Archive for Forwards
We’ve spent an incredible amount of time on the Rangers blue liners this season –from deployment to usage to ice time to lineup decisions– for good reason. There is a major issue there, but it is not the only issue plaguing this flawed club right now. Another major hole in the lineup is in the top-six forwards, where Jesper Fast continually plays, despite not having the appropriate skill set.
Don’t get me wrong, Fast is a solid player. He’s a great skater, solid defensively, and has a top-notch hockey IQ. But he’s not a scorer. The Rangers appear to lack that scorer in the top-six. Alain Vigneault has tried Fast, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Oscar Lindberg at various times, and none have stuck. To be fair, none have really played consistently enough to warrant a permanent spot in the top-six.
A shutout victory against a very good team can mask a lot of deficiencies but the Rangers won’t win the Stanley Cup the way they’re currently playing – I think all Rangers fans know this. The top line can dominate all they want but they can’t play sixty minutes every game and Henrik Lundqvist can win the Vezina by a landslide but even he needs support. There is no way Lundqvist can continue this stretch of excellence unless the team start to play better in front of him.
The Rangers are winning games but they aren’t playing consistently well at either end of the rink – a handful of players aside. If it wasn’t for a potentially career year from Mats Zuccarello and Lundqvist’s sustained brilliance, what would this team’s record be? A lot closer to .500 hockey for sure.
Of course, there are a lot of reasons for optimism. The vast majority of the roster can play better, the defense certainly has the ability and collective track record to suggest they can (and will?) offer Lundqvist more protection and if team-wide discipline improves (it must) then the Rangers would spend less time in the penalty box surely resulting in more offense by default.
On Tuesday night, the Rangers scratched Dominic Moore so that Emerson Etem could get into the lineup again. There was a certain level of surprise at the move, as Moore has been one of the Rangers best and most consistent forwards for the past few years. It wasn’t a question about getting Etem into the lineup, it was about scratching Moore.
But the fourth line played a strong game, generating scoring chances and giving Rangers extra punch in the lineup. Etem was a machine, going to corners, driving to the net. It was capped by his very subtle tip pass off the boards to Jesper Fast for the first goal of the game. Etem made some mistakes as his hockey IQ isn’t optimal yet, but overall it was hard to not be impressed.
With Viktor Stalberg set to return after this weekend, the Rangers are again left with a glut of forwards, all deserving of ice time. Emerson Etem played a solid game on Sunday, and certainly deserves to stay in the lineup. His play has given the Rangers flexibility to give Viktor Stalberg some extra time to recover from the blindside hit by Radko Gudas.
The coaching staff has a tough decision to make regarding who to sit once Stalberg is ready to return, but this is one of those good problems to have. It gives the Rangers an opportunity to match up against opponents, give veterans a rest here and there, or sit a youngster who might be struggling. Flexibility and depth win in this league.
Last night in Montreal, Emerson Etem made his New York Rangers debut. It was rather unceremonious, as he played a grand total of 7:09 on fourth line duty, and was buried for 86% DZ starts. Not exactly the ideal deployment of a guy who is lauded for his offensive skillset.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of Etem’s game. I will be the first one to admit that he is a tremendously gifted offensive player. He has great hands, shot and skating agility. Decision-making, effort level and one-dimensional skillset are the critical concerns I have with Etem. The Rangers traded an extremely versatile player in Carl Hagelin for the young winger, and while I am not here to lament the merits of that trade, it does create something of a roster imbalance. Read More→
In case you missed it, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t, the Rangers have inserted Tanner Glass back to the fourth line. In the process, Jesper Fast has been scratched from the lineup. It’s October, so it’s not worth panicking yet (as I mentioned this morning), but this is a bit of an alarming move.
The Rangers need a solid fourth line to compete for a Stanley Cup this year. Scoring and skating depth throughout the lineup is critical, as is a fourth line that can eat up defensive zone starts. The Rangers had this in 2013-2014, and rode that roster construction all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers did not have that last year. The scoring suffered. The defense suffered. And while injuries certainly played a role in their seven game loss to the Lightning, the roster was not constructed to give the Rangers their best chance at winning.
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→