Stepan’s return will have a major impact on the Rangers line-up. AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool
As Derek Stepan has finally hit the ice with his team mates (albeit in a non contact jersey) the questions will now begin to focus more on where rather than when will Stepan play. Following the excellent instant chemistry Rick Nash has shown with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello the logical thinking will be to try and keep that trio in tact in the short term. Of course, given Nash’s not so pretty possession numbers perhaps Alain Vigneault will consider reuniting Stepan with the Rangers best and hottest forward.
Questions will be raised about Stepan’s match readiness. Will Stepan need to be eased back in? And can Nash be a spark for Stepan the way he appears to have been for Zuccarello and Brassard? The options for Stepan are numerous at this stage. With Stepan’s return almost certainly meaning the end of the Marty St Louis at center experiment, the chances are that Stepan will be paired with St Louis and Kreider, (finally) giving the Rangers two legitimate scoring lines for the first time this season.
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Going to the dirty areas, scoring more goals. (Photo: Adam Hunger/USA Today)
Right now, outside of Anaheim, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more confident and in-form goal scorer than Rick Nash. Other than the Ducks’ Corey Perry, Nash has been the best the league has to offer as October draws to a close but unlike Perry, Nash has had very little (consistent) support to this point of the season.
While they’re different players, the start to the year Nash has enjoyed has been reminiscent of how Jaromir Jagr put his Rangers team on his back and carried them all season long on his way to that historic 54 goal season a few years back. Right now, the Rangers need Nash not only to generate the offense that he has, but to help kick start other players into life. It appeared that this additional part of Nash’s job description started in earnest against the Wild.
Prior to Monday night Mats Zuccarello had struggled mightily – much like his start to last year. Derick Brassard had also been inconsistent but both players came up with huge efforts when lined up with Nash Monday night. Looking back to the start of the year and Chris Kreider has also had his most effective games with Nash as a running mate.
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Marc Staal needs to be better. Especially if he wants to cash in.
Marc Staal quite frankly has been awful, Henrik Lundqvist has been inconsistent, Martin St Louis has been on the periphery, and core players such as Mats Zuccarello have either been invisible or terrible, depending on how forgiving you are as a fan. Throughout the Rangers line-up too many players haven’t kicked into gear yet or shown nearly enough consistency.
Almost the entire roster has Rick Nash (and to a lesser extent Chris Kreider) to thank that the record isn’t a lot uglier than 4-4, eight games in. Fancy stats to one side, this team hasn’t passed the good old fashioned eye test. A lot has been made of the Rangers ‘big three’ on defense not playing well so far, and that is certainly true (McDonagh and Staal were both particularly poor in Montreal) but better contributions are required all over the line-up.
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With Derek Stepan only three compulsory games away from a return to the Rangers lineup and Derick Brassard firmly entrenched as the Rangers second line center, questions have already begun to surface about what will be best for Kevin Hayes’ development.
Hayes has had a fairly promising start to his NHL career amid difficult circumstances. Asked to start his big league career in a position that isn’t his best and in the Rangers’ weakest position, Hayes has struggled in the face-off circle winning a feeble 24.6% of his draws. On the flip side, Hayes has shown excellent skill on the puck, a willingness to play both ends of the rink and composure on the puck that isn’t seen from most rookies.
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Building on what Kevin talked about yesterday, not everything in Rangerland is a negative right now. Despite the inept goaltending currently found at the Garden and the sinking ship that is the Rangers defense, there are still reasons for optimism in New York. One of those reasons is Chris Kreider. If the Rangers had just a competent defense in week one we would be talking more about the good starts of Anthony Duclair and Lee Stempniak, the hot streak and return to prominence of Rick Nash but – in my opinion – above all, Chris Kreider’s emergence as an every game threat.
While still a little rough around the edges, Kreider has looked dominant at times. His one goal so far was a breakaway which he took extremely well, he has been hard on the puck all year, has been physically engaged while he’s also shown he’s willing to stick up for his teammates. Kreider has also impressed with a couple of great primary assists on goals for Nash and Derick Brassard showing that he’s not a one dimensional player and has been hungry for the puck on his stick. If he can maintain his start to the season he should also smash his career high for shots on goal with well over 200.
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McIlrath may not be ready for prime time but his type of skill set is sorely needed. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Sometimes you have to live with the growing pains while some teams traditionally have slow starts and if you want prospects on the roster you have to endure the inconsistencies that accompany them. However, the sudden lack of depth the Rangers have on defense is an issue that might need resolving with acquiring help from outside of the organisation rather than turning to a prospect.
