When you’re a team sitting at the top of the NHL standings there’s usually not much to moan about. The Rangers have been blessed with production and top quality performances from all over the roster including the top six. A team cannot win consistently if it doesn’t get production from its key guys and the Rangers have been getting it. To the grades…
Marian Gaborik. In December we discussed the possibility of whether Gaborik was the league’s best right wing this season. That kind of says it all about the year he’s having. On pace to establish a new career high in goals, Gaborik is flirting with the magical 50 mark. Despite occasional stretches without production he’s been remarkably consistent and blew past his subpar 10/11 season goal total with less than half the season gone. Gaborik is the Rangers best offensive talent and he’s showing it. Fully healthy, he looks explosive; the sky’s the limit this season. A+
Ryan Callahan. The most underrated captain in the league? The best player in the league no one ever talks about? The Rangers captain does it all. He’s 4th in the league in hits, was on course for a 30 goal season and gives 100% every single shift. Seven power play goals, three game winners and a short-hander suggest Callahan produces in every scenario. If there was any kind of criticism of Callahan it may be that he’s taken a few too many penalties this season but that would be nitpicking in a brilliant season for the best Rangers captain in several seasons. A+
Brandon Dubinsky. This is a tough grade because it depends what your expectations are for the talented Alaskan. Dubinsky has had a pretty rough first half even though he’s clearly improved recently. The bottom line however is that for a player making around $4m annually, counted on to be an offensive contributor, a physical leader on a blue collar team then 5 goals and 21 points do not cut it. Nor does the 6% shooting percentage or the meagre 76 shots. Luckily for Dubinsky, the team has great depth and have coped without consistent production from him. Slowly turning his year around, it’s almost like a new addition making the Rangers potentially even more dangerous. C-
Derek Stepan. Please remember this kid is 21. He’s centering the top line on the NHL’s best team (points wise), is likely to comfortably surpass his rookie totals and doesn’t look out of place at all. Stepan was an eagerly anticipated prospect but I’m not sure many people thought he would be this good, this quickly. He still has some developing to do, like his shot selection, but when his contract expires he’ll likely be a lot better financially next time he signs on the dotted line. Stepan is scoring important goals (but not enough), playing a pivotal role in Gaborik’s bounce back year and is growing up right before our eyes. Rarely do you see Stepan make a bad decision and his passing ability is incredible, as we saw once again throughout the Coyotes win last night. A huge future lies ahead. B+
Artem Anisimov. The Russian is another player showing solid progression this year. Unfortunately he has cooled off lately; pointless in eight games. Anisimov has a tendency to be streaky, and he needs to score more goals but a lot of the work Anisimov has done this season has not shown up on the score board. He’s a nice fit on the top line with Gaborik and Stepan and has handled his move to the wing nicely. His play along the boards has improved immeasurably and don’t forget Anisimov is also still young at 23 and figures to have room to develop offensively. If his production ever catches up to his talent then he could be a monster. B-
Brad Richards. Like Dubinsky, critiquing Richards’ season so far depends on what your expectations were. If you judge Richards with the massive contract in mind or place much emphasis on the relatively small stretch where he wasn’t contributing offensively then it may not look that impressive. If you measure the impact his presence has had on the rest of the roster (depth), the clutch goal scoring or the way he has influenced players like Del Zotto then Richards has been a great addition and has had a fine beginning to his Rangers tenure. That said, one of the key reasons for his signing was to help fix the powerplay and he hasn’t managed to help turn it into a more effective unit.
Despite being on course for his first 30 goal season he’s also on course for his lowest points total since 08/09. Of course that total would have led the Rangers over the last few years but it’s a different measuring stick for an elite player. Richards’ faceoff results have been quite inconsistent this year too, much like his production. Richards has improved defensively as the year has developed which no doubt helps his game when not scoring. The best part of Richards’ year is that there should be more to come. Lined up with Callahan and Dubinsky, the Rangers now have two quality scoring lines. When was the last time they could say that? If Dubinsky really has turned his year around, expect more from Richards as a result too. B-