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Posts tagged: Artem Anisimov

Why the Rangers Can Replicate the Bruins (Part one)

It all starts with a simple formula. Be difficult to beat. Have a world class goaltender and a deep defensive corps. Be a gritty team and forecheck well. Don’t lose games on special teams. Then every now and again flash some offensive depth. The only significant difference between the Rangers and the Bruins appears to be the absence of a Zdeno Chara type defenseman (Dylan McIlrath has the potential to be similar down the road) and to the naked eye, the two teams seem similar in composition.

So what is it that makes the Bruins the new reigning Stanley Cup champions and the Rangers a young up and coming team that still has to battle just to make the playoffs? There are a few reasons for the difference in status even though there are many similarities. Let’s start by looking at the similarities.

Home Grown Core

The Bruins won the Cup on the back of a drafted core of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Taylor Seguin and Milan Lucic amongst the forwards. Their top three playoff scorers were Bruin draftees. Then look at the styles of some of these players. Marchand is the gritty, energetic two way presence (think Ryan Callahan), Milan Lucic is the power forward with skill (Brandon Dubinsky possesses some similar qualities), Krejci is the playmaking center (Derek Stepan?) and Tyler Seguin is the skilled young center making his way up the depth chart (Anisimov anyone?).

World Class Goaltending

Henrik Lundqvist meet Tim Thomas. If there was a better goaltender in the league than Tim Thomas from game 1 in October to game 7 in June I didn’t see him, but boy was Lundqvist close. Thomas benefitted from a healthier team, a more experienced team, and the presence of a Norris trophy monster on the blue line, but both clubs had the ability to steal games they had no right winning because of the guy in net. If you discuss the top goalies in the world right now, there’s no way these two aren’t at the forefront of the discussion.

Defensive Depth

This is an area where the teams are similar, but the Bruins are slightly more advanced. It all starts with Zdeno Chara for the Bruins and rightly so. No player in the league (on the blue line) possesses the same blend of size, skill and leadership as the Norris trophy winner. The only person that comes close to the same mix (at the same level of performance) is Shea Weber. Marc Staal is not at this level, but he could get there. Physical, big and absolutely core to the Rangers, Staal does a bit of everything for his team with perhaps even better shut down ability.

The main reason the Rangers defense lags behind right now, is Mike Del Zotto and Tomas Kaberle. The Bruins possess good puck moving ability with Kaberle (despite at times being maligned in the playoffs, he was still a solid addition), Dennis Seidenberg and of course Chara. The Rangers need an improved Del Zotto to compete in this area, but the Rangers defense does possess puck moving ability throughout the top 6. Both teams placed in the top 5 in goals against this year during the regular season.

Special Teams

It might surprise some people, but the Bruins were only 16th in the league on the penalty kill while the Rangers were 10th. The year before, the Bruins were 3rd and the Rangers 8th. Both teams have good defensive depth and it usually is reflected on the kill. Both teams can score on the PK (as the Bruins showed in game 7 of the Finals). Both teams were very similar on the PP, though neither would like to boast about their units. Despite both teams having depth at forward, the Rangers’ 16.9% and the Bruins 16.2% placed them 18th and 20th respectively. Not great at all. The Bruins would have benefited from a full year from Marc Savard while the Rangers are going to pursue Brad Richards in part for his powerplay prowess.

You want more similarities?

Both teams have placed recent emphasis on young players. The Bruins have recently integrated Seguin, Marchand and Adam McQuaid while they have solid additions on their way with Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner and Toronto’s high pick from this year’s draft to name a few. The Rangers have benefitted greatly this year from the integration of Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer and can look forward to Chris Kreider, Christian Thomas and Carl Hagelin to name a few. The Bruins are more advanced because they moved prospects/picks for help (think Kaberle, Kelly, etc) and it paid off with the ultimate prize. However, in terms of future talent there is no doubt the Rangers have a lot to look forward to.

We’ve had a look at the similarities between the two sides and this list isn’t exhaustive; for example if you consider the actual depth of the forward groups beyond just the home grown cores. There was no need to spell out the obvious; original six franchises, droughts before each team’s recent cup wins etc. Check back to see what the key differences are, and why the Rangers can replicate the Bruins with a few changes.

The Whale and Rangers Prospect Low-Down (Part One)

A lot of change is happening in the Rangers organisation. Many prospects are coming up through the organisation and developing; whether it be after their first year as a pro, promotion from the Canadian Junior Circuit (CHL) or leaving college to join the pro ranks. In most cases the prospects will taste the pro level for the first time with the Rangers main affiliate in Connecticut, the CT Whale.

Recently, Brian Ring and Bob Crawford from the CT Whale took time out of their busy schedules to discuss the Rangers prospects, the Whale organisation, and provide a unique insight into the potential next wave of Rangers. Answering numerous questions for the blog, we’ll have their answers in a few posts over the next week or so starting with the first few questions below. A big thanks to Brian and Bob for speaking with us. Happy reading!

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Christensen, Anisimov Switch Spots

As per Andrew Gross, John Tortorella switched up his first and fourth lines, swapping Artem Anisimov and Erik Christensen. Anