As the Rangers prepare to open their season on Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes, they will do so missing two of their presumptive top six forwards and with their de facto top line center behind the eight ball thanks to Derek Stepan’s (partial) holdout. Throw in the continued struggles of the likes of Chris Kreider and the less than inspiring preseason of Brad Richards, and the pressure on Rick Nash to lead an offense has never been greater.
Despite being part of a far more talented collective in New York, Nash wouldn’t even have faced this level of expectancy in Columbus, where he was the lone elite talent. In New York this season, the Rangers’ burly power forward is expected to lead a contender’s offense for the first time, and do so in a legitimate big sports market (sorry Ohio).
At the start of last year it was assumed Brad Richards was still a top line center. The excitement of Chris Kreider’s arrival was still very real, and the Rangers of course still had a guy called Marian Gaborik. Fast forward a year and the Rangers begin the season without Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, Richards is a shadow of his former self, and Kreider is in the AHL.
Nash obviously has the overall game to thrive, even without a huge amount of help to start the season, but we saw last season how quickly negativity can surface when a star player such as Nash has a sustained period of unproductive play. Nash was lucky in that his underwhelming post season was slightly masked by the surprise playoff performance of Derick Brassard. No one anticipated Brassard as a clutch playoff performer before he strung multiple quality performances together for the Rangers.
Despite a solid first year on Broadway, Nash will be expected to do more in his first full season in New York. Fair or not, anything less than a 35-goal season will likely be considered mediocre return from a $7.8 million star player in New York. Being completely healthy to start the season, the presence of a more offensively minded head coach, and the assumed offensive zone focus that coincides with Alain Vigneault’s arrival – not to mention the assumed improvement of a powerplay that surely cannot get worse - and really, Nash has no excuses not to have a good season.
As he’ll have expected when he arrived in New York, expectations will be monumental for Rick Nash this year. The Rangers’ hopes of a successful season rest squarely on two players living up to their talent level this season. We can assume Henrik Lundqvist will hold up his end of the bargain – he’s done it in one of the league’s most fickle markets for almost a decade – it’s up to Nash, the clubs second most important player, to do his share. The entire league will be watching.