Category: Players

Michael St. Croix: Potential 2011 draft day steal?

When the Rangers took small but skilled Michael St. Croix in the fourth round of this past draft, he went by without much fanfare. In my post draft recap, I noted that the diminutive winger had first round potential, but questions surrounding his play in all three zones made him drop to the fourth round. I did mention he could be a potential steal, and it looks like he could be just that, even though his lofty numbers aren’t as impressive as you might think.

In 66 games in the very high scoring WHL, St. Croix has a whopping 98 points (41-57-98) and is an amazing +39. While those numbers are very impressive, even by WHL standards, the more impressive part is that St. Croix’s numbers have been improving like clockwork. His first full season –as a 16 year old– he produced 46 points, followed by 75 points in his sophomore season. Now with 98 points, St. Croix is approaching a level where he can completely dominate the WHL. Still, he may not be at that level quite yet.

Point in case, despite having 98 points, St. Croix barely cracks the top ten in scoring in the league, where he sits at eighth in the league. Seven players cracked 100 points this season as well.

This furthers the idea that the WHL can be incredibly misleading with its stats. Even the league’s top scorer, Brendan Shinnimin (54-66-120) went undrafted. In fact, he didn’t catch on with any franchise until five days ago when Phoenix signed him. Shinnimin was actually in camp with the Rangers in 2010, after an 86 point season in the WHL. So let’s take these WHL numbers with a grain of salt.

Prospects are prospects for a reason. St. Croix seemed a little lost at the Traverse City Tournament this past September, but he followed it up with a very strong WHL campaign thus far. The rule of thumb for a prospect is to let him dominate the current level before moving him up a level. Domination is more than numbers. Domination is when the other players in the league can’t keep up anymore.

St. Croix, despite his numbers, hasn’t dominated yet. Yes, he has gaudy stats, but it’s the WHL. He still has the potential to be a steal, as the kid definitely possesses talent that could have made him a first round pick in 2011. Tempering expectations a bit would be wise here.

Brendan Shinnimin

Redden named captain of Whale, continues mentoring youth

Wade Redden may not be liked among some fans in New York, as his bloated contract and sub par play made him a popular whipping boy. Many welcomed the fact that he was sent to the CT Whale at the beginning of last season to make room in the budget and roster for other players. But, instead of being a locker room cancer in the AHL, Redden took to the kids and became a great mentor.

Now, it appears Redden is taking the next step in his progression as a mentor, and likely future coach. Over the weekend, Redden was named the captain of the Whale, a position which he has earned. Redden has taken the high road with his demotion, and become an integral part of the development of many youngsters in the AHL.

While his NHL contract may not have been worth it, Redden has more than made up for it with the way he carries himself in the CT locker room. He has been nothing but classy and professional, and it is evidenced by being named team captain.

The press release is after the jump.

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Inside Dubinsky’s stats: shooting percentage and shots

To say Brandon Dubinsky is having an off-year would be an understatement. Outside of his boneheaded penalties of late, most focus on his anemic goal total and his offensive contribution, and with good reason. Dubinsky is making $4.2 million for the next three seasons following the 2011-2012 campaign, and he has contributed just seven goals and 26 points in 60 games this year.

While the raw point totals are troubling, what is even more troubling is his sharp decline in shots taken and shooting percentage. Dubinsky, who averages roughly 178 shots per season, is on pace for just 147 this season. That’s about half a shot less per game. While that may not seem like much, when you factor in his roughly 10% shooting success over his career, that’s three less goals just based on his career average.

This effect is compounded when you factor in Dubinsky’s current shooting percentage: a paltry 6.5% success rate. That’s 3.5% less than his career average, and almost half what it was the past two seasons. If Dubinsky were meeting his career average in shot percentage, then he would be at about 11 goals this season, and on pace for about 15 total goals. It’s not 20, but it’s definitely better than what he is currently on pace for (9).

So what does all this mean? Dubinsky isn’t shooting the puck as much as he was the past two seasons, and he also appears to be incredibly unlucky when he does get his shots on net.

