

    I’m not second guessing Torts at all, he has a handle on this team, and a true pluse on what is happening, at all times. What else can a coach ask of his players that his guys are doing, the man reads their collectives minds, and tweeks them when necessary.

    Now the two lost souls on the team, WW and EC, what can you say? Both have skill, but lack hustle, heart, and gonads. Bobby posted that they should be showcased, and he is right. Both are free agents at the end of the season, and at least we get something for them, even if only draft picks. Based on Gordie’s history, give me a draft pick over these guys any day!

  4. Zen says:

    Suit… Boyle doesn’t turn the puck over? Are we watching the same games? Lol. He has been a turnover machine, especially the last several games. In reality, Boyle isn’t a playmaker, he doesn’t score, he takes the body poorly, can’t fight, and gives Marek Malik a run for his money on skates. We are basically paying the guy $1.7M to win face-offs and block shots. Sounds right in terms of Sather economics. He just needs to pick up his game.

    Prust has been quite disappointing too IMO. He has come on more lately, but he has looked pretty awful out there at times… often turning over the puck at will. Torts is often yelling at both of them on the bench because of their sharp decrease in quality of play.

    • Zen says:

      Just to add… I don’t want to diminish what Prust does for the team in terms of fighting. He is never a disappointment from that standpoint and is why he is on the team. He just needs to stop turning the puck over.

      • The Suit says:

        Boyle has six giveaways this season?

        • Zen says:

          That stat is as accurate has the one they use for hits. Boyle had 3 gigantic turnovers at the blueline in the last few games alone. They are seared into my brain, because I want to reach through the TV and strangle him.

          BTW- I don’t want to take away from your article. Good post, Suit.

  5. Justin says:

    Great post Suit. The most impressive guy on this list is absolutely Hagelin. We all knew the kid could play, but I don’t think anyone expected him to have this kind of impact right out of the gate.

    His speed is obviously his biggest asset, but he has the elusiveness, strength and power that Zuccarello does not, hence his extended stay in the AHL since coming over from Europe.

  6. JW says:

    Boyle takes all of his faceoffs (and wins >50%) in the defensive zone. 19 and 21 get all the draws in the offensive zone, so even though he gets the same ice time, that added trust and responsibility comes at the expense of OZ time.
    Would love to see him pop a few…much as I would have liked Dubi to be reviewed here, since his return to top-6 form has only taken place over the last 2 weeks or so.

    • ArtyFan says:

      Dubi’s return can’t be long due to his history of consistency, but I would be happy to see him being consistent till the June. LOL

  7. jffrazer says:

    Interesting article and pretty much on target. My only comment would be on EC. This guy has proven his only value is the potential shootout goal. He won’t hit anyone; he does not play with passion; and he has scored less than Avery when he was around. I would love to see EC traded.

  8. RangerSmurf says:

    Ugh. Fedotenko a B? He’s been awful aside from a few goals. Yes, his postseason experience will prove valuable, but man, he’s really struggled so far this year.

    • Dave says:

      I agree with this. Feds is the only one fighting to keep his spot on the roster right now.

  9. kgb16 says:

    Great assessment with some good reader points. I fail to see the value of inserting EC or WW into the lineup to “showcase ” them. No team will want WW’s salary and he’s been a dud for 2 teams now. EC in the lineup has yielded a flat squad. With things going well, keep em where they are, in the press box. Ownership just going to have to eat those 2 salaries, unless you waive one or both and get someone to bite.

    As far as Boyle and Prust, my only comment is that when they have a shot on goal, they should try to hit the net, or aim at the goalie’s chest. They miss the net more than Dubi ever did.

    • The Suit says:

      Agree on EC point, but Dubi has more missed shots (34) than Boyle (31) & Prust (only 6)?

      • JoFan says:

        Dubi has not played or shot well this year. He was tried on every line and with every player. If a top 6 forward was available in a trade like Ryan. Dub,i though a fan favorite, plus Zuc and a mid draft choice would be a good price.

  10. Chuter says:

    Fedotenko is a good enough guy, but does he really have enough “character” to help this team?
    Think 1994. The guys at the end of the bench were all character guys who wanted to win badly and win now.
    I just don’t see that in him.
    Drury had great character too, but couldn’t contribute.
    Love to see us add some vet looking at one more crack at the cup.