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Competition for forward places now and beyond

Reasons for optimism up front in New York

Reasons for optimism up front in New York

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.

28 Responses to “Competition for forward places now and beyond”

  1. Gary says:

    Would you trade kreider and jt miller for Seth jones?

    • Seahorse says:

      absolutely but whoever gets the first pick probably wouldnt give it up

    • Chris F says:

      Jones is touted as a likely No. 1 pick. He’s a 6′ 4″ 200+ lb. defenseman who plays with a high level of physicality.

      Certainly, he’d be a nice addition to the Rangers blueline, but the way our current D-Corps is constituted (including a healthy Staal) and with McIlrath coming up through the ranks, I don’t think defensive depth is an urgent enough need to warrant losing our two top offensive prospects (both with some NHL experience) in Miller and Kreider.

      • Seahorse says:

        im just sold on jones that hes the next great american defenseman. hes big, fast, strong and smart. i dont see the same “greatness” in miller and kreider.

        • Fotiu is God says:

          … plus Mrs. Jones’s a tomato. (Glimpsed in the crowd at last year’s World Juniors.)

          But no. We don’t dangle our two blue-chip forward prospects. Both Yanks like Cally, Stepan, McD, John Moore…

  2. Tommy T says:

    Another great write up, I think this season will be as it may, good and bad. This team isnt built to win right now this year, its built to be a competitive team for the next 5-7 years. We will get our chance at a cup, just need to have patience with this young core. The only depth we are missing is in net, this years draft should focus on a move for a young goalie, hopefully one that falls through the cracks like Henrik. All i know is that the team has looked good and hopefully can roll into the playoffs with this confidence.

  3. Walt says:

    Failed to mention this year’s MVP in the SEL, Oscar Lindberg, and Fasth. The need is still for one big power forward, with a scoring touch, and a mobil defensman!! Hank could use a good back-up, and we should consider drafting a goalie!!

    • Chris says:

      Good point Walt, but I didn’t mention them as they’re unknown quantities at this stage in North American hockey. I have no doubt both can transition but we’ll know a lot more about them soon, just not now. There’s also kids such as Nieves, so there’s plenty of talent still in the system IMO

  4. steve says:

    what about hrivik, when he’s healthy he’s been a big good scoring/play making 2-way forward with speed in ct ?

  5. Jeff P says:

    So for next year, given:

    Lines 1-2:
    Stepan, Callahan, Hagelin, Nash, Richards, Brassard
    Lines 3-4:
    Asham, Dorsett

    That leaves 4 spots for
    Boyle, Clowe, Zucc, J.T. Miller, Kreider, Lindberg, Fast, Powe.

    In the absence of any trades, my money is on 3 of Lindberg, Miller, Zucc and Clowe, unless they only resign either Zucc and Clowe. I don’t think Boyle fits into this team any longer, and should be traded/demoted. I also don’t see how Kreider beats out any of the above in training camp. Of course if they don’t resign either Zucc or Clowe that opens up a spot.

    • Evan M says:

      Boyle should center the 4th line next year. You have Brassard, Richards, and Step in the top 6? I move Richards or Brassard to center the third line.
      Top 6:
      Step, Callahan, Hag, Nash, Brass, Clowe

      Bottom 6:
      Rich, Zucc, Kreider, Boyle, Dorsett, Asham

      • Walt says:

        I like this line up!! With the following d-pairs:

        McD, Dan
        Marc, Mdz
        Moore, McIlrath
        Stralman as the 7th d-man

        • Evan M says:

          I dig that. Good balance of skill, grind, speed, and “jam.” Even though Hagelin might be argued for bottom six, his puck possession skills create a killer forecheck with guys like Cally and Nash.

        • soiux-per-man says:

          Stralman is a WAY better Defenseman than McIlrath!

      • Walt says:

        Evan
        Ment to say like your line up!!

      • Jeff P says:

        I can pretty much guarantee Lindberg’s on this team next year. I also think that J.T. Miller will show them enough in camp to make the team.
        Callahan – Stepan – Nash
        Hagelin – Brassard – (Clowe or Zucc)
        Kreider – Richards – Miller
        Boyle – Lindberg – Dorsett
        Asham

        That’s how I see it. So they only resign one of Clowe or Zucc, and send Pyatt down. Fast starts in AHL, but eventually replaces Boyle. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fast replaces Kreider instead though.

    • Dave says:

      Pyatt?

      • Evan M says:

        Healthy scratch/injury depth

      • Jeff P says:

        Oh yeah, I forgot he has a two year deal. I don’t see a spot for him in the lineup, but they might not want to waive/AHL a guy with 1.6M contract.

  6. steve says:

    hrivik?

  7. steve says:

    besides faceoffs….fasth brings nothing to the table…and you forget boyle

  8. steve says:

    oops..you didnt forget boyle, sorry

  9. steve says:

    what about dorsett??

  10. TxRanger says:

    i hope they keep zukes and do what they can to keep clowe, if he’s not unrealistic about his fiscal value.

    will j.t. be back after whale elimination?

  11. Bloomer says:

    Shame about the Whale, they went into a tailspin that cost them a playoff berth. I want to see what Fast can do, before I pencil him into the lineup. Kreider and Miller will have to earn their stripes if they want to make the bigs. The team is playing well, why mess with the starting roster.

  12. soiux-per-man says:

    New Poll suggestion for >>>>>>>>>>>

    It’s been 10 games. Trading Gaby away. Good move for the Rangers? Thumbs up or Thumbs down?

    • Fotiu is God says:

      Falling back on sports cliche, it certainly resolves into one of those transactions that benefits both parties.

      Though once Dorsett dresses and we see him on the forecheck, matching up/countering the likes of divisional power forwards such as Clarkson, Wayne Simmonds/Hartnell I believe Slats and Blueshirt brass get the nod here.

      Moreover, if Clowe’s contract proves unworkable next year, the younger-less expensive Dorsett slots up higher on depth chart.

      Inasmuch, great to see Dubi, Vinnie Prospal (he of the George Hamilton perma-tan), Tutin, and yes, Gaborik thriving in Columbus. Hope they make it, go deep.