Alain Vigneault commented after the Rangers’ turgid performance in Tampa on Monday that “Nobody touched a soul”, referring to his team’s lack of physicality. This has been an underlying issue for large parts of the season so far. In the mean time, Michael Del Zotto continues to be, at best, inconsistent (and the subject of countless traded rumours in the media) and John Moore also has yet to find his game consistently. As you can see, there is plenty of room for improvement on the blueline.
While the Rangers forward unit appears to be more settled with the demotion of JT Miller (who simply needs playing time at this stage), despite the relatively decent performance of the blueline corps, the Rangers appear in need of an injection of physicality. Is it about time they took a look at Dylan McIlrath?
Mcllrath’s development curve is trending in the right direction. While in Hartford the big, bruising 1st round pick has begun to add an offensive dimension to his game but perhaps more appropriate is that he also leagues the American Hockey League in penalty minutes (with 102 penalty minutes in just 18 games) and if you check the box scores regularly enough, you’ll have noticed a few majors along the way.
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Del Zotto has fallen on hard times in New York
For anyone that watches NHL Tonight, this week you’ll have seen Darren Dreger discuss the Rangers apparently having had contact with ‘five or six teams’ interested in acquiring Michael Del Zotto. The moment Del Zotto’s regression offensively caught up with Alain Vigneault’s lack of trust in his defensive game, this kind of rumour always surfaces. For those of you not in the know regarding Dreger, he’s not the kind of guy who recklessly gossips so there are legs to this story.
The Rangers should definitely explore trading Del Zotto. The Rangers need help offensively and/or they need more physicality on the blue line. Trading Del Zotto could help the Rangers tend to one of their needs as despite Del Zotto not having a good season so far, his previous offensive production, his relative youth, his affordable contract situation and his draft pedigree all combine to make him a very moveable asset.
Whether the Rangers decide to move Del Zotto will likely depend on the return, but if they are to move Del Zotto the time is now. The modern day NHL requires asset management and right now Del Zotto is a declining asset. With his recent trips to the press box and with just four points on the season, Del Zotto appears to be regressing. His importance to the Rangers has also diminished as John Moore slowly but steadily develops. Include Ryan McDonagh’s offensive progression, and he could become a Norris-worthy defensman. In short, Del Zotto’s time in New York could be running out.
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With Rick Nash’s imminent return to the Rangers line-up the team today sent Brandon Mashinter back to the Hartford WolfPack in the AHL. Mashinter appears a classic tweener, a very solid AHL’er with some NHL ability but whether with the Sharks or the Rangers, the physical winger hasn’t been able to establish himself in the NHL thus far.
Having appeared in six games for the Rangers thus far, Mashinter has averaged less than five minutes per game going scoreless along the way. For the record, Nash is close but has not committed to the line-up for the Bruins game on Tuesday. Given the return of the Rangers offensive woes (aka your boys can’t finish) Nash’s arrival in the line-up cannot happen soon enough.
A strong, prolonged period of results was slightly tarnished with the sloppy, unnecessary loss to the Devils earlier this week. Sloppy goals, defensive lapses and a lack of finish had many reminding us of the early season edition of the Rangers. With games against the Canadiens and Kings on the weekend it’s a big couple of days for the Rangers. On to the musings
Generally speaking, the Rangers have played well in recent games and this has highlighted the contributions from the youth on the roster such as Chris Kreider. With the Wolf Packing doing pretty well too, it makes the Rangers prospect ranking of 27th on Hockey’s Future (if you buy into that kind of thing) pretty farcical.
Danny Kristo, JT Miller, Jesper Fast, Kreider (still not classed as ‘graduated’), Dylan McIlrath, Oscar Lindberg and ‘Boo’ Nieves highlight a pretty talented pool if you ask me. There’s a ton of NHL upside in the Rangers system and the best part is none of it needs to be rushed. The only area of real concern (in my humble opinion) is in goal.
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Is Kreider a Calder candidate?
It’s come a year later than expected, but Chris Kreider is finally making his own way as a New York Ranger. During the Rangers recent stretch of good form, Kreider has arguably been the biggest physical force on the ice for the Rangers, using his body to great effect on countless occasions. He’s been producing offense, getting under countless opponents’ skin (hello Sidney), and generally playing the most consistent hockey he ever has done, at the pro level.
As with all projections and forecasts, when you’re barely a month into a seven month season, there is much scope for change. But there is no reason Kreider – who still qualifies as a rookie – shouldn’t be in the reckoning for the Calder trophy come the end of the season. If it’s down to opportunity and ability he’ll be in the mix.