The good news is that there is progression to the mean possibilities here. It may not be this season, which appears to be a lost cause for Dubinsky, but it may lead to a  2012-2013 season reminiscent of his 2010-2011 season, assuming he takes more shots of course.

Gaborik: More than Just a Goal Scorer

The Rangers Slovakian winger is having a great bounce back season and obviously a lot of that is the goals that he is scoring. He’s currently on pace for another 40 goal season and was at one stage on course for a maiden 50 goal season. That said, there are a lot of things that go unnoticed – or perhaps underappreciated – about Marian Gaborik’s game because of his injury history and elite goal scoring ability.

Gaborik has a high level of hockey intelligence; he’s not’ just’ all speed and shot. A few weeks ago his cross-ice pass to set up a Rangers goal was spectacular while during the Devils game on Tuesday Gaborik had two assists, primarily because of his ability to carry the puck and create offense himself.

Gaborik has a high level of vision on the ice which aids his line mates as well as himself. As talented as they may be let’s not overlook the fact that Gaborik is having a great season playing with a rookie call-up and a second year 21 year old as his line mates. Not the same proven supporting cast the likes of Giroux or Malkin enjoy.

During his subpar second season with the Rangers it was widely assumed Gaborik needed a quality center to fulfil his talent. While he is certainly no Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin or Claude Giroux in regards to creativity, the assumption Gaborik couldn’t create offensive himself does Gaborik a disservice. A quality goal scorer with defensive-first teams in Minnesota Gaborik has produced without ever having an elite line-mate for an extended period of time.

It’s not all offense with Gaborik though. He’ll never win a Selke trophy but you had to have a defensive ability to play for Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota and while he’s had his share of mistakes in New York, particularly this season Gaborik has shown a willingness to back check and help out defensively. There are not many elite ‘finesse’ players that buy into the team concept the way the Slovak has done in New York. Just look at the list of gaffes Ilya Kovalchuk has on his resume since moving to New Jersey; a classic example of talent isn’t everything.

It was nice to see Gaborik get the All Star Game MVP this season. It was reward for a player that is more than often not given the credit he deserves. Rangers’ fans should appreciate they have a quality goal scorer and a quality player on their club with Marian Gaborik.

Brad Richards – The Critical Addition

It’s probably obvious that when a team signs a marquee talent it expects a substantial return on it’s investment. However, as we have seen in the past, that hasn’t always been the case with the Rangers. Think back to dark, dirty years without play-off hockey at the MSG and you’ll lose count of big name players simply collecting cheques and giving little in return. These days it’s different. Brad Richards was the right addition at the right time for a club with so much in the way of a bright future.

Even if Richards ‘only’ hits 27 goals and 65 points (the totals he’s on target for), his on-ice presence has resulted in greater depth, team’s having to focus on more than one line – spreading the defensive coverage – and the arrival of another winner in the organisation. Team’s can learn to win, but there’s no harm in accelerating the learning process by adding a proven winner to the mix. Providing the foundations are set.

The Rangers have drafted well and appear to be a young, tight-knit group that play hard for each other. Brad Richards isn’t just a quality player, but he seems to fit in the team dynamic too. He’s influencing the young players like Stepan and Anisimov, he’s a positive guy that is more than happy to share the limelight (Broadway hat anyone?) and he is someone that gladly assumes responsibility. Depending on what your opinion is on long term contracts in a cap world there really is nothing to dislike about the Richards signing.

The Rangers have the best goaltender in the world and a burgeoning core that is growing together. When the team added Marian Gaborik to the mix they added an elite goal scorer to a bunch of kids still growing. Then they continued to grow. This summer when Richards came on board this club (and the roster) had matured and Richards was added at the right time. The club appears ready to take the next step towards being a contender and the way the team has played recently; far from perfect but never rolled over, proves that the mental strength required to win is there. Richards adds to that mentality.

Richards’ totals may not be brilliant (although they are far from bad), but his impact has been significant. His goal against the Ducks in Sweden was decisive: thanks to that goal 2 OT losses looks better than one solitary point. His game winner against Montreal helped avoid what would have been a second collapse in a week and he has been relatively consistent all season. He has done it against the good teams too. He’s contributed offensively against the Sharks, Ducks, Kings and Canucks – all play-off bound teams. He doesn’t disappear when the quality of competition increases.

