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Category: Forwards

Brad Richards is off to a promising start

B-Rich has started well

B-Rich has started well

Highlighted by his two goal performance in the impressive win over the Kings, Brad Richards has started the season well; which is a great sign for the Rangers. Having played a lackluster preseason – which came on the heels of his well documented (abysmal) 2012-13 season –  Richards has begun to lay to rest the lingering concerns for this season.

He is skating well, looking to put the puck on net, and is getting separation from defenseman – something he did all too rarely last season. Perhaps most importantly is the lack of blind, drop passes on the blue line which were littered throughout his play last season.

While it’s only two games in to the new season – one of which was the sloppy Coyotes’ loss – the start laid down by Richard’s bodes well for the team. An in-form Richards would be hugely beneficial because, while Derek Stepan was much improved against the Kings (wasn’t everyone?), Stepan still has work to do to get back to his form of a year ago. If Richards can give the Rangers a strong year it’ll give the Rangers excellent depth down the middle.

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Time to end the Pyatt experiment

Taylor Pyatt has not been a successful addition

The Rangers were particularly sloppy against the Coyotes, were outdueled in net and on special teams. But no one will panic after one game that came on the heels of an awkward, disjointed preseason. That said there are a few players who are surely on shaky ground. One particular player who doesn’t figure to be part of the future is Taylor Pyatt.

Taylor Pyatt started his Rangers career in strong fashion and bookended last season with a solid playoffs, but Pyatt could be expendable on a team where cap space is a necessity. He cannot keep up on the ice and is as inconsistent now as the talented winger has ever been.

While Pyatt was not the worst Ranger forward on the ice on Thursday he was simply ineffective. No shots, no particularly strong shifts or physical play, nothing to demand the attention from the coaching staff or demand more ice time moving forward.

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Predicting roster moves when Callahan, Hagelin return

J.T. Miller will need to force his way into a permanent spot in New York (Seth Wenig/AP)

J.T. Miller will need to force his way into a permanent spot in New York (Seth Wenig/AP)

One question that has been brought up a lot recently is who the Rangers will waive or return to Hartford when Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin return to the lineup. Cally is aiming for a Monday return in LA, while Hagelin is currently on LTIR and will miss –at a minimum– the first ten games of the season. The two rookies on the roster, Jesper Fast (RW) and J.T. Miller (LW) appear to be the placeholders for Cally and Hags.

Considering the Captain will only miss one game, it is almost a sure-fire bet that Fast will be returned to Hartford once Cally is good to go. As good as Fast has been in the preseason, big minutes are more important to his development than remaining with the big club. Cally will slide into Fast’s spot in the lineup, maybe causing a bit of a shakeup of the lines on his return. After that, the left wings have another handful of games as an extended tryout to remain with the club when Hagelin returns.

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Expectancy for Rick Nash greater than ever

Rick Nash is facing a huge amount of pressure. Starting Thursday

Rick Nash is facing a huge amount of pressure. Starting Thursday

As the Rangers prepare to open their season on Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes, they will do so missing two of their presumptive top six forwards and with their de facto top line center behind the eight ball thanks to Derek Stepan’s (partial) holdout. Throw in the continued struggles of the likes of Chris Kreider and the less than inspiring preseason of Brad Richards, and the pressure on Rick Nash to lead an offense has never been greater.

Despite being part of a far more talented collective in New York, Nash wouldn’t even have faced this level of expectancy in Columbus, where he was the lone elite talent. In New York this season, the Rangers’ burly power forward is expected to lead a contender’s offense for the first time, and do so in a legitimate big sports market (sorry Ohio).

At the start of last year it was assumed Brad Richards was still a top line center. The excitement of Chris Kreider’s arrival was still very real, and the Rangers of course still had a guy called Marian Gaborik. Fast forward a year and the Rangers begin the season without Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, Richards is a shadow of his former self, and Kreider is in the AHL.

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Toughness and physicality could become a concern for the Rangers

(Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America)

(Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America)

The Rangers are a very deep team this season, especially at forward. They are in a position where –when fully healthy– they have three scoring lines and a solid defensive fourth line. However there is one glaring weakness (on paper); the apparent lack of physicality and toughness on the roster. Even with a healthy Ryan Callahan, the Rangers are at risk of being surprisingly vanilla, with just three forwards (Callahan, Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett) slated to play who regularly throw their body around. Arron Asham is a fourth, but he seems destined for the 13th/14th forward role.

