Archive for Forwards
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.
Continuing on with the mid-season report card, this is my take on the Rangers bottom six forwards. Dave covered the goaltending and coaches and Chris wrote about the top-six forwards previously, so be sure to check them out.
(ALL STATS ARE 5v5 UNLESS NOTED OTHERWISE)
- GP: 43
- TOI/Gm: 12.7
- CF/60: 51.3 (8 fwd)
- CA/60: 49.2 (2 fwd)
- RelCF%: 2.0 (4 fwd)
- P/60: 1.4 (10 fwd)
- SHCF%: 11.0 (TOI/Gm – 2.1)
Hagelin’s speed keeps opposing teams honest. He’s been very reliable defensively, a dangerous part of the penalty kill and has big playmaking potential 5v5 on the offensive side of things. Keep your eye on his name in trade rumors. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and with cap space tight after Marc Staal’s extension he could be a cap casualty. Hagelin has been a big part of the bottom six and will continue to be moving into the 2nd half of the season.
It’s the half way point in the season and our collective egos are such that we like to hand out some mid-season grades to your New York Rangers. Dave got the ball rolling with the goaltending and coaching grades and I have been tasked with the top six forwards so let’s jump on in.
Rick Nash: 40GP 26G 15A 41Pts +17 4 GWG 4 PPG 3SHG
There really is only one player to start with and that’s the NHL’s leading goal scorer. Nash has had a first half to dream of. He’s been healthy, he’s been dominant at both ends of the ice, he’s been consistent (including a point streak of 11 games), he’s been clutch and he’s been everything you could ask for in a potential Hart Trophy candidate. That’s the level Nash has been at – Hart Trophy level.
Club bias aside I – and many others – think Nash could reasonably be in the mix for four major pieces of hardware at the end of the season: Hart (MVP), Selke (defensive forward), Ted Lindsay award (players MVP) and the Richard trophy (top goal scorer). Having a breath taking year.
Derek Stepan: 28GP 6G 21A 27pts +9 8 PPP 4 SHP
Stepan is a difficult one to grade. He still hasn’t developed in the faceoff circle (something that is holding him back from being a legitimate top line center), and he needs to use his shot more; he passes up on far too many quality shooting opportunities, but as a playmaker Stepan has elevated his game to another level this year.
Stepan’s passing and vision are routinely excellent and he didn’t show much rust coming back from his injury. Averaging almost a point per game, Stepan has shown real consistency in his play as a pass first center while he has made a real difference on both special teams units. Wherever Stepan is, he usually has made a positive difference. If he would shoot a little more he would be even more dangerous.
Marty St Louis: 40GP 14G 18A 32pts 12PPP
St Louis is no longer the top line, 100 point winger he once was however he’s still proving he can be a force on the ice and has shown that he’s a leader on this relatively young Rangers team. St Louis has been streaky this year and has had games where he has been completely invisible, something that the Rangers have been able to tolerate because they’ve received fairly balanced scoring this year. However, despite the occasional goal scoring drought and playing in Nash’s shadow, St Louis is still closing in on another 60+ point season which for a player approaching his 40th birthday is hugely impressive.
St Louis is still lethal on the powerplay, he still commands the attention of the opposition and he is still capable of scoring in bunches something that only really he and Nash can do on this Ranger team. St Louis has been good. Hopefully his best will come at the end of the year.
Chris Kreider: 38GP 8G 12A 20pts +9 83Hits
If these grades were based on the last week or two, Kreider’s would be more positive but they’re not. Kreider has endured an inconsistent, frustrating and difficult year and yet he still has a chance to set a career high in goals, assists and points with a solid second half. Perhaps the expectations were too high, but Kreider has struggled in his own end, has endured long slumps, has played recklessly and has been somewhat of a turnover machine. With that all said we’ve seen Kreider dominate teams when he’s on his game, he’s physically imposing and offers the Rangers (and the opposition) something only Rick Nash can do on this team. If Kreider has a strong second half – assuming Nash and St Louis are still firing – it would likely mean the Rangers are flying through the schedule.
Derick Brassard: 38GP 11G 22A 33pts 14 PPP
Brassard has finally developed a level of consistency that does his talent justice (although I haven’t yet forgiven him for his horrendous follow up miss against the Isles). While he has undoubtedly been the beneficiary of Rick Nash’s return to prominence he has also helped Nash do what he has done. Brassard has shown an incredible array of passing, creativity perhaps only rivalled by Mats Zuccarello and has been a powerplay monster with 14 points with the extra man – tops on the Rangers.
