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Category: Forwards

Why the Rangers need to address the center position this summer

Derek Stepan is awful at face-offs. It needs addressing.

Derek Stepan is awful at face-offs. It needs addressing.

Not a single team currently ranked lower than the Rangers in face-off percentage this year will be in the playoffs. The last four Stanley Cup Champions (Chicago (twice), LA and Boston) rank 5th, 3rd and 8th respectively in face-off success. All three of the Rangers centers relied on for their offense – Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards (so, not Dom Moore and Brian Boyle) – have less than a 50% success rate, with Stepan winning a paltry 45.2% of his face offs. Can you see the point we’re trying to make?

When Brad Richards leaves the Rangers this summer, the team must ensure his replacement(s) count face-off ability among their skill sets. Face-off weakness is also one why reason why Derick Brassard being retained isn’t a guarantee. Aside from resolving Marc Staal’s contract situation this summer, perhaps the biggest focus for the Rangers needs to be acquiring proven face-off centermen.

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Fast or Carcillo: Lineup decision plays key role

Fast has played well so far. (Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Fast has played well so far. (Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

When Chris Kreider went down with his hand injury, the Rangers were left with a problem in their top-six forwards. There were few options to fill in for Kreider, and none that could provide the scoring threat that Kreider provides on a nightly basis. Dan Carcillo has been a pleasant surprise, and Jesper Fast has held his own in his call up this week. Since J.T. Miller is not ready to take on this role, it comes down to Fast or Carcillo.

Acquired for a 7th round pick, Carcillo has been one of those pickups that went under the radar but reaped many rewards for the Rangers. Originally thought to be redundant with Arron Asham in Hartford, Carcillo has fit in nicely with the fourth line. The fourth line continued chugging along with Carcillo in for the then-injured Derek Dorsett. Once Dorsett returned, Carcillo bounced around the lineup, most recently filling in for Kreider on both the top line and second line.

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Assessing the Rangers wingers, long term

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

While everyone who watches the Rangers with any regularity would agree that the Rangers need to address the center position in the near future, the Rangers have got a lot more talent on the wing than many will lead you to believe. It starts but certainly doesn’t end with the current roster.

With Rick Nash and Martin St Louis leading the club from the wing, there is plenty of veteran elite ability for next year. Greater contributions (and consistency) will be expected from Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider. Both young wingers offer physical tools (speed and/or size) and the ability to score in bunches but Kreider at least, will be expected to take the next step after his promising rookie campaign this year. Hagelin is almost the perfect depth winger given his reliability in his own zone, ability to play on any line and an ability score close to 20 goals at the NHL level.

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Fourth line depth a critical key to success for the Rangers

Photo: Frank Franklin II AP

Photo: Frank Franklin II AP

One of the many issues the Rangers have dealt with in the past is depth, specifically on the fourth line. The inconsistency is what led previous coach John Tortorella to play the line just five minutes a night (much to the chagrin of the fans). Last year saw endless combinations of Taylor Pyatt, Darroll Powe, Arron Asham, Derek Dorsett, or –in the playoffs– Brad Richards. In 2011-2012 it was some combination of Mike Rupp, John Mitchell, and a rotating right winger.

The key here is that the Brian Boyle line, whoever he was playing with, was always the third line. The Boyle, Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko line, the one we all loved so much, was playing top-nine minutes. Not to take anything away from them, as they were one of the better shutdown lines in the game, but that trio –on a deep team poised for a run to the Cup– is a fourth line. It’s something we harped on ’round these parts for about three years.

Our exact quote: “When Brian Boyle is our fourth line center, we will finally have the depth required to make a deep run.”

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Dealing for Ryan Kesler is smart, but not at the expense of Derek Stepan

Kesler

Kesler

There is a lot of interested in trading for Ryan Kesler, and for good reason. Kesler is a top line center who is usually good for about 60 points per season when he isn’t hurt. He plays a solid two-way, three-zone game, and would give the Rangers a lot of options in their top-six. In a vacuum, dealing for Kesler is a very shrewd move that would cement the Rangers place as a true contender in the Eastern Conference.

The problem is the cost. The Canucks are rumored to want a “young center that is 20-25 years old, a top prospect, and a third round pick.” You can’t blame them for wanting this much, as Kesler is locked up for another two seasons at $5 million per year. For the Rangers, that would mean dealing Derek Stepan, a top forward prospect (Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast), and the pick.

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The lines Alain Vigneault found success with are about to be changed, probably for good

The return of Derek Dorsett plus the call up of J.T. Miller minus Mats Zuccarello and maybe Ryan Callahan equals…?