Assuming Rick Nash returns soon – which every person associated with the Rangers hopes – Kreider will not be affected adversely as some may speculate, in fact quite the opposite. With Nash attracting the attention of most team’s best defensive lines, the theory is Kreider and his linemates will have weaker opposition to exploit. With 8 points in 10 games to date, and as one of the current focal points of the Rangers offense, Kreider has proven he can handle tough assignments so it stands to reason he should benefit from the attention Nash garners.
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Photo: Lou Capozzola/Getty Images North America
Mats Zuccarello’s response to his healthy scratch against Philadelphia has been nothing short of immense. At the time, Zuccarello was stumbling through the season doing nothing to warrant an extended future with the Rangers. Alain Vigneault was fully justified in removing the little Norwegian from the line-up when he did.
Since the 2-1 loss to the Flyers on the 24th October, Zuccarello has routinely flashed his high-end skill, perhaps encapsulated best by his perfect pass for Derek Stepan’s goal against the Penguins. Not many players would have tried that pass, let alone execute it so perfectly (the weighting of the pass was literally perfect for Stepan to skate to and roof past Fleury.)
With eight points in his last eight games Zuccarello has shown previously unseen consistency as –even accounting for the three assist splurge against the Hurricanes– he has only been held off the score sheet twice over that time frame. Not all is perfect though.
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The Rangers faced a ton of adversity, a fierce rival with a new star acquisition and the pressure of facing up to back to back defeats and yet, they found a way to win. Do not underestimate how much the victory on the Island could mean to the season as a whole. Musings time!
It’s amazing how perceptions can change after one good win.
So many players’ games have improved over the past three games. All of a sudden a previously invisible Mats Zuccarello looks relevant, energetic and back to being difficult to play against. Benoit Pouliot looks like he can play too.
Speaking of Pouliot; against the Isles he showed why he was a promising pick up. The dude has serious skill and can finish. It’s a huge season for him as if he can get some traction and find consistency he may finally stick with a team. He has to be much more consistent though.
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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Given the current lack of offense and the injuries to key players, the Rangers may be very tempted to promote Danny Kristo from the AHL for a short term fix. Kristo is off to a very exciting start with six goals and nine points in his first nine games as a member of the Wolf Pack who, despite routinely losing players to the needy Rangers, have started out very well with a six wins in their first nine games.
Kristo has already grabbed four powerplay goals and has proven to be an offensive weapon for the ‘Pack. Kristo however is likely to be allowed to build on his fast start and deliver some extended consistency. Given what Kristo offers to a team there simply isn’t room in New York despite the injuries. With the progression Kreider and Miller have begun to show, and their extra familiarity with the organisation, they are in the box seat in terms of staying in New York and Kristo would be wasted as a bottom six guy in New York.
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Kreider is earning his ice time.
With all the additional ice time, Chris Kreider is getting better with every game. But he isn’t scoring. JT Miller is beginning to impact games in a multitude of ways. But he isn’t scoring. Generally, the Rangers aren’t scoring. However, despite this team being in a depressing state offensively, the coaching staff needs to stick with the younger players.
While sending Jesper Fast back to the WolfPack was the right thing to do, Miller and Kreider are getting good minutes and they are now showing clear progression. The Rangers won’t derail their season by playing these two promising youngsters – now they are showing some NHL readiness – but they may damage their own long term potential beyond this season if they revert to leaning on the veterans with limited upside.
Despite some indifferent starts, the Rangers can still be excited at the long term potential of their top nine forwards. With Carl Hagelin’s return and with Kreider, Miller, Derick Brassard, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan’s presence, the Rangers have an excellent young core to build around Rick Nash. It may not be the most overly skilled top nine but there is still a nice balance of skill, speed and work ethic. You live with the growing pains.
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AV would not have anticipated this start. At All. (Andy Clark/Reuters)
Instantly discount the idea of Alain Vigneault being in danger. The Rangers Head Coach isn’t going anywhere. Not unless the underperforming New York Rangers go on an almost season long losing streak and even then, six months into a five year deal, a change in leadership would be an extreme measure. So with the assumption that the coaching staff are secure in their jobs, changes need to be made elsewhere.
Almost every single Ranger is playing horribly. While the Rangers improved against the Flyers, they still lost to a team that was 1-7 and arguably in a bigger mess than themselves. Not a single defenseman has lived up to their billing or contract. The offense – save for Brad Richards – has been invisible. At this stage, while still early, the Rangers will need to begin to think about the season as a whole.
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