This team has flaws, naturally; it isn’t as skilful as the Penguins or Caps, nor is it as potent as some other clubs on the power play, but Richards improves both aspects on the Rangers. If this club goes on to have significant success, there’ll be a few milestone moments that will be looked on as being critical.

Drafting Henrik Lundqvist way back in 2000, Callahan in 2004 and Marc Staal in 2005, not to mention the culture change – and youth emphasis – that has gone on under John Tortorella are all crucial moments/periods in recent Rangers history. Adding Brad Richards (the right player, at the right time) may be another of those seminal moments that make this club a winner. Here’s hoping.

Zuccarello Should Look To Left Wing For Answers

This September Zuccarello will be under the microscope of Front Office exes and fans alike thanks to potential replacements waiting in the wings (pun intended) like Chris Kreider, Christian Thomas, or Carl Hagelin. With Gaborik, Callahan, and possibly Prust all potentially ahead of Zukes on the right wing depth chart, one has to wonder if the Norwegian’s days are numbered.

To be fair, it doesn’t make much sense to play Zuccarello at RW on the 4th line (his landing spot towards the end of last season). Everyone knows fourth lines on Tortorella teams get virtually zero ice-time. It’s not a place for a young forward who you are trying to mold into a top 6 player.

So what does this mean for his future with the Rangers and the NHL?

While it’s too early to predict his path with the Blueshirts, I do think that he definitely has what it takes to succeed in the NHL. The media and the fans who buy their BS will tell you that he’s too small, or that he needs to gain weight, but that’s a lazy analysis.

Zuccarello isn’t too small for the Show, not for a forward anyway. There are currently around 15-20 players in the NHL that play at or below 5’8 and Zuccarello has better skills than most of them. He may not or ever be as quick as Gionta, Cammalleri, St. Louis, Briere, or Ennis, but he’s not a step behind Gerbe, Connor, Shannon, or Recchi either.

No, Zukes doesn’t need to bulk up or find the Zoltar machine at Rye Playland.

“I WISH I WERE BIG!”

But he may have to switch to the other side of the ice.

To me, Zuccarello’s struggles generally occur along the boards. This is mostly due to the fact that he is a left handed shot playing right wing. While playing the “off-wing” is good for scoring goals (remember the whole Kovy fiasco in NJ last season), it does make board play more difficult.

Zukes is already at a disadvantage coming over from the larger rinks of the Swedish Elite League, where you have a week and a half to decide what to do with the puck. Here on North America rinks, no such luxury exists.

So, not only is Zukes getting used to the pacing and physicality of NHL forechecking, but he also has to get used to receiving pucks along the board on his backhand, which is obviously more difficult than receiving pucks on your forehand. Add a 220-lb defensemen pressed up against you, and you’re talking a whole new skill set to learn.

Passing and cycling along the boards is where he needs to improve. If he wants to speed up the learning process, I say he take a shot at leftwing. Besides, other than Dubinsky, none of our other LW’s are locks for top scoring roles next season.

So, Where Do We Go From Here Artie?

A visitor on the site recently bemoaned the lack of consideration Anisimov has been getting when people discuss the Rangers core. Everyone acknowledges the Callahan’s, Dubinsky’s, Lundqvist’s, Staal’s and McDonagh’s just to name a few. Those players as well as Gaborik, Richards etc are obvious, important parts of the Rangers future. Even this summer, where people have been fretting about other teams poaching the likes of Callahan and co. with offer sheets (prior today of course) not much air time was given to the status of Anisimov. So why no (read: not enough) love for Anisimov?

This is just my personal opinion but it’s not that Anisimov doesn’t get love. Far from it, but he is a frustrating player. Before we get on to why he doesn’t get enough love let’s acknowledge what he has accomplished. Touted as a first round talent the young Russian slipped to the grateful Rangers in the second round. Since then, the young center has developed via Hartford to play a solid role on the Rangers. A solid rookie year in the AHL was followed up by an explosive second year before two solid seasons in the NHL as a Ranger led us to this off season. He has indeed, made a lot of progress for a young man.