I still can’t get used to Alain Vigneault’s steady line combinations after four years of John Tortorella’s incessant juggling, but Vigneault has stuck with the same combinations for quite some time now.  It’s worth nothing that the Rangers finally turned a corner this season thanks in no small part to the team’s balance and chemistry up front.  Mats Zuccarello has been the team’s best forward so far this season and a key cog in Vigneault’s formula, but with him lost for likely another week or two (not to mention the upcoming trade deadline), Vigneault will be forced to rejigger his preferred trios.

Throw in the fact that winger Derek Dorsett is ready to return from a broken fibula and 20-year-old J.T. Miller, who has been dominant in the AHL, was recalled last night, and it’s tough to predict what Vigneault will end up with.  It’s probably most likely that Vigneault will be forced to try several different new looks – which might not be settled by the trade deadline in three games, throwing us back to square one.

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Appreciating Benoit Pouliot’s recent play

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Image

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Image

When the Rangers signed Benoit Pouliot in the offseason, we viewed it as a solid depth signing that could lead to some great tertiary scoring. Pouliot was one of the league leaders in P/60, and the Rangers got him for a bargain of a contract. It was low-risk, high-reward at its finest.

However the signing didn’t work out as planned –at least to start the season– for the Rangers. As the team adapted to the new system, Pouliot was one of the players who really struggled. He didn’t register a point until the ninth game of the season. Through two months, he had a measly four points (2-2-4) and was the target of many angry Ranger fans.

Then December came around. Since the beginning of that month Pouliot has 11 points in 15 games (6-5-11), including a seven-game point streak. Five of those points (4-1-5) came on the powerplay. In the span of 15 games, Pouliot has gone from whipping boy to tenth on the team in scoring and sixth in goals. That is probably the fastest turnaround we have ever seen.

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Rangers midseason grades: bottom-six forwards

When healthy, Derek Dorsett has been everything the Rangers hoped for

Like many parts of the 2013-2014 roster, the bottom-six forwards have struggled through long stretches of the season thus far.  Part of that can be attributed to players being used out of place and in unusual situations, but the team hasn’t gotten consistent play out of many of its depth forwards for most of the year.  That seems to be changing over the last few weeks, and has been as instrumental to the team’s mini turnaround as anything else.

Brian Boyle

Boyle will forever be a polarizing player amongst Ranger fans because he has hands of stone and doesn’t drive opponents through the boards with his massive size.  You can’t really judge Boyle fairly until you accept those two facts of life, which many refuse to do.  But Boyle is a very useful player in many other areas.  Though this hasn’t been his finest year, Boyle is still being relied on as the team’s top defensive forward, plays well on the penalty kill, is the best faceoff man on the team and drives possession.  He is guilty of being a passenger at times this season the same as nearly every player on the roster, but for the most part, Boyle has been use usual steady self.  Still, scoring just one goal all year is pretty hard to do.

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Rangers’ resurgence won’t last long if top forwards don’t start producing

The Rangers need much more from Derek Stepan

The Rangers were able to salvage their franchise-record homestand with wins over Minnesota and Toronto, but things still need to change if the Blueshirts are going to turn their season around.

New York’s 27th-ranked offense has been carried by the likes of Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Benoit Pouliot over the last two weeks, while the team’s top players continue to struggle.  Rick Nash hasn’t scored in any of his last six games, and has just one goal in his last nine.  Brad Richards hasn’t scored in eight games and Derek Stepan has just three goals in his last 23 games.  Not coincidentally, those cold streaks have coincided with the team’s worst stretch of the season.

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Rick Nash needs to make a statement

Will the real Rick Nash please stand up. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Will the real Rick Nash please stand up. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

When the Rangers traded for Rick Nash, it was with the intention of finding their offensive saviour. It hasn’t happened. The Rangers still struggle to score goals consistently, and while Nash has flashed his obvious and undoubted brilliance, he hasn’t (yet) been the player the Rangers were looking for. Nash’s first regular season as a Ranger was a solid one (42 points in 44 games), but the season ended in underwhelming style as the team (and Nash) left the playoff party without much fight.

This year Nash obviously suffered the concussion, but has also been caught in the same quicksand that the entire Rangers offense has found itself in. With 12 points in 17 games and just 6 goals, Nash needs to produce more. A lack of reliable line mates or an injury simply can’t count as excuses any longer. When a player is drawing a $7.8 million annual salary he needs to be doing more. No one will criticise Nash for missing time through an unfortunate injury, but when he’s healthy the most talented Rangers forward has to deliver more consistently and in fact more in almost every way.

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