On defense, it doesn’t get much easier. The club doesn’t have a “nasty” defenseman who makes life hard on players who go to the front of the net. Ryan McDonagh is the closest thing they have, but he doesn’t have a history of beating people down in front of the net at the NHL level. Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi led the team in hits for defensemen, and we saw them being more physical in front in the preseason, but they still don’t qualify as that “nasty” player.

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New lines add to roster makeup questions

Photo: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

After the Rangers announced their final cuts yesterday, they practiced and showcased some new lines. These lines are not quite set, as Ryan Callahan is not cleared to play in games (just cleared for contact). Rick Nash, who missed practice, would take Cally’s place on the top line:

Brad Richards-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Jesper Fast
Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
JT Miller-Dominic Moore-Derek Dorsett

The first thing that stands out is that Brad Richards is on the wing. This is honestly a very savvy coaching move. It is clear that Richards is not the Richards of old, but can be a very effective offensive player. By placing him on the wing, Alain Vigneault is limiting his defensive responsibilities and allowing Richards to play more to his strengths. It’s a move that may seem small, but may have a big impact.

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Best case/worst case scenarios for Ranger forwards in 2013

A bounce-back season from Brad Richards would be a huge boost for the Rangers

Arron Asham

Best case: Asham continues to provide comedic relief on Twitter and plays in a handful of games with the Blueshirts.

Worst case: New York is unable to find a taker for Asham on waivers and he spends the final year of his contract in Hartford.

Benoit Pouliot

Best case: The former fourth-overall pick puts it all together as a Blueshirt and records a 20-goal season.

Worst case: The Rangers learn why Pouliot has already played for four teams in his young career and the big forward is invisible most nights. Read more »

Is Marek Hrivik the prospect most likely to make the team?

Marek Hrivik has an NHL-ready body

The battle for forward positions has been the talk of training camp thus far, and several of New York’s youngsters have made strong cases to be on the opening night roster.  Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo and Marek Hrivik have all impressed, while 2011 first-round pick J.T. Miller hasn’t gotten the opportunity due to injuries.  With Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan out for the first chunk of the season, one or more of these players will likely be thrust into significant roles come October 3rd.

Chris Kreider has been skating with Brad Richards and Rick Nash for much of camp and it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’ll be locked into a top-six role at the start of the season.  But after Kreider, the roster battle is still ongoing. Read more »

Offseason moves provide Rangers with forward balance of skill and depth

(Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

(Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

We’ve heard this a million times: The Rangers can’t score. The Rangers have no scoring depth. The Rangers rely on one or two guys to provide all of the offense.

These statements aren’t exactly inaccurate. The Rangers have, for a long time, been thin on forwards. Last season they were thin with depth forwards. Two years ago they were thin on secondary and tertiary scoring. Three seasons ago they lacked assistance for their one main weapon, but had secondary scoring to back it up. Each year, the Rangers have added pieces to address a need, but opened holes in other areas.

They signed Brad Richards to address the need to assist Marian Gaborik after the 2010-2011 season, but remained thin on assistance past that top line. They traded their vaunted depth after the 2011-2012 season to acquire Rick Nash, but the trade left them woefully thin on the bottom six. They addressed that by trading Gaborik and acquiring pieces that can –potentially– play a second line role. Then, this past offseason they acquired the last pieces for tertiary scoring. When you add in the development of home-grown players, you have a well-rounded forward group, when healthy.

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Who will be the first injury call ups?

Think Miller is the first call up? Think again (Seth Wenig/AP)

Think Miller is the first call up? Think again (Seth Wenig/AP)

One thing that we can be sure about next season is that there will be injuries. If we learned anything from this postseason, it’s that you can never have enough depth, because you never know when the injuries will begin to mount. It was one area that Slats worked very diligently to address this offseason, and he did a mighty fine job at doing so.

For the sake of this post, we are going to assume a few things:

  1. The entire roster is healthy. The point is to see who would be the first call up following an injury from a roster at full strength, then work our way down.
  2. Arron Asham and Darroll Power will be in the AHL. It’s a cap thing and a roster space thing at this point. The same goes for Aaron Johnson.
  3. Chris Kreider makes the opening day roster. J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg, and the other kids people might have penciled in, do not.
  4. No trades from now until the season starts.

These aren’t exactly ground-breaking assumptions, just things we have been able to infer from the roster moves so far.

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