But here’s my personal gripe regarding Anisimov. The following scouting report is a selection of scout’s comments with commentary from the report writer. It’s from an article back in Anisimov’s draft year, a few months before the talented Russian was taken in the 2006 draft;

“He dominated and I know a lot of scouts left the game saying, now I know what he can do. There’s a lot to like there but why don’t you see it every night?”…… Anisimov has loads of potential and it is easy to get seduced by his combination of skill and size…..“He is skinny and weak but he has some ability with the puck.” I’ve seen him be average and the next night he is so far above everybody else”

What is the first thing that you notice about that report? The first thing that stood out for me was the accuracy of it while the second thing was that Anisimov really hasn’t changed a great deal from that report. He is still prone to inconsistency; disappearing for stretches then wowing you with his natural talent. He is still weak on the puck and still needs to add weight/muscle to his frame to maximise his talent.

So how long is too long? At what point will Anisimov kick on and take it to another level? Do you wait and hope he becomes a genuinely top end player? Make no mistake; ‘Artie’ is already a good NHL player but there’s room for more. That’s the frustrating thing, there is room for so much more but given the time elapsed between that telling scouting report and where we are today, will we ever see more? That’s why Anisimov faces a relatively uncertain future. Derek Stepan has overtaken him in one year, Brad Richards is on the scene as the clear number one pivot and there’s plenty of young talent elsewhere in the system. Clocks ticking Artie.

Stay or Go: Brian Boyle

One of the biggest surprises during the first half of the season was the breakout performance of Brian Boyle.  He along with Feds and Prust were almost the essence of what John Tortorella hockey is all about – relentless forechecking, physicality, and getting off 2nd chances in the crease. They were the definition of bang and crash hockey.

Thanks to off-season training with famed power skating coach Barbara Underhill, Boyle came out of the gate looking like a completely different skater from last year. His posture was much improved, there was less body movement within his stride, and his overall technique was just far more efficient. As a result, Boyle was skating with more explosiveness and balance than ever before.  And of course there were the goals.

Through the first half of the season Boyle had 14 goals and 22 points in 41 games.  You could argue that because of this production the Rangers were staying afloat offensively. Then something happened during the second half. His production dropped faster than Bobby Bacala at a toy store (I miss Sopranos!). Over his final 41 games, he registered just 7 goals and 13 points with none in the playoffs.

While Boyle’s skating technique was still comparable with the first half, his stamina looked to be running near empty.  He no longer beat defenders off the rush, he didn’t drive to the net as much, and he just seemed to be missing that “extra step” on the forecheck.  He also didn’t use his god given size as much as he should have. I mean Ryan Callahan and Brandon Prust hit much harder and they’re half his size.

You could argue that stamina was a factor and although I wouldn’t disagree, you could make the same excuses for Prust, and yet he delivered the same offensive output consistently all season, plus he was tasked with fighting guys out of his weight class.

Now this doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in what Boyle provides or that I am downgrading his importance to the team. However, if the Rangers plan on pursuing an elite center either through free agency or via a trade (and I believe they will), then I think Boyle should be shopped.

Coming off a 21 goal season at $500K, his services will definitely be coveted and he could fetch a decent return.  For the Rangers, if we have Stepan, Anisimov, a Hartford player, Drury and/or an elite center down the middle, then will be more than fine without him.

Rangers Prospects Continue to Impress

The Rangers’ Prospects are still turning heads throughout their own playoffs this year. In a head to head battle of Rangers picks Christian Thomas and Jason Wilson went head to head Wednesday night as Oshawa took on Niagara in the OHL Eastern Semi’s. Wilson’s Ice Dogs had a surprising 2-1 lead before the game and made it a commanding 3-1 lead after. Both Rangers prospects made an impact. Wilson was named first star on the back of two crucial goals including the game winner (as well as an assist) while Thomas scored the lone goal for Oshawa as his team lost 6-1 to be on the brink of elimination. Thomas’ goal was his playoff leading 8th goal and 18th point in just 9 games and has a 4 point lead on the next best scorer in the OHL. Thomas has clearly carried his form right through the year to establish himself as an elite prospect. Wilson too however, is making the Rangers draft team look good. Following a good regular season Wilson has 9 points in 8 playoff games and is playing great hockey. Another Ranger prospect, Dan Maggio of the Generals, was pointless and had an even rating on the night. He remains on 3 points and -1 in 9 games thus far. It will be interesting to see whether some of these players get signed up for the AHL playoffs upon elimination from the junior tournament.

