The Rangers couldn’t really have asked for much more after two games. Two road games brought two wins against the reigning Stanley Cup champion and one of the Eastern conference’s rising powers. The first two games also gave significant insight into how the Rangers will have sustained success this season: depth and Hank.
Depth wins in the NHL, wins for the Rangers
Mats Zuccarello aside, the Rangers top line hasn’t got started yet and despite this the Rangers have two victories to kick off their season. Six Rangers have at least two points after two games, with rookie Oscar Lindberg starting his first Rangers’ October in sensational style with two big goals and JT Miller showing his difference making ability with three assists in his first two games. Indeed, the Rangers third line (with Viktor Stalberg) has been the team’s best thus far. They’ve established offensive zone time, generated offense and have gotten in on the forecheck consistently.
The Rangers head to Chicago tonight for their season opener while having the ‘pleasure’ of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony. The Rangers and the ‘Hawks have both undergone significant roster change – perhaps highlighted by Antti Raanta who headed from Chicago to New York to replace Cam Talbot. With tonight’s game an immediate test of how ready the Rangers are for the new season, let’s take a look at three Rangers players who could play a critical role tonight.
Anytime the Rangers head to Chicago to play the ‘Hawks Kevin Hayes will be a focal point given how he was drafted by the Hawks then walked away from the team. Hayes will be one to watch tonight firstly to see how he acclimatises to his new top six right wing role, a position he rarely played last season. In two games last season Hayes went pointless against Chicago but he’ll be counted on from the get-go this season as the Rangers look for more secondary scoring.
The new Kreider – Stepan – Hayes line boasts a ton of size and playmaking ability but could see a lot of Patrick Kane tonight as Kane starts on the second line with former Ranger Artem Anisimov. How the Stepan line copes with Kane and co. will be a huge factor in the Rangers ability to leave Chicago with a season opening win.
The Rangers are likely looking at a slow start this season and anything better than treading water will be a bonus for Alain Vigneault. Fans should not expect miracles to kick off the season for multiple reasons. While Dave has already discussed the Rangers looking at all their line-up options to begin the season, the fact is only one line offers stability. The trio of Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello will start the year together and that should come as no surprise but beyond this, there will be significant tinkering with the line-up. It’s not just line-up decisions however that could cause a slow start.
Looking beyond the obvious roster decisions and the Rangers have a tough start when you factor in the early schedule. Starting in Chicago is tough enough but throw in a back to back with the talented (and presumably now healthy) Blue Jackets makes the Rangers opening three games a real baptism of fire for the 15/16 season. It doesn’t get much easier. With Eastern conference heavyweights Montreal on tap inside the first two weeks and the San Jose Sharks due two weeks today, the Rangers have a lot of talented opponents to begin the year. ‘Relief’ should come in the form of games against the Devils and the Coyotes but a .500 record after eight games would not be such a bad thing given the opponents up first to kick off October.
Three conference finals and a Stanley Cup appearance is no mean feat, whatever franchise you are. The Rangers have had a strong run over the past half decade or so; they have done it despite the ongoing need to develop young talent, spend to the cap to retain their own and recruit the biggest names on the market. Despite the absence of a Stanley Cup, the Rangers have balanced youth and (relative) success very well. The current roster has a young core and even the most key players have plenty of miles left. With this week’s roster decisions it appears the Rangers are continuing with their dedication to youth.
This week’s announcement that 2010 top ten draft pick Dylan McIlrath made the Rangers opening night roster over cheap and flexible roster part Raphael Diaz wasn’t just the right decision (McIlrath had consistently been the better of the two all preseason) but it was another example of the Rangers dedication to youth. Oh how times have changed since the 1997 – 2003 period (what some fans call the lost years). Factor in Oscar Lindberg having likely played himself into the opening night line-up and another season has arrived where the Rangers have managed to inject youth into the line-up with at least two rookies.
While the preseason is all about getting into game shape, finding line combinations and putting a competitive roster together it’s also about asset management. The Rangers have several selection dilemmas coming up and it will be another test for new general manager, Jeff Gorton.
Several Ranger prospects are in danger of being waiver claims and as a club with a relatively shallow prospect pool (thanks to graduations, a strong, young roster and asset stripping trades) the Rangers cannot afford to lose players for nothing. There isn’t the organisational depth to accommodate several losses.
A player such as Oscar Lindberg looks increasingly assured of a roster spot so ‘managing’ Lindberg will be more about putting him in a position to succeed. Lindberg has made a good start to the preseason and with several teams around the league reportedly interested in him (according to the always well informed Elliotte Friedman) the Rangers need him to make the team.
Henrik Lundqvist is the most critical Ranger of all, Rick Nash is the Rangers’ solitary elite goalscorer and Ryan McDonagh is the undoubted leader of the Rangers deep and experienced blueline but the impact of Mats Zuccarello’s season ending injury last year was undeniable. As Marty St Louis slumped into retirement the Rangers lacked offensive punch and consistency as they lost to Tampa in the Conference Finals and they absolutely missed their Norwegian playmaker.