Brassard has been much like Stepan, the owner of a wicked shot that he should use more. This season we’ve started to see him do just that – shoot – and no shock, he’s begun to rack up the points. Brassard is on course to smash his career highs in all major categories and is proving Glen Sather’s faith in him to be a smart investment. Brassard has been dynamic, a bargain at 5m, and has fully established himself as a top six center, and on a contending team no less.
Mats Zuccarello: 38GP 7G 15A 22pts +11
Zuccarello has been inconsistent this year but even during spells where he wasn’t producing he has almost never been found lacking in effort. I still struggle to decide whether Zuccarello is a great third line winger or worthy of a permanent top six spot. At times he has struggled to follow up on his break out year of 2013-14 but still, has been one of the Rangers more dangerous players.
Zuccarello has made minimal impact on special teams but his production at even strength has been relatively consistent; he may be the victim of others succeeding on the PP in his place. Zuccarello is similar in one way to Kreider; if coach Vigneault can generate some consistency from him then the Rangers would be in an envious position.
You see Zuccarello’s talent, his on ice vision and hustle and you can’t help wanting more even expecting more out of him, which perhaps is somewhat unfair. With a strong second half there’s still an outside change Zuccarello can flirt with a second 50 point season. Not bad for an undrafted undersized Norwegian.
The most exciting part of the top six’ performances thus far is that there appears room for improvement. Kreider, Zuccarello and St Louis all have had difficult times this season although every member of the top six have played well at least in spurts. If the Rangers can have their top two lines all firing at the same time, there’s very excit
The Rangers start a very tough four game stretch in Anaheim on Wednesday night when they take on the Ducks. With the Sharks, Kings and the vastly improved Islanders all to come during this short, but brutal stretch, the Rangers will find out a lot about the readiness of their team as they look to return to the Stanley Cup final. Perhaps most importantly, this stretch will tell Glen Sather and the Rangers management what they can expect out of their current group of centers.
The group of centers the Rangers will face over the next four games reads like an All Star roster, it really doesn’t get much tougher. It’s reasonable to suggest that all of Getzlaf, Kesler, Carter, Kopitar, Thornton, Couture and John Tavares would all be the Rangers number one center. They are all elite centers capable of dominating opponents and/or putting up elite offense. When out west, the Rangers will again have to cope with the size of the Ducks and Kings. Something they’ve struggled to cope with.
The clamour for top line centers is league wide and certainly nothing new. Every team wants one but not every team has one. The Rangers are in a fortunate position where they have two excellent (and comparatively young) top six centers in Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard but neither would be compared to the Crosby’s, Getzlaf’s and Seguin’s of the league, although both certainly have room for growth.
Long term, people assume the Rangers greatest needs are on defense, addressing a lack of size on the roster and down the middle. You can argue the Rangers lost the Stanley Cup finals because the Kings dominated the center position. Looking at those needs, the Rangers may have answers for their defense and the issue of size coming through the system but do they have a potential top line center in their ranks? Not likely. Which brings us back to Derick Brassard.
While the Rangers keep looking for some consistency and Rick Nash keeps the team in playoff contention almost single handidly, one of the most underwhelming players this season – so far – has been Mats Zuccarello. The little Norwegian winger has failed to live up to his new one year contract (and hefty pay rise) and certainly hasn’t played to a level where he can expect to a get rich, long term deal this coming summer.
With all that said, the Rangers really need Zuccarello to get going. Zuccarello is one of the Rangers more creative players and, Marty St Louis and Derek Stepan aside, arguably boasts the best on ice vision of any Ranger. An in form Zuccarello would surely make the Rangers powerplay much more efficient which would go a long way in helping the team string more wins together. Last season Zuccarello had 17 points with the extra man. This year, somehow, he has yet to record his first point on the powerplay. A huge fall from grace for the popular and hard working winger.
New York’s problems down the middle began when the team failed to bring in a replacement for Brad Richards and were exacerbated when Derek Stepan broke his fibula during training camp.
But since Stepan’s return to the lineup on November 8th, a bit of normalcy has returned to the Blueshirts. Their 5-5-2 record over that span looks a lot worse thanks to three recent losses to the impressive Tampa Bay Lightning, but Stepan has been a godsend since the moment he rejoined the team.