Forget Mike Kostka. The one-game experiment with the 28-year-old defender notwithstanding, the Rangers’ depth has been extremely impressive so far this season.
Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle are two enormous losses that most teams wouldn’t be able to withstand, but New York has weathered the storm remarkably well through seven games.
It hasn’t been easy.
Poor planning down the middle during the summer forced first Martin St. Louis and now Kevin Hayes into unnatural positions, but both players have done well learning on the fly. The center problem has been felt most at the faceoff dots, but that’s never been Stepan’s hallmark anyway. And though Stepan’s myriad of contributions obviously can’t be replaced, the absence of the No. 1 center has done nothing to affect the team’s primary scorers on the wing. Rick Nash is off to an unreal start, and rotating top-liners St. Louis and Chris Kreider have found the scoresheet early and often even without No. 21. Stepan has been missed more in the defensive end, but the entire team has been awful in its own zone thus far, so the subs would be hard to fault for that.
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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.
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Since we often preach patience and the long-view around here, I find it very difficult to identify specific narrative topics when the season is only five games old. Many of our observations will normalize or end up a blip on the big picture radar. Most sample sizes are too small, trends too tenuous and in the case of the Rangers, too injury dependent. Once Stepan and Boyle return, we will start to see the true colors of this team, but until then, I feel like some random thoughts are more appropriate than digging into too much data or player performance numbers. I’ll be curious to see if your thoughts are consistent with mine during this time of upheaval…
- Is it wrong that I was excited just to see that second win so things didn’t spiral out of control like last October?
- Man, Lee Stempniak has been great. We all were fully on-board with the signing when it happened, but he has gotten off to a much better start than we could have reasonably expected.
- Ryan McDonagh played over 30 minutes last night. In October. Loco.
- Rick Nash is a monster. I had a feeling that the post-concussion symptoms were holding him back last season. He was horribly snake bitten in the playoffs, but has broken out again in a big way to start this year. Goals aside, he had made strong moves to the net, utilizing his size and reach with great results. If he can stay healthy, he will be an absolute force this season.
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Three losses in four games and 12 goals against in the first two home contests certainly isn’t how the Rangers wanted to start the season, but it’s not altogether unexpected. With No. 1 center Derek Stepan and No. 4 D Dan Boyle on the shelf, and a slew of raw youngsters in the lineup, it’s no surprise that the Blueshirts have been a dumpster fire in their own end. There are certainly very real causes for concern, but there is plenty of time to right the ship – just take a look back at how last season started.
So since it’s all gloom and doom in Ranger-land this morning, let’s check out some of the things that are going right for New York, many of which have come as pleasant surprises:
– Rick Nash has six goals in four games. That’s a pretty decent start, by any measure. The #fancystats crowd insisted Nash would bounce back after a horribly unlucky postseason, but this offensive explosion has eclipsed anyone’s wildest dreams. This confidence boost will be huge for Nash after he was forced to take a long look in the mirror last spring, and it could be the start of a monster year.
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Sometimes opportunity is about timing. Anthony Duclair, JT Miller and Kevin Hayes have made the Rangers at the right time because in Alain Vigneault they have the right coach to develop them into full time – and hopefully long term – Rangers.
Vigneault won over a lot of the fan base last year by staying patient amid early troubles, by being the Anti-Torts in allowing players to develop chemistry together and also by being able to acknowledge ‘hot hands’ and give players a platform to perform when their form deserved extra playing time (example: Cam Talbot taking over midseason for a short period).
There’s every chance Anthony Duclair goes back to junior this year and if he does, it will have been the right decision. If he sticks, he’ll have earned it. The Rangers Head Coach has earned everyone’s trust and whatever he decides will likely be the best course of action. Alain Vigneault has proven he’s confident in his younger players if they earn his trust and the even ice time distribution in the St Louis game (every forward had at least 11 minutes ice time) suggests Vigneault will continue to work the kids in to meaningful positions and give them a chance of growth.
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Who could have guessed that Marty St. Louis would be the top-line center?
It’s a fool’s errand to try to predict the opening night lineup before training camp. Even once camp begins, there are far too many variables to nail it.
But though we can’t help anticipating and debating who will make the team during the summer months, the opening night lineup means very little in the grand scheme of things.
No one could have predicted that Martin St. Louis would end up being New York’s first-line center, or that 19-year-old Anthony Duclair would beat out a slew of veterans and near-NHL ready prospects for a top-nine spot to start the season. But St. Louis’ position change is only temporary, as Duclair’s stay in New York could be.
The first month of the 2014-2015 season will be about treading water in Derek Stepan’s absence, first and foremost, and determining if prospects like Duclair and Kevin Hayes deserve to stick. Read more »
Per Blueshirt Banter, citing Jeremy Filosa, Anthony Duclair has made the opening night roster for the Rangers, and it will be confirmed tomorrow. Duclair played in five of the six Ranger preseason games, putting up three goals and two assists while holding his own without the puck. Duclair shot 30% during these five games, so that scoring rate will likely come down some, but the kid is more than just goals. His speed gave all three of his opponents (Chicago twice, Philly twice, New Jersey) fits.
If the report is true, the Rangers will need to get rid of a contract before opening night. If none of the three on waivers are claimed, a trade will need to be made.
What to expect from Jesper Fast? (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
The Rangers are entering the home straight and the regular season is almost upon us. It’s a Thursday so let’s throw together some thoughts about the past few days in Rangerland.
Anthony Duclair. Everyone’s favourite Rangers’ prospect appears to be forcing the organisation’s hand into finding him a roster spot. 5 points, 3 goals in 3 games. Blazing speed, a wicked shot and respectable defense for a 19 year old rookie who, two weeks ago, wasn’t on anyone’s radar (for this season).
The thing is this: if he makes it, if he plays, he has to be on a scoring line to be effective. Is there an appropriate spot up for grabs and who suffers as a result? The most realistic scenario would be Mats Zuccarello slipping to the third line (also a productive line under coach Vigneault) but can the team justify pushing their top scoring forward of last year down to the third line for a 19 year old? It’s a great dilemma to have but also a major headache, potentially.
October 9th, at St Louis and then at the Blue Jackets two days later. Do the Rangers have the hardest opening two game set? A road trip to the big, physical Blues and Jackets? It gets physical quickly for the Rangers.
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Speedster Anthony Duclair put up 99 points for the Quebec Remparts last year
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 »
Ryan Bourque is riding a wave of momentum after his strong second-half performance last season
Immediately after July 1, it looked like the Rangers would have several forward spots open to competition at training camp. However, the eventual signings of Matt Lombardi, Lee Stempniak and Kevin Hayes have made it much more difficult for anyone else to earn a spot in the lineup. The likes of J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg still figure to duke it out with some of those depth signings for the final spot or two, but it’s going to be exceedingly difficult for anyone else to enter the fray. With that said, here’s a look at the handful of forwards and defensemen that could conceivably be in the mix with a standout performance at camp.
Ryan Malone – This one is a real long-shot not only because of the legal questions surrounding Malone, but because the Rangers would have to ship out a player to fit Malone under the 50-contract limit. Malone was once an effective power forward and is presumably being invited to training camp on the off chance the Blueshirts catch lightning in a bottle in their search to replace Benoit Pouliot, but unless Malone dominates, it’s highly unlikely he makes the team.
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