Archive for Forwards
Tanner Glass returned to practice today, skating as the 8th defenseman with Dylan McIlrath. Glass missed two days with a leg issue. The only other item of note from practice was Emerson Etem swapping in with Jesper Fast for fourth line reps. This doesn’t mean Etem will play over Fast, just that he’s getting reps in at his usual position.
It may have been just one preseason game, and I may just be overly excited about hockey, but last night’s game against the Devils really helped me believe that the depth signings the Rangers made this summer were solid. While most of these players aren’t going to be full time NHLers, most of these guys can be fine players in the bottom-six as a call-up if needed. We saw it last year with the injuries sustained early in the season and eventually in the playoffs, guys that can fill roles help teams win.
Brian Gibbons (pictured above)- The speedy yet undersized forward was a pain in the butt two years ago for the Penguins on the fourth line. Last year when he signed with the Blue Jackets I was really expecting him to become a full time NHLer, but he only ended up playing 25 games for them. His forechecking ability, defensive prowess, great speed, and underrated shot can really fit in well with this team if/when he is called upon. Gibbons is flexible, and can play center or wing. He was impressive against the Devils, and could move up the forward depth chart quickly.
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.
Now that Derek Stepan’s contract situation is all settled, the Rangers roster for the 2015-2016 season is more or less set. There is always a possibility for a Ryan Malone-style PTO, but as of now, this is our group. Currently, there are fourteen (thirteen if you don’t actually count Glass) viable NHL forwards fighting for playing time on the roster. Certain factors like Mats Zuccarello’s recovery and the continued upward trajectory of JT Miller/Jesper Fast’s development could potentially test the depth that Glen Sather/Jeff Gorton have built. Read More→
With the front office’s apparent decision to hang on to Kevin Klein, it now seems likely the Rangers will entire next season with an identical defense and starting goaltender to the group that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The real cause for concern is up front, where the departures of Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin stripped the Blueshirts of 38 regular season goals, equivalent to over 15% of their total offense in 2014-2015. Read More→
With Martin St. Louis out 10-14 days with a knee injury, the New York Rangers find themselves needing to weather the storm while he heals. We can debate the argument over whether St. Louis needed the rest or not, but the point remains that the Rangers will need to find a way to deal with a top-six forward out of the lineup for 4-6 games.
The Rangers are not expected to make a call up, at least right away, while St. Louis is out. This makes relative sense, as the Rangers have a limited number of call ups until rosters expand for the playoffs. That said, this also means the return of Tanner Glass to the lineup. That’s not exactly ideal.
Last night, the fourth line accounted for all of the scoring for the New York Rangers in their 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers. While the Rangers probably didn’t deserve to win that game (Florida doubled up on them in shot attempts and scoring chances), the game illustrated just how important four line depth is to team success.
The ability to roll four lines is something we talk about a lot here. Aside from the obvious benefits of additional rest time for the top players, rolling four lines is critical to the success of the Rangers, given the way Alain Vigneault deploys his lines. The top-six in an AV system get split starts between the offensive zone and the defensive zone, while the third line usually gets sheltered minutes in the offensive zone. The fourth line gets the defensive zone burden.
The New York Rangers have been rolling lately, and when you’re rolling, you don’t mess with what works. That said, there is a growing concern with the second line of Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Martin St. Louis. The line, which has been together for almost 50 games thus far, has been very inconsistent, with all three experiencing prolonged scoring droughts. They’ve been prone to defensive lapses, and simply haven’t driven puck possession (all of this at even strength). That’s a trifecta of issues that can cause concern.
Starting with scoring, Stepan is in the middle of a six-game scoring drought and has just two assists in his last eight games. Of course, he has seven points (2-5-7) in his three games before this slump, so that needs to be considered as well. But that is still a six-game scoring slump. Also worth noting (although not a major part of this post): Stepan hasn’t registered a point on the powerplay since January 18, and that one point (a goal) is his only powerplay point in 2015.
Perhaps the biggest concern with the deal for Keith Yandle is that the Rangers gave up Anthony Duclair to land Yandle. There was plenty of outrage over dealing Duclair, and it’s tough to really blame people for the outrage. Duclair isn’t even 20 yet, cracked the roster out of camp, and was showing significant promise as a potential impact player.
Despite what he showed in camp, Duclair was still a prospect, and thus a relative unknown. He may turn into a 30-goal scorer, he may not. We may look at this as the Anthony Duclair trade in five years, we may not. The Rangers needed to give something of value to get Yandle at half his cap hit, and Duclair was the guy they selected to give up.
Looking into the roster construction, it’s fairly easy to see why they sent Duclair to Arizona.
What was meant to be an organisational weakness has become a strength for the New York Rangers. Understandably, there is instant angst when Derek Stepan misses any game time because of injury and his absence certainly creates a hole in the line-up but the Rangers have to be delighted with the way the center position has developed this season.
A quick glance around the league and in terms of depth, the centers that make up the Rangers’ top two lines (so, Stepan and Derick Brassard) measure up against the best in the league. Only the all world double acts in Pittsburgh (Crosby, Malkin), Detroit (Zetterberg and Datsyuk), San Jose’s trio of centers (Thornton, Pavelski and Couture) and Stamkos and Johnson in Tampa are currently projecting to have at least two centers average higher points totals than Brassard and Stepan.