Over in the Quebec Junior league, recent Ranger signee Ryan Bourque is also having a productive playoffs. In 8 games thus far the diminutive forward has 9 points in 8 games as his Remparts team are 3-1 up in their second round series against Shawinigan. Wednesday night saw the Remparts take a 2 game lead with a comprehensive 5-1 victory, the third time in 4 games they have managed to score 5 or more goals. Alternate captain Bourque was actually scoreless in Wednesday night’s game and credited with one hit.

No Rangers prospect extended their seasons over in the WHL, hence players such as Dylan Mcilrath were able to sign on to play in the AHL during the remainder of this season. The fact that Chilliwack’s season is over and Roman Horak had an excellent year does however make you wonder why he wasn’t offered a similar deal to play in the AHL playoffs for the Whale. While Horak ‘only’ had 3 points in 5 games during the playoffs for the Bruins that came on the heels of an excellent regular season which saw the center notch 78 points in 64 games, a big improvement on his first year in the WHL. One can only guess why he isn’t in the AHL right now.

Finally, deserving of the last mention today is goalie Scott Stajcer, back in the OHL. Stajcer opened the season needing a good year if the Rangers were going to sign him. He then opened the year scorching hot before suffering a long injury throwing his future into doubt. Well, he’s found his game once more, in the OHL playoffs. Stajcer’s Owen Sound Attack beat Plymouth 4-1 to sweep their series and move to the OHL West Finals for the first time in over a decade. Stajcer was named first star of the game thanks to 36 saves and won his fourth straight start. Stajcer’s numbers in the playoffs are staggering. He boasts a .963%, a 1.07GAA and has 4 wins in 5 games. The fact Stajcer is playing such good hockey at the most important time of year speaks volumes to his character.

Stacjer’s play also makes you wonder about the Rangers intentions regards to the young goalie. With the Rangers recently signing Jason Missiaen, with Cam Talbot, Chad Johnson and Whale player of the year, veteran Dov Grumet-Morris also all in net, the Rangers have a lot of goalies signed on for next year beyond the NHL team (I must admit to not knowing Grumet-Morris’ contract status). That log jam and the fact the Rangers need to sign Stajcer before June to retain his rights makes you wonder whether Stajcer will be signed up. His play this year seems deserving of an entry level deal. Should be worth monitoring.

 

With Callahan Out, Prust Personifies The Rangers

When the Rangers lost Ryan Callahan to injury in December, there were many questions about how the Rangers were going to cope with the injury. Callahan was the prime example of the Rangers new mentality of grind it out. He hits, he forechecks, he scores, and he plays great defense. He also does it all against the oppositions top lines. It is very tough to replace all of that. Luckily for the Rangers, they got Brandon Prust from Calgary along with someone else, forgot his name, in exchange for Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik. Prust has taken over where Callahan left off (minus the offense).

Prust has been one of the best finds in recent memory for the Rangers. He may not score as much as Callahan, but he does everything else just as much, and replaces the missing offense with a good record in fights. He has been someone the Rangers have looked to to invigorate a team decimated by injuries. He is nothing short of a warrior (as line mate Brian Boyle called him), and he does it all with more injuries than some NHL teams. He has been playing stellar hockey with a sore shoulder, a bruised ankle, and a sore hand. One of those is enough to most players out of the lineup.

When the Rangers need a spark, Prust drops the gloves, despite the shoulder and hand. When the Rangers need a good shift, it’s Prust out there to pressure the opposition. When the Rangers need solid defense, it’s Prust out there against the opposition’s top lines. He went from a borderline fourth line player last season to an integral piece of the Rangers core. And he did it in less than one season. The Rangers would be a completely different team without Prust. What a find he is turning out to be.