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What an in-form Rick Nash means to the Rangers

Nash is integral to the Rangers hopes for 2015

Nash is integral to the Rangers hopes for 2015

Last season, it can be reasonably argued that no other ‘contending’ team had to put up with as much inconsistency from their top line than the New York Rangers. In fact, the Rangers were surely the only team to go deep in the playoffs who couldn’t even identify a clear top forward line. Injuries, a lack of cohesion, a new system and a poor start to the year were all factors in the Rangers not having a legitimate top line almost all year.

If the Rangers are going to repeat or better their Stanley Cup final appearance in June they will need a clear, dominant top line to emerge. They can’t rely on their bottom six to out work other teams any longer. It all begins and ends with Rick Nash. Nash is the second most important Ranger, behind Henrik Lundqvist, and in front of Ryan McDonagh. After all, if McDonagh falters the Rangers still have two quality top line defensemen in Staal and Girardi to rely on, without considering the merits of Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein.

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Tempering expectations for Kevin Hayes

Hayes

Hayes

Kevin Hayes is the most hyped College Free Agent since Justin Schultz and the Rangers signing him to a contract despite fierce competition around the league is indeed a coup for the club; however immediate expectations will need to be kept in check despite his burgeoning reputation. Particularly from our excitable fan base.

Hayes fills a need for the Rangers, but possibly not in the short term. With Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Marty St Louis and Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers are very well catered for on the wings in their top six. Go a little deeper and you have the likes of Carl Hagelin and Lee Stempniak who are looking for bigger roles. In short, Hayes will not have it easy breaking into the line-up straight away in a position that will aid his development.

This is without considering whether Hayes is even pro-ready, whether his skating (a minor concern, if you believe the media) is good enough to start in the NHL or whether the Rangers feel he would be better served, short term, with bigger minutes in the AHL to begin his pro-career.

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What forward prospect could make the Rangers this season?

Will JT Miller be in the reckoning for more Broadway hat consideration? Courtesy of Blueshirts United

Will JT Miller be in the reckoning for more Broadway hat consideration? Courtesy of Blueshirts United

It’s never too early to look ahead. With the recent Q & A insight from Hartford’s Bob Crawford to fall back on, it’s worth taking a look at what Rangers forward prospects – if any – can make an impact with the Rangers this coming season.

With the significant turnover seen in New York this summer, it looked as though there were several spots for the taking but the additions of Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak and Matt Lombardi may have impacted the chances for a rookie or younger player to make their mark. With respect to the likes of Chris Mueller it’s in the Rangers’ best interests for one or more of the younger, higher ceiling ‘bubble players’ to stake a claim for an NHL gig.

JT Miller and Oscar Lindberg

As Bob Crawford suggested, Miller is NHL ready. For him it’s about consistency, seizing an opportunity and having the right approach; something that he has been criticised for in the past. Lindberg is a less obvious situation. It seems that Rangers fans have waited forever for the Swedish pivot to get to New York but with the Rangers committing to Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Dom Moore for three of the center spots, Lindberg may be forced to start the year in Hartford. That’s not a disaster if it happens.

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Managing Expectations: Jesper Fast

What colours will Jesper Fasts tart in next season? (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

What colours will Jesper Fast start in next season? (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Jesper Fast has acclimatised well to North America despite suffering a few injuries over the past couple seasons. Last year, on a struggling WolfPack team, Fast managed to grab 17 goals and 34 points in his first full year in the AHL. Those totals managed to get him a shot with the Rangers which included 3 games in the playoffs and his first NHL point (an assist). Those totals also showed that his relative offensive explosion the year before in the SEL wasn’t a fluke or a hot streak.

What Fast hasn’t yet done is show that his production in Sweden – and in the AHL – can translate to the NHL. Many fans will see Fast’s cup of coffee with the Rangers, his relative lack of production and the arrival of a slew of depth signings at the NHL level and assume Fast is a prospect in danger of being lost in the shuffle.

What the depth signings suggest is that Fast is not yet ready for full time NHL play and that is probably true. That said, the Rangers haven’t rushed fast nor have they needed to and that’s the right way to treat the young winger. What is also yet to be established however, is what kind of player Fast will be at the NHL level. Will he be an offensive producer or another Hagelin type Swede who excels through his skating ability and work rate?

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The Zuccarello and Kreider deals – mixed results for the Rangers

Kreider could be a league wide bargain next year - if he reaches his potential.

Kreider could be a league wide bargain next year – if he reaches his potential.

Everyone will be breathing a little easier now Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello are under contract for next season but the potential fallout of the two deals really is a mixed bag for the Rangers.

Chris Kreider

Assuming Alain Vigneault can continue to improve Kreider’s defense, Kreider’s contract should immediately become a bargain. The big, skilled forward has the potential to explode this coming season. He is now firmly established in the NHL, will have another camp under his belt, will be coming off a solid playoff season and will also want to prove that he was worth that $2.9 million he was demanding prior to agreeing with Glen Sather earlier this week.

Kreider is still all about potential and –while still slightly raw– he has 30-40 goal potential. Given his likely line mates (Stepan and Nash) and his talent, there’s no reason why he can’t hit 30 goals this coming season. In fact 30 is a number many fans will expect (albeit unfairly expect) from Kreider given his development over the past year. Twenty-One players scored 30 or more goals during the last regular season, and only Ryan Johansen of the Blue Jackets (33 goals, on his entry level contract) earned less than $3 million.

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After the Tyler Ennis deal, how much can Mats Zuccarello expect?

