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Category: Forwards

Vigneault the perfect coach for Zuccarello?

Zuccarello scores pretty goals, will AV get more out of him?

Zuccarello scores pretty goals, will AV get more out of him?

As Glen Sather talked about needing a changing in coaching styles and Alain Vigneault talked about giving his skill players ‘more latitude’, you could get a sense that next season has the potential to be a coming out party for a little Norwegian winger that never seemed to match up with John Tortorella. Could Alain Vigneault’s arrival be a blessing in disguise for Mats Zuccarello?

Known for maximising zone starts for his skill guys, a more puck possession style, and having run teams that have had actual powerplay success, it seems that Mats Zuccarello could be placed in the best situation to succeed with the Rangers that he has ever had. During his time on Broadway, Zuccarello has routinely been the Rangers’ most creative powerplay operator, he’s clearly better with the puck than without, and was never ideal for the grinding, throw the puck deep and chase after it style that was the hallmark of the Tortorella years.

While all the talk may center on what Vigneault can do with Rick Nash, what happens with Brad Richards, and how he’ll be able to get the most out of Chris Kreider the impact the new coaching regime could have on Mats Zuccarello could be huge. The talent has always been there.

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What can we expect from Rick Nash under Alain Vigneault?

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Despite a solid first season on Broadway, Rick Nash surely did not reach the heights his talent demands, nor did he become the irresistible force many anticipated. Not over a full season anyway. Some critics will argue that John Tortorella’s system stifled players such as Rick Nash (though the powerplay certainly didn’t help his production) but no one will argue that Alain Vigneault puts his key offensive players in the right situations to produce to their potential.

As has been pointed out over the internet – almost to death – the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows were consistently among league leaders in offensive zone starts under Vigneault. It can be assumed Rick Nash and maybe Derek Stepan will be similar benefactors in New York. Can we therefore assume much better numbers from Rick Nash? Nash is expected to be the leader of this offense and that won’t change with a new coaching staff. However with an improved powerplay, with more offensive zone starts, and with more puck possession and creative license, Nash should produce more.

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Rangers final grades: Bottom six forwards

A lack of depth up front was New York’s Achilles’ heels this season

As former coach John Tortorella repeatedly mentioned, New York’s depth up front was gutted during the summer of 2012 following the trade of Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov and the free agent departures of Brandon Prust, John Mitchell and Ruslan Fedotenko.  The Rangers struggled mightily to replace that depth all season, but had a difficult time doing so in part due to injuries and inexperience.  As a result, Tortorella was left with very few reliable forwards and it showed throughout the 2013 campaign.

Brian Boyle

It was a very disappointing regular season for Boyle, who was an occasional healthy scratch and never regained coach John Totorella’s trust.  However, in the playoffs Boyle was one of the best, most consistent Rangers, scoring three goals and finally using his big body along the boards and in front.  Boyle admitted to being extremely frustrated by his performance this year, which he blamed partially on his decision not to play during the lockout.  He wasn’t the only Blueshirt that was negatively affected by that decision, but it may offer hope for a return to form next year.
Grade: C- Read more »

Stay or go: Ryane Clowe

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

As the offseason progresses, the Rangers are going to have tough decisions to make. They currently have 18 players signed for next season to $51.5 million in cap space. With the cap at $64.3, the Rangers have $12.8 million in cap space to address roster needs, including re-signing their key RFAs. They are in better shape than they were before the Marian Gaborik trade, but addressing their needs may mean seeing a nice piece of the puzzle let go. Ryane Clowe is one of those forwards who may fall on the outside looking in.

When the Rangers traded for Clowe the day before the trade deadline, they were acquiring a big body who is dominant along the boards. Although Clowe hadn’t scored in San Jose, he immediately chipped in offensively with the Rangers (3-5-8 in 12 games). A concussion sidelined him for the last game of the regular season and all but two games in the postseason. Clowe does not have a long injury history, and this was his first concussion. The real question is whether or not the Rangers saw enough in Clowe to warrant re-signing him to what would likely be a contract around $4 million.

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Rangers final grades: Top six forwards

Did the Rangers forwards play up to their ability?

Did the Rangers forwards play up to their ability?

Deciding on grades for the Rangers top six forwards is a bit tricky given John Tortorella’s penchant for mixing his lines and moving players up and down the line up because of his almost infamous lack of patience. Who knows, maybe his propensity for constant change had a part to play in his dismissal. That all said; with another Rangers season over (in underwhelming style) let’s look at the Rangers offensive producers.

