Archive for Forwards
All season long, the Rangers have had some serious issues with the fourth line. It’s not really a surprise, since the Rangers have used nine different players on that line already. Nine. Tanner Glass, Dominic Moore, Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller, Ryan Malone, Chris Mueller, Lee Stempniak, Kevin Hayes, Anthony Duclair. Suffice it to say: That’s a lot of forwards used on a line that was a huge strength for the club last year.
Out of those nine, four are rookies, three are in the AHL, two are retreads that probably shouldn’t be on an NHL roster, one’s a possession anchor that shouldn’t be on a roster, and two more shouldn’t be on a fourth line (top-nine only). It’s a mess, but it’s a fixable mess. In fact, it’s easily fixable.
Step One: Enough with the retreads.
Anthony Duclair was a healthy scratch as the Rangers beat the Sharks 4-0 yesterday. When the initial news broke, there was some serious outrage over scratching Duke, some of it was rational and warranted, most was irrational. The Duke has three assists on the season, but has yet to put one in the net. That is partially due to lack of shots on goal –he has just six SOG– but it also has to do with his ability to put himself in a position to get shots on net.
Duclair has two games where he’s registered a shot on goal: The back-to-back 6-3 shellings by the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. His two assists: Against Columbus in that 5-2 disaster. He’s not being given the room he had in the preseason, which is expected since he’s now playing against the cream of the crop. Spending some time up top watching a game or two can help a 19-year-old kid identify the subtle differences (speed) of the game. He hasn’t played his way out of the lineup, not by a long shot.
Building on what Kevin talked about yesterday, not everything in Rangerland is a negative right now. Despite the inept goaltending currently found at the Garden and the sinking ship that is the Rangers defense, there are still reasons for optimism in New York. One of those reasons is Chris Kreider. If the Rangers had just a competent defense in week one we would be talking more about the good starts of Anthony Duclair and Lee Stempniak, the hot streak and return to prominence of Rick Nash but – in my opinion – above all, Chris Kreider’s emergence as an every game threat.
While still a little rough around the edges, Kreider has looked dominant at times. His one goal so far was a breakaway which he took extremely well, he has been hard on the puck all year, has been physically engaged while he’s also shown he’s willing to stick up for his teammates. Kreider has also impressed with a couple of great primary assists on goals for Nash and Derick Brassard showing that he’s not a one dimensional player and has been hungry for the puck on his stick. If he can maintain his start to the season he should also smash his career high for shots on goal with well over 200.
The Rangers went on a low-risk spending spree this summer, bringing in veterans Matt Lombardi, Lee Stempniak, and Ryan Malone. Some questioned this initially –Stempniak not so much– as the Rangers have a lot of kids ready to take spots in the lineup. However, more competition is good. Competition breeds improvement.
But now, two of those veterans have seen injuries cut into training camp and preaseason games. First Malone went down last week with a hip flexor injury after a strong-ish (he fatigued at the end) performance in the preseason opener against the Devils. He missed out on practices, didn’t play Friday and won’t play today. Meanwhile, Lombardi just went down with a groin injury after an unimpressive game on Monday. He was slated to go tonight, but he’s been scratched last-minute.
Less than a week into the preseason, and two vets brought in on low-risk deals are on the shelf. What will that say about their long-term durability?
Entering training camp last fall, there was an intense battle for the final forward spots between youngsters Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo. Fast actually won the job out of camp, but an early injury combined with Kreider’s emergence put an end to the competition.
Miller, Fast, Lindberg and Kristo are all clearly on the fringe, and with a strong second-half, Ryan Bourque joined the fray. Free agent signings Kevin Hayes and Ryan Haggerty are also in the mix for NHL jobs in the near future.
Miller looks all but assured of a spot out of camp this year, but that means there are still as many as five more near-NHL ready forwards knocking on the door. Read More→
The Rangers kick off their preseason schedule tonight against the Devils, and seven of the forwards in the lineup tonight are slated to be competing for roster spots. There are, by my count, four open roster spots (3C, 3RW, 4LW, 4RW) in addition to the 13F and 7D spots. In total, that’s six roster spots up for grabs for forwards.