Will #36 soon be celebrating a fat new deal? Image: Getty

Will #36 soon be celebrating a fat new deal? Image: Getty

Mats Zuccarello and his agent will have enjoyed the news out of Buffalo when the Sabres announced the new deal for Tyler Ennis this week. Ennis grabbed 43 points (21 goals) for an awful Sabres side who scored a meagre 150 goals all year. Ennis somehow managed to be a minus 25 but on such a bad side, it can be expected to some degree. While Ennis is (at least on paper) a more established NHL’er than Zuccarello, there are similarities.

Both players are on the smaller side, speedy forwards that are creative with the puck. Neither player would be considered a shoot first player but both have an underrated shot. Ennis’ star has been a slow burner but he’s certainly trending in the right direction – much like Zuccarello. Prior to last year, during his last full 82 game season (2010-11) Ennis grabbed 49 points and 20 goals and he’s averaged better than a point every other game in the two years in between.

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The lingering problem that is Derek Stepan

Derek Stepan is a year away from being a rich young man.

Derek Stepan is a year away from being a rich young man.

Following the news of former New York Ranger and fan favourite Brandon Dubinsky signing an excessive (market representative?) new deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets I was having a twitter chat with well-informed Ranger fan and friend of the blog George Ays (Ranger Smurf). We started discussing the Derek Stepan situation and how Dubinsky’s deal affects the talented Ranger pivot.

Derek Stepan represents a huge headache for the Rangers management. He has already proven he’ll stick to his guns and risk a holdout if he doesn’t get what he feels he deserves and if this summer has shown anything, it’s that it’s very much a sellers’ market. There truly is a dearth of available young talent at the center position. In other words, Stepan knows that if he has a strong season in 2015, he’s getting a truck load of cash.

In fact, the stark reality is that Stepan doesn’t need to be brilliant next year and he’s still going to get rewarded. A young, American forward who has been close to a point/game player (albeit in a lock-out shortened year), who has contributed heavily to a run to the Cup Final and who is arguably the top line center on an original six team? The kid is going to get paid even as a pending RFA. The next deal Stepan signs will likely buy up some UFA years and that’s where it begins to get expensive.

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The Musings: Why so negative?

Ryan McDonagh is a bargain. Relatively speaking. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Ryan McDonagh is a bargain. Relatively speaking. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Now the dust has settled after the draft, week of pre-free agency negotiation and free agency itself, a few days of quiet are upon us before arbitration hearings, contract negotiation rumors and the scraps are picked at in free agency. With that all in mind, let’s take a little look around the league and reflect on the Rangers this summer so far.

Patrick Kane and Jon Toews got identical contracts but that’s where the similarities end – in my opinion. Toews is a natural leader and figurehead. He’s not worth the money he’s just got but if either player is worth it, it’s certainly Toews and not Kane as Toews brings so much more to the table than ‘just’ offense.

Patrick Kane is a Star. He’s a point/game playoff player and is incredibly talented but he just got $10.5 million per year yet has only once scored more than 73 points in a year and has one 30 goal season in his seven years in the league. Sure, it’s not just about numbers and sure, the Hawks are paying to keep the faces of the franchise in town but the money getting thrown about is out of hand. Nothing we didn’t know already, right?

Every additional, major contract signing that gets announced makes me love the Ryan McDonagh deal that much more. Five more years of 25 minutes a game, elite defense and 40-50 points per season for $4.7m a season seems like a bargain.

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Why the Rangers will be better next season

Rick Nash will be better next year, won't he?

Rick Nash will be better next year, won’t he?

Apparently during the first week of July, the Rangers got worse. On paper that may be true given their losses during free agency but too much emphasis is placed on old clichés such as ‘the grass is greener on the other side’.
Didn’t the Rangers just get to the Stanley Cup final? It’s pretty green in NY right now too. People underestimate the potential of the current roster. Here are a few key reasons why the Rangers will be better next year, despite the hits endured in free agency.

Rick Nash

Everyone’s favourite whipping boy in the playoff run, Nash cannot be as snake bitten as he was during the postseason run. He also missed a chunk of time during the regular season and yet still led the team in goals and was third in the league in game winners. Assume for a moment Nash remains healthy and has an uninterrupted season. Assume for a moment he has a full year opposite a maturing Chris Kreider. Nash will return to his goal scoring form and make the Rangers more dangerous offensively.

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Method behind the Ranger ‘madness’

Dom Moore was brought back on a sensible deal - careful planning? (Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI)

Dom Moore was brought back on a sensible deal – careful planning? (Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI)

A successful franchise is well built from the bottom to the top. In the cap era a club needs to develop their own, they need to have a solid pipeline and a competitive minor league affiliate. Prospects need to get into the habit of success and the Rangers’ minor league affiliate hasn’t helped in this regard the past two years as the Wolf Pack have failed to get to the post season for two straight seasons.

To many Ranger fans, the Rangers had a disastrous July 1st. They lost popular players in Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle. They added a whole bunch of ‘minor leaguers’, an aging defenseman (Dan Boyle) with a recent injury history as well as a fist swinging bottom line player to an excessive deal. This is all true. However, let’s look at two key issues here; the loss of core players – Boyle and Stralman – and the ‘minor league’ bunch.

Stralman and Boyle are replaceable

Everyone laments the loss of Stralman and Boyle. Rightly so. They have developed into solid NHL players and became core members of the Rangers. However do you remember where they came from? Stralman couldn’t stick with a team and couldn’t do better than a try-out with the Devils; Boyle was a Kings cast-off destined for the AHL, he was a project. There is no reason why the Rangers cannot develop this kind of player again.

With Dan Boyle signed, the next person inserted into the line-up will have sheltered minutes on the 3rd pairing. In a cap world you have to make sacrifices and Stralman is getting far too much money and term from Tampa. At the end of the day, Stralman doesn’t offer anything that is irreplaceable. He offers no reason to panic.

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