The Rangers defense, thus far, has looked completely inept. Countless blown assignments, a lack of physicality and terrible positioning in their own zone; the Rangers defense has been highlighted by a boat load of errors in the first three games. Even before Dan Boyle got injured in game one, the Rangers defense had its struggles. In game one it was the inability to get out of their own zone effectively.
The Rangers bottom pairing needs addressing and despite a respectable first game, Matt Hunwick is not the answer. Players such as Hunwick and Mike Kostka are stop gaps. They are not ‘plug in and play’ types that add competence to a unit long term. The Rangers can (and will) stop the bleeding despite Dan Boyle’s absence but even with Boyle this unit has its flaws that will need addressing.
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Sometimes opportunity is about timing. Anthony Duclair, JT Miller and Kevin Hayes have made the Rangers at the right time because in Alain Vigneault they have the right coach to develop them into full time – and hopefully long term – Rangers.
Vigneault won over a lot of the fan base last year by staying patient amid early troubles, by being the Anti-Torts in allowing players to develop chemistry together and also by being able to acknowledge ‘hot hands’ and give players a platform to perform when their form deserved extra playing time (example: Cam Talbot taking over midseason for a short period).
There’s every chance Anthony Duclair goes back to junior this year and if he does, it will have been the right decision. If he sticks, he’ll have earned it. The Rangers Head Coach has earned everyone’s trust and whatever he decides will likely be the best course of action. Alain Vigneault has proven he’s confident in his younger players if they earn his trust and the even ice time distribution in the St Louis game (every forward had at least 11 minutes ice time) suggests Vigneault will continue to work the kids in to meaningful positions and give them a chance of growth.
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John Moore was the last regular from the 2013-14 varsity to sign a new deal for the upcoming season. That he wasn’t a priority speaks of the Rangers cap crunch but also of Moore’s uncertain future as well as his underwhelming performance as a Ranger. Although Moore has played well at times for the Rangers, it is hard not to expect more when you analyse his talent, size, pedigree and the need the Rangers have for another defenseman to step up offensively.
Had John Moore developed as hoped there’s every chance the Rangers wouldn’t have pursued Dan Boyle and would have had a sizeable chunk of cap cash to pursue a big name center this past summer but Moore didn’t develop into the two way defenseman both the Blue Jackets and the Rangers hoped for and Dan Boyle is indeed a New York Ranger. Meanwhile the Rangers have a merry-go-round at center in Derek Stepan’s absence.
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Have the Rangers moved on from Bourque?
The Rangers have been whittling down their roster in the past few weeks as they approach Thursday’s season opener. Many of the players that have already been cut won’t have a future with the franchise, but some players futures have yet to be decided. With the roster due to be finalised within the next 24 hours, we take a look at a few of the prospects already down on the farm.
After a strong end to last season and with significant turnover among the Rangers presumptive bottom six over the summer, Bourque was considered a dark horse for a roster spot. He was never a realistic option. Following his demotion to Hartford on October 1st, the small but hard working Bourque appears to have been passed by several prospects and at this stage of his career. Only a stunning season with the Wolf Pack will get him back in the reckoning and even that may not be enough. An injury call up and/or an uncertain future as trade bait appears to be Bourque’s immediate situation.
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What to expect from Jesper Fast? (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
The Rangers are entering the home straight and the regular season is almost upon us. It’s a Thursday so let’s throw together some thoughts about the past few days in Rangerland.
Anthony Duclair. Everyone’s favourite Rangers’ prospect appears to be forcing the organisation’s hand into finding him a roster spot. 5 points, 3 goals in 3 games. Blazing speed, a wicked shot and respectable defense for a 19 year old rookie who, two weeks ago, wasn’t on anyone’s radar (for this season).
The thing is this: if he makes it, if he plays, he has to be on a scoring line to be effective. Is there an appropriate spot up for grabs and who suffers as a result? The most realistic scenario would be Mats Zuccarello slipping to the third line (also a productive line under coach Vigneault) but can the team justify pushing their top scoring forward of last year down to the third line for a 19 year old? It’s a great dilemma to have but also a major headache, potentially.
October 9th, at St Louis and then at the Blue Jackets two days later. Do the Rangers have the hardest opening two game set? A road trip to the big, physical Blues and Jackets? It gets physical quickly for the Rangers.
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