Despite a solid first season on Broadway, Rick Nash surely did not reach the heights his talent demands, nor did he become the irresistible force many anticipated. Not over a full season anyway. Some critics will argue that John Tortorella’s system stifled players such as Rick Nash (though the powerplay certainly didn’t help his production) but no one will argue that Alain Vigneault puts his key offensive players in the right situations to produce to their potential.
As has been pointed out over the internet – almost to death – the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows were consistently among league leaders in offensive zone starts under Vigneault. It can be assumed Rick Nash and maybe Derek Stepan will be similar benefactors in New York. Can we therefore assume much better numbers from Rick Nash? Nash is expected to be the leader of this offense and that won’t change with a new coaching staff. However with an improved powerplay, with more offensive zone starts, and with more puck possession and creative license, Nash should produce more.
Looking at what Alain Vigneault was able to achieve with the Sedins, its hard not to think he can do positive things with a man of Rick Nash’s skill set at his disposal. Doubts around the Sedins were growing in part because of the twins’ muted playoff performances at the start of their careers. Daniel Sedin had just 16 points in his first 37 games post April; Henrik had 20 in the same time frame.
Coinciding with Vigneault’s arrival, the Sedin’s have developed into impressive playoff performers. Four of the past five seasons Henrik has averaged over a point per game in the postseason, as has Daniel. Can the Rangers expect Vigneault to coax the same level of production out of Rick Nash and company?
It goes without saying Nash encountered more intense defensive coverage in the postseason as a Ranger, and coupled with a potential, nagging injury his effectiveness was clearly limited. The Sedins have suffered the same type of focus from opposing defences but the Canucks coaching staff – the most recent postseason aside – have found ways to put their offensive stars in positions to be productive.
Rick Nash has never put up particularly gaudy numbers on the powerplay. In truth, he’s either been saddled on a poor team (Columbus) or on a good team with woeful special teams (New York). His second year in the league did see Nash churn out a 19 goal powerplay season but he was also -35 that season. Under Vigneault’s watch the Sedin twins eventually developed into powerplay monsters.
Henrik Sedin has had three seasons with 30+ points on the powerplay and six seasons of at least 20 powerplay assists. Daniel, the goal scorer of the pair, has had six seasons with double digit powerplay goals and five seasons with over 25 powerplay points, including a year of 42 points back in 2010-11. It’s this kind of special teams consistency and production that the Rangers would love to develop out of Nash, and Vigneault could be the coach to do it (of course the impact on who he brings as assistant coaches will have a significant impact on this issue).
Something that Nash could benefit from, much like Daniel Sedin, is the presence of an emerging playmaking center. While no one is comparing Derek Stepan to Henrik Sedin at this stage of his career, they do share the traits of high hockey IQ, quality puck distribution, and a level of chemistry with their wingman. If Vigneault can develop the relationship further and Stepan can carry on from his stellar 2012-13 season, the sky is the limit for the pair. Vigneault’s Canucks teams and his approach to the game allowed the Sedins to develop into 100-point bonafide NHL superstars. Neither, it could be argued, have the same skill set as Rick Nash.
It’s early to speculate, but if the Rangers do become a more offensively inclined team, a team with more puck possession and – critically – a team with better special teams production, it’s not a stretch to expect Rick Nash to climb the scoring charts and become one of the league’s premier scorers. For all his skill and goal scoring it’s reasonable to suggest Nash has never maxed his talent into elite production. If he does it in New York Alain Vigneault will get a lot of credit for it.