Brad Richards:

It’s probably not in my best interests to admit this when hoping you read to the end, but I have no idea what has happened to Brad Richards or how to explain his startling fall from grace. Richards was brought in to remedy the Rangers depth issues at center and to help improve an under performing powerplay. He’s done anything but in either aspect. Richards followed up an acceptable first year as a Ranger with a disastrous second.

His regular season was full of scoreless streaks, a lack of confidence (that got worse as the season progressed), and his mere presence on the powerplay became enough to worsen the unit. Richards’ game has disintegrated to the point that every beat writer has already written him off as a buy out this summer. What makes Richards’ season somewhat puzzling is the hot streak of sorts at the end of the regular season that offered one final slither of hope that he was rebounding. It was a false dawn. It’s highly likely his last days as a Ranger were spent in the press box. Grade: F

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The improved Mats Zuccarello: Puck possession monster (in a small sample size)

Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

Mats Zuccarello has been one of the catalysts for the Rangers recent 9-3-1 run that clinched a playoff berth. He was brought back, and with a new confidence that is apparent on the ice, changed his game and is now becoming a leader in driving puck possession. It’s a transformation in his game that is not only showing up on the scoreboard (3-4-7 in 14 games), but is showing up in his metrics.

Although Zuccarello is subject to small sample sizes, he leads the forwards with at least ten games played in Corsi Rel QoC (1.035!!!) and RCorsi (18.7!!!). We always rave about how Carl Hagelin (12.1 RCorsi) is a puck possession beast, but Zuccarello is blowing him out of the water. What makes Zuccarello’s emergence special is that he is helping Brad Richards and Taylor Pyatt improve their puck possession stats. Both were pretty awful (comparatively to the type of player they are) before being put on a line with Zuccarello.

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Competition for forward places now and beyond

Reasons for optimism up front in New York

Reasons for optimism up front in New York

The quality of opposition hasn’t been the toughest in the past few games but deadline day acquisitions, the return to form of several players and recently found consistency among the forward ranks has seen the Rangers production up front really take off in recent games. All this bodes well for a trip to the playoffs and, perhaps most promisingly, beyond this season.

Whether the Rangers retain a Ryane Clowe, re-sign Mats Zuccarello or push through a JT Miller or Chris Kreider remains to be seen but the way some of the younger forwards have developed this season means the forward group’s well documented struggles this year may have been overblown. Kids such as Stepan and Hagelin have, for the most part produced while the team has changed on the fly.

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Despite goal, Pyatt still needs to find consistency

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

When Taylor Pyatt was signed, he was brought in to help replace the departed combination of Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust, John Mitchell, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov. In those departed five players, the Rangers lost a lot of depth, but more importantly players capable of eating big minutes against tough competition. Suffice it to say, he hasn’t lived up to expectations so far.

Even off the score sheet, where Pyatt is well below is career averages, the big forward has been struggling to find consistency on the defensive front as well. During last season, Pyatt was a reliable defensive forward, facing decent competition (.140 Corsi Rel QoC) and starting just 41.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone. His RCorsi of -9.3 wasn’t stellar, but this is more a factor of zone starts. It’s tough to maintain a shot attempt advantage when starting 60% of your shifts in the defensive zone.

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Richards’ hot April is perfect timing

Photo: Kevin Hoffman, USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Kevin Hoffman, USA TODAY Sports

Brad Richards has been a bit of a disappointment this year. He hasn’t been consistent, and he hasn’t been that top line center and powerplay quarterback that the Rangers thought they were getting. That said, Richards has been getting hot at the right time, and his hat trick last night could be just the beginning of a strong run for the veteran center.

In ten games this April, Richards has been scoring at a point per game pace, with five goals and five assists. The points have come in bunches (eight were in three games, five in the past two games), but there’s more to this than the scoring. Richards is finally starting to do the little things, and his luck is beginning to change as he is starting to get those bounces he wasn’t getting earlier this season.

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Ice time beginning to even out

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Last night’s game was one of the most hard-fought and entertaining games we have seen in the past decade. It was one of the most important games of this season, and possibly the most important game in the Rangers/Islanders rivalry in almost 20 years. This is the type of game where –given coach John Tortorella’s penchant for leaning on his most trusted players– you would expect some of the depth players to see maybe four or five minutes of ice time. That was not the case last night.

Save for Arron Asham, each Ranger player spent the appropriate amount of time on the ice as per their role on the team. Darroll Powe, who is a fourth line player that kills penalties, saw 13 shifts and 9 minutes of ice time. Eight minutes of that was at even strength, and another minute was on the penalty kill. Taylor Pyatt, Powe’s linemate, does not kill penalties. He saw 8:15 at even strength and that was it (I’m discounting the four seconds of PP time for both, as that was the end of the PP for matchups).

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