Competition for forward places now and beyondApril 22, 2013, by
The quality of opposition hasn’t been the toughest in the past few games but deadline day acquisitions, the return to form of several players and recently found consistency among the forward ranks has seen the Rangers production up front really take off in recent games. All this bodes well for a trip to the playoffs and, perhaps most promisingly, beyond this season.
Whether the Rangers retain a Ryane Clowe, re-sign Mats Zuccarello or push through a JT Miller or Chris Kreider remains to be seen but the way some of the younger forwards have developed this season means the forward group’s well documented struggles this year may have been overblown. Kids such as Stepan and Hagelin have, for the most part produced while the team has changed on the fly.
The additionally acquired depth has perhaps been an underrated aspect of the Rangers recent upturn in form as a group. Is it a coincidence that Brad Richards has gotten better as Brassard started receiving rave reviews? Zuccarello has been strong in recent games as he fights for ice time and a future in New York and with the looming presence of Kreider and Miller, Hagelin too has kept skating hard to remain in the top six.
The Rangers have undergone significant turnover this season without the aid of a training camp and pre-season practice, amid a compressed schedule and yet the team appears to be peaking at the right time. Rick Nash has been (for the most part) as good as advertised and Derek Stepan has emerged this year to play at an All Star level (just look at the numbers and the consistency). What this all means – without even going into detail on the merits of Ryan Callahan, Derick Brassard or Carl Hagelin for example – is that the Rangers do not need to rush Kreider and Miller. It also means they can force a kid such as Christian Thomas (quietly productive in a season also full of change in Connecticut) to up his game even more next year before bringing any of them up for a prolonged period should they choose to.
The Rangers group of forwards has changed immeasurably inside twelve months yet the line-up has a nice look to it at present (not just because of the winning streak, but it helps). Looking at the age of the majority of forwards likely in the mix going forward it’s exciting. Not including a key prospect such as Miller, there are six roster forwards that are in contention for some of the twelve to thirteen forward spots that are 26 and under (Kreider, Zuccarello, Hagelin, Brassard, Stepan and Dorsett). Throw in a pair 28 year olds – hardly graybeards – in Callahan and Nash and the core is indeed young and still full of potential.
This isn’t a feel good post on the back of a scoring spree as much as it is two other things; an acknowledgement of the youth move that the Rangers have undergone as well as a tip of the hat to the coaching staff who have instigated said move amid difficult and dynamic circumstances. The Rangers have a lot of young players to work with up front and probably don’t need to force Richards out the door (from a cap perspective) thanks to the Gaborik trade. This team may have had its highs and lows this season but it’s well set going forward. Credit Sather and Tortorella for giving the Rangers an exciting future up front.