Entering a new season the Rangers have several new faces and multiple question marks throughout the line-up. How much will Cam Talbot be missed? Can Ryan McDonagh quickly get back to his best and who will pick up the slack following St Louis’ retirement? Above all however is the health of Zuccarello and his ability to get up to speed quickly.
Slowly but surely the oh-so-long hockey-less summer is coming to an end. Traverse City is around the corner, prospects are back in action and news is starting to filter through. Without further delay, let’s hit up Around the League one more time.
It’s the time of the year when we start to hear about try-out offers for veterans ahead of training camps. One that could offer some intrigue is the Blues inviting Scottie Upshall to camp. Upshall has flirted with 20 goals on a few occasions and at 31 could be a decent short term fill-in for the injured Patrick Berglund.
Prediction time: The Rangers will have three centers break fifty points. Kevin Hayes will build on his fine rookie year and scrape past the half-ton.
Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello has been ‘cleared for the new season’. With the time Zuke has had to heal I’m sure most people will not see this as a surprise but regardless, it’s good to hear. Zuccarello has become an increasingly integral part of the Rangers. His importance will only increase as the Rangers have gotten younger up front and have lost Marty St Louis.
New Jersey Devil veteran defenseman Bryce Salvador has retired after a solid 14 year career. Injuries robbed Salvador of almost all of his final year in the NHL.
The Pittsburgh Penguins continue to ‘search’ for new owners. Really, this franchise hasn’t deserved to be littered with legendary talent like Lemieux, Jagr and Crosby because it’s only been kept in the city by hook or by crook over the years. Multiple ownership, finance and arena issues; the Pens have never been a model of stability despite being in a strong sports market and boasting a regularly high quality on-ice product.
It bears repeating. We’re in the dog days folks. If you’re into your European soccer, or NFL training camps/meaningless preseason shenanigans then I’m sure you’re coping. If you’re not then I hope we’re keeping you sane here at Blueseatblogs. Without further delay, on to the latest Around the League post.
Christian Ehrhoff signs for LA 1.5m 1 year
Christian Ehrhoff has finally found a home this offseason. The veteran German defenseman has signed a relatively paltry one year deal with the Kings for $1.5m. Ehrhoff had a pretty disappointing year with the Pens last season, struggling to stay healthy and putting up almost career worst numbers. However, this deal represents almost no risk for the Kings and makes you wonder why no other contending team jumped on Ehrhoff if he was available at this kind of cap commitment. If Ehrhoff can get back to his 30-40 point form he would represent a major steal for the Kings.
Carolina getting analytical
The cellar dwellers that are the Carolina Hurricanes have become the latest franchise to hire a blogger to help with their increased focus on analytics (maybe Dave has a future in hockey as well?…). Former blogger Eric Tulsky joined the ‘Canes as ‘Hockey Analyst’ last week. Hockey continues to move more and more towards analytics. Maybe it’s time I started to understand a bit more about all these fancy numbers…
Yahoo name Kreider as a fantasy sleeper
More and more fantasy posts are coming out now, looking ahead to the new year (‘tis the season) and Yahoo have suggested Chris Kreider could be a breakout candidate; something we’ve discussed numerous times. It’s a list worth looking at if you’re fantasy inclined.
It truly is the dog days of summer. It’s not just the Rangers that are quiet but the league in general is in its summer slumber but there’s still a few things worth discussing – both Ranger and league wide.
Danny Briere officially retired this week. Another undersized player, like Marty St Louis Briere also had to fight his way up depth charts to forge a good career. Even though he was a first round draft pick he wasn’t an immediate success. Not Hall of Fame worthy but almost 700 points as well as over 100 playoff points makes an impressive resume.
Offseason (slightly biased) prediction: Henrik Lundqvist finally wins his second Vezina. He should be fresh and will have a pretty big workload meaning strong volume stats.
With Derek Stepan’s new contract it’s a fair assumption that the Rangers have locked up their top two center positions for the foreseeable future. Stepan and Brassard will cost the Rangers a total of $11.5m, but with finances, age, contract situations and production all considered, are the Rangers in a good spot with their top center duo when compared to the better centers around the league?
This post has its flaws; it only looked at teams who had multiple centers amongst the top thirty scoring centers from last year’s regular season. Obviously there are other factors that need to be considered such as injuries, positional flexibility, form over multiple seasons and the development of prospects moving forward. At present, only the Sharks boasted three centers amongst the top thirty scorers at the position although Joe Pavelski played mostly as a winger on Joe Thornton’s line.
A quick overview of the players (and teams) amongst ‘the top thirty’ and the Rangers don’t necessarily have the star power or elite names that many of the other teams who feature can boast. The Rangers don’t have a Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar or Tyler Seguin. What the Rangers do have though are two players with upside, who are under contract together for the next four years and who have both proven themselves in both the regular season and playoffs.
So who’s who in the top thirty?