Category: Forwards

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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Derek Stepan’s case for the Steven McDonald

Stepan for the Steven McDonald?

Stepan for the Steven McDonald?

Unless your name is Ryan Callahan, then you likely haven’t even come close to winning the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. Cally has won three of the past four awards, and will certainly be in contention this year for his second in a row and four in the past five years. But, there is a growing sentiment that Derek Stepan should garner most of the attention this year, and this isn’t without cause.

Stepan has been unreal this year, better than anyone could have imagined. Currently second on the team in scoring (14-20-34 in 40 games), Stepan is on a six game point scoring streak, and has 24 points since the start of March (21 games). The offense is impressive and a true testament to Stepan’s skill, but it’s on the other side of the puck where he has made the most improvement.

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The Rangers may have a log jam of forwards this summer

Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

Up front, the Rangers will have a lot of moving parts this summer beyond their top six. With Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan certainties to be retained (a question of how much rather than if) and the club focused on developing the young players such as Chris Kreider and JT Miller, there’s not a lot of space on the roster. With the club committed, at least financially, to Derick BrassardDerek Dorsett, Brian Boyle, Arron Asham, and Taylor Pyatt there’s maybe no space for the likes of Mats Zuccarello, no matter how he plays this year out.

The natural assumption is that the Rangers will trade guys to make room for others. But the problem with this assumption is that the cap is coming down to $64.3 million, and assuming the Rangers can move a now expendable guy such as Taylor Pyatt (and his $1.55 million cap hit) is a dangerous assumption. There’s also no guarantees the club can move a Boyle or a Pyatt should they choose to. Now, do the math. That’s ten players listed without considering Ryane Clowe, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Darroll Powe. That’s also not considering any players from the Whale, CHL, Europe, NCAA, or free agency. Log Jam folks.

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Gaborik’s future may hinge on the prospects

Could Zuccarello's arrival mean the end for Gaborik?

Could Zuccarello’s arrival mean the end for Gaborik?

There’s a strong chance that after such an impressive performance against the Flyers (no matter how unimpressive the Flyers have been this year) that John Tortorella will stick with the line-up that pulled out the victory, and certainly the 5-2 win perhaps affords the coaching staff time with re-acquainting themselves with Mats Zuccarello. That said, when Zuccarello does eventually re-enter the line-up – and he will, why else bring him back? – his play will have a significant impact on the future of Marian Gaborik.

The Rangers have a young roster and enough moving parts that cap space isn’t a huge concern at the moment, even if it does need monitoring for next year. However, moving Gaborik or buying out Richards gives the Rangers much more maneuverability going forward. Therefore, a successful return by Zuccarello and/or an immediate impact by the also incoming Jesper Fast make Gaborik a luxury.

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Is a Chris Kreider recall imminent?

Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Though he was last year’s playoff hero, Chris Kreider got off to a tough start with the CT Whale during the NHL lockout, and his confidence was at an all-time low when he joined the Rangers for the start of the NHL season.  Kreider had been asked to round out his game in the AHL and the learning process was more difficult than he may have expected.  As a result, his offensive numbers took a nosedive.

Still, the Rangers saw just how valuable Kreider could be last spring and handed him a job to start the season despite his struggles.  One highlight reel goal against Martin Brodeur notwithstanding, Kreider failed to generate much of anything offensively in third line duty, so the Blueshirts made the difficult decision to return Kreider to the Whale two weeks ago while keeping 20-year-old JT Miller with the big club. Read more »