When teams are struggling to score it’s easy to look down a roster and pick off players with the zeros. While Chris Kreider has been nearly invisible this playoff series, I have noticed that Mika Zibanejad has been getting flack. Zibanejad will forever be linked to Big Game Brass, a fan favorite, and during the playoffs it’s easy to be nostalgic. Zibanejad has only one point thus far, while Derick Brassard has five. It’s easy to see the frustration some fans have for Zibanejad, but that’s a very small window for comparison.
Brassard came to the Rangers during his 25 year old season in the NHL. That is already one later than Zibanejad (who is also five years younger), who just turned 24 a few days ago. Before Brassard came to the Rangers he was seen as a risky center with injury history that had been unable to reach his potential with Columbus. The Rangers helped mold Brassard and utilized his skill properly by placing him with the right players. Low and behold, Brassard blossomed in front of our eyes. So why are we so down on Zibanejad?
I spend most of my posts talking about the Rangers’ prospects, but one thing has been eating me alive for the last year and a half. After being blessed by an incredible 2014 team, the New York Rangers seemed poised to become a Stanley Cup contender for the next few years. While I question some decisions made, that 2014 team still had a great 2015 campaign.
But then, all of a sudden, it all just seemed off. There was and still is something missing while watching our boys in blue. For a team that became one of the more successful teams of the decade –with much of it’s core playing more playoff games than most other teams– they seem to be lacking a certain oomph that makes organizations successful. This applies to both the players and the management, for all of the success these men have seen they still seem to have not learned from their experience.
About a year ago, thanks to some sleuthing, I found out the that the Rangers have signed a prospect I had my eyes on, Michael Joly, to an AHL contract. At the time, I was extremely excited about this. Joly was always a super talented player in the QMJHL, but was plagued with injuries despite a point-per-game pace. There were some other warning signs too. Joly was only 5’11, and although he produced a lot, the QMJHL is seen as an easier league to score in. With that said, Joly is a smart guy, he knew that while his offensive skill is there he would need to improve defensively and over his last season he did that enough to get the AHL deal.
Joly’s season didn’t start off too well and ended up in the ECHL to start the year. In between call ups to Hartford, Joly scored 40 points in 29 games for the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. With the Wolf Pack faltering and in desperate need of offense, they called up Joly as he had nothing left to prove in the ECHL. One of the biggest problems for Hartford this season is the structure of the lines, as they do not distribute talented vets in the lineup. The kids end up faltering as a result. But during this 2nd call up, a desperate Hartford gave Joly a chance with AHL star Taylor Beck and the two meshed very well.
Earlier this week I looked at a pair of NCAA free agents that the Rangers would be smart to target. Today, let’s take a look at five more.
Mike Vecchione – The first player on the list is Vecchione. Vecchione would be a really interesting add for the Rangers/Wolf Pack. The captain of Union College has been one of the more dynamic centers in the NCAA. Considering the Rangers center depth is certainly lacking at the AHL level, the Hobey Baker finalist can help that out a lot.
Tyler Sheehy – If the Rangers do not sign Vecchione, which is possible seeing how much the Flyers love him, the Rangers should and hopefully will target Tyler Sheehy. Similar to Vecchione, Sheehy is smallish but a dynamic center that has lit the NCAA up while with Minnesota. His 53 points in 31 games are speaking for themselves. At 21 years old, there are rumblings he would like to turn pro. Getting him on an ELC would be a great low-risk move.
Although the Rangers finally have a first round pick, they will need some more prospects to fill out the organization. They are already linked to KHL defenseman Alexei Bereglazov, but given their history of signing NCAA free agents, we should expect that again this year.
Undrafted NCAA prospects are interesting assets. A majority of them don’t make it to the NHL, most likely because of age. The older you are in the NCAA, the higher the expectations to succeed, since you are in your prime years. Over at Canucks Army have numerous methods in predicting prospect success. One major find is that undrafted NCAA players seem to have a higher chance at making an NHL impact if they leave during their sophomore year, junior the latest.
That said, an organization is run from top to bottom so if certain NCAA guys can become solid AHL contributors, then it is just as beneficial for the Rangers.
Per Elliotte Friedman, the Rangers are considered the favorites for KHL defenseman Alexei Bereglazov. This is only one of the hopefully many prospect signings the Rangers will be making this offseason and I think Berglazov is a nice start for a project defenseman.
Only 22 years old, the 6’4 Russian defenseman is a very nice prospect to add to the pool as many of these big defensemen take a longer while to develop. The good news is that in his last three seasons in the KHL, Bereglazov has been developing and improving in all facets of his game. When discussing him, we should really talk about his playing style. He is a big, physical, defensive defenseman who uses his size and brains to his advantage in the zone. His positioning is very good as well.
The buzz around the 31st NHL team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, has only grown over the last couple of weeks. This is a culmination of them officially paying their league fees and signing their first player, Reid Duke. As the expansion draft creeps nears, there have been a lot of discussions of teams trading draft picks or perhaps prospects to Vegas as payment for them to not take an exposed player.
It is a nice business move, especially if you have assets to use and a great team that you don’t want to break up. Some people/bloggers have suggested that maybe the New York Rangers would be one of the teams that pay off Vegas, but I personally believe that it would be a wasteful move by the Rangers.
There is a lot of talk that this coming draft lacks guys who can be the face of the franchise, and while that is true, I think the dearth of it is vastly overblown. This draft has a lot of depth on defense and guys that could be had late. I would really like for the Rangers to perhaps make the most of the perceived bad draft and stock up on some mid round picks.
A month or so ago, I talked about a few OHLers on offense that I am interested in. Jonah Gadjovich was probably the most well liked guy and he just scored his 40th, so he will likely shoot up the rankings. I have two defensemen that I’d really like to look at, as well as a Russian forward. I’ll only be approximating draft pick position but I haven’t personally made a mock draft and won’t until a month or so before the draft.
The New York Rangers are an incredible case study, I do not believe that there has ever been a team with such stark differences regarding the talent level between the offense and the defense. The offense is so deep that we may as well call our forwards Mariana. Tje defense… eh I don’t have to say anything.
In the grand scheme of things, especially seeing the moves that GM Jeff Gorton made over the summer, I still consider this season to be a transition season, and it hasn’t been as bad on the eyes as last year so that’s always fun. The Rangers’ possession numbers aren’t something to be thrilled about though, and while the defense has been a focal point of the issues that we have faced, I think there are some things that may at least be worth trying to maximize the potential of our offense.
The NHL trade deadline is less than a month away, and as always the big market New York Rangers are at the center of online trade rumors. It’s no secret that the Rangers are in need of upgrades on defense, but that doesn’t stop outlets for saying the Rangers are in the running for names like Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan. The Rangers are also in a very odd position this season that may throw a monkey wrench into possible plans.
The Rangers are in the best division in the league, where 5th place in the Metro would be 3rd in the Atlantic division. This provides something odd as the Rangers will likely play either the best team in the Atlantic Division (Montreal) or the second place team in the Metro, which will likely be better than Montreal. Either path provides a difficult and path in round 1 and an even tougher matchup in the second round.