Archive for Players
The Rangers have been the definition of inconsistency recently, going 4-4-1, as the team noticeably took a step back after its hot start to the season. During that start the Rangers were arguably led not by Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan but by their kids; most notably Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes and JT Miller.
What we’re seeing right now is all three players go through some growing pains, inconsistent form and quite simply stretches of games where the puck doesn’t go in for them. This isn’t time for panic however. Far from it in fact and this despite Hayes being pointless in four, Miller goalless in six and Vesey with one goal since November 13.
The Rangers can probably tolerate one blueliner playing poorly until they finally decide to amend their blueline closer to the trade deadline, a time when cap space is likely to be plentiful and when the typical NYC obsession with acquiring a big name will take over Jeff Gorton. What they cannot afford is to have multiple liabilities on the back end, particularly on a unit that cannot move the puck as it is and on a unit, that is seemingly playing worse in its own zone as the season progresses.
Kevin Klein has truly come back down to earth and is nowhere near the player the Rangers have enjoyed over the past couple of seasons. His form with and without the puck is becoming a serious problem for the Rangers. With his unsustainable level of offense now a memory, Klein is standing out more for his multiple turnovers, poor positional play and general incompetence on the ice. His indecisiveness and hesitation on the puck right in front of Henrik Lundqvist against the ‘Canes – that led to Viktor Stalberg’s goal – was typical of the Klein we’ve seen this season more often than not.
Regression is miserable to watch, and we are going through that misery right now. As Rangers fans, you’d think we were used to this by now, having gone through the exact same thing last year. Even though this year’s team is vastly improved and still a playoff team, there are some major problems on the blue line that have not been addressed. If the Rangers are to succeed beyond a being a one-and-done in the playoffs, things need to change.
The good news is that we’ve seen Alain Vigneault already make one adjustment on the blue line. Remember top pairing defenseman Nick Holden? He wasn’t being put in a position to succeed. He’s now on the third pair, and has been significantly better in that role. It’s time to make those adjustments for the rest of the lineup. These aren’t major moves either, it’s just a simple matter of tweaks before a potential upgrade arrives.
Here’s Chris Kreider KOing Brandon Manning in the first period. What a left.
There are many reasons for the Rangers’ early-season success, but chief among them is the emergence of a group of Blueshirts that are thriving in the second stage of their careers.
J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have been in the NHL for several years now and seen varying degrees of success. But all have now gotten past most of their growing pains and are really beginning to come into their own.
Miller and Hayes in particular have seen a giant leap in production and responsibility that we hoped would come last season. Now, both players have earned Alain Vigneault’s full trust, are playing in all situations and contributing on the scoresheet.
Yesterday, the Rangers made a surprising little move by claiming the 24th overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, Matt Puempel. Without trying to make this more complex I truly see some good signs regarding this transaction, so lets get to some musings that have sprung from the waiver pick-up.
First and foremost lets get to the semantics, a couple of weeks ago the Rangers terminated Calle Andersson’s contract. In theory, Puempel just takes his slot and the Rangers still have a few spots open for trade flexibility or UDFA signings.
J.T. Miller has been a bit of a revelation for the Rangers this season. Viewed by some –including myself– as the best trade chip to try to upgrade the Rangers defense, Miller has taken this and basically shoved it back in our faces. I’ve never been happier.
Through 17 games, Miller has a line of 7-10-17, leading the team in scoring. He’s bounced between the top three lines, showing he can play anywhere in the lineup and on either wing. And he’s done all of this primarily at even strength, with just one PPG and one PPA to his stat line thus far.
I admit it, I was wrong. I mused over the summer that one of the best options the Rangers had that could help them address the numerous flaws on the roster was to move a stuck in neutral Kevin Hayes. Turns out Jeff Gorton’s faith, some Alain Vigneault tough love and Kevin Hayes’ summer training plan were much better decisions than my trade intentions.
What we are seeing now is patience being rewarded and just why the entire NHL went hard after Hayes when he decided Chicago wasn’t his original six destination of choice. Gorton re-upped Hayes on a two year, $5.2 million dollar deal and he’s being rewarded handsomely for doing so. There’s not many players offering better value (even on a bridge deal) than Hayes. Hayes will still be under team control when his deal expires as he’ll still be an RFA in two summers time – good times.
In case you missed it, the Rangers are off to a pretty solid start. While the team sure is fun to watch, the pace of play and success might not be sustainable. Most of that is due to the massive upgrade needed on defense.
Folks immediately point to Dan Girardi and Marc Staal because of their contracts, or Nick Holden because of his early gaffes. But Kevin Klein has been under-the-radar bad to start the season, and it’s one of the main reasons why the Rangers are struggling in the overall shot-attempt battle (CF%), and why detractors are saying their fall is coming fast.
It’s fair to suggest that Brady Skjei – not Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Chris Kreider or JT Miller – may be the most important draft pick and/or prospect the Rangers have developed in an entire generation.
With Dan Girardi and Marc Staal in decline (regardless of their respective bounce back seasons, they’re certainly not going to ‘improve’ from hereon in) and with only Ryan McDonagh a sure thing on the blueline moving forward, the Rangers absolutely needed Skjei to become a bonafide top four defenseman.
Not many people will have predicted this regular season coming out party from Skjei, particularly after his underwhelming preseason, but that fact is that Skjei has become an integral and surprisingly productive member of the Rangers and he’s helped solidify a blueline that faced a ton of question marks. His importance will surely only grow as he gains experience.