Alain Vigneault is on record saying most of the kids headed to Juniors will be cut on Wednesday –with a select few (Duclair) sticking around, of course– so the natural feeling is that Groups A and B will comprise the NHL roster and most of the guys competing for the open spots.
Let’s look at the front-runners for each spot:
Yesterday I posted on how center depth could be a concern for the Rangers heading into this season. It’s not to say that the Rangers are flawed, that’s just one hole that could pose a problem. On the flip side, wing depth appears to be a strength for the Rangers. Most of their wingers from last year are returning, with some shrewd signings and some kids on the cusp fill in the rest of the holes.
The top six wingers will likely be some combination of Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, and Marty St. Louis. This –finally– bumps Carl Hagelin down to the third line, as he was miscast as a top-six winger in previous seasons. It’s expected that Lee Stempniak will quietly slide into Benoit Pouliot’s spot as the 3RW, meaning there isn’t much turnover from last year’s wingers.
While the baby Rangers are playing in Traverse City, the big club is preparing to defend their Eastern Conference crown. They do so after buying out Brad Richards, their second line center, and letting Brian Boyle, their fourth line center/wing, walk via free agency. There were no free agents signed to replace these departed players, unless you count re-signing Dominic Moore.
As it stands today, the Rangers are slated to have Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard as their top two centers. The third line center position is up for grabs, and the fourth line center position (probably Moore) will be determined by who wins the 3C job. It’s not exactly the best situation to be in, considering center depth has been a common ingredient in recent Stanley Cup winners.
Whether or not you like it, Stepan will be the 1C this year. He’s not going to be a Sidney Crosby, a Claude Giroux, or an Anze Kopitar, but he will put up close to 60 points while playing solid two-way hockey. An improved powerplay should theoretically increase his offensive output, but I get the feeling that will be limited because his decision making abilities are a bit slow. That said, he will likely get the majority of his PP time on the off-wing –likely with the top unit– because he’s one of the few right-handed shots. He’s not the best 1C in the world, but he will get the job done.
Per Larry Brooks, forward Ryan Malone will be joining the informal skates with the Rangers this week. Brooks noted that Malone was invited by some Ranger players, as the team cannot formally invite him yet since he is not under contract. Brooks noted that Malone has been cleared to sign a contract –he had been dealing with issues stemming from his cocaine arrest– and it is likely he will sign a two-way contract with the Rangers, not a PTO.
Malone is certainly an intriguing addition, especially since this is a low risk contract. My only real question is about the number of contracts, as I noted when these rumors first surfaced. My understanding is that the Rangers are at 50 contracts (including John Moore, not including Ryan Graves), but clearly I’m missing something. I’ll assume that Anthony Duclair’s contract does not count towards the 50 contract limit, despite the fact that it doesn’t slide. I can’t find any verbiage on this, so if anyone can provide insight on this CBA nuance, it would be greatly appreciated.
Update: Since Duclair is 19 and will be sent back to Juniors (likely), his contract, even though it does not slide, will not count towards the 50 contract limit. That is why the Rangers have the space for this move.
Last night, the Rangers re-signed their final arbitration eligible RFA, locking up Derick Brassard to a five-year deal at $5 million per season. This came a few days after locking up another key RFA, Mats Zuccarello to a one-year deal at $3.5 million. The reactions to the Brassard and Zuccarello contracts seem to be a bit mixed. Fans are clearly happy the players are back, but the contracts seem to be “backwards” as most have communicated.
It’s true, the Rangers took a calculated risk with Zuccarello, and a little less of a risk with Brassard. But let’s tackle the first question: Why did the Rangers give Brassard more than he was asking for in arbitration?
The answer here is simple: Arbitration for Brassard was a one-year request, and it would make him a UFA at the age of 27, where he could cash in big time from a team in need of a 2C/3C. The Rangers bought four of those UFA years, through the age of 31 (remember, Brass will be playing out his twenties in New York, not his thirties). That costs money. In fact, it only cost them $50,000 more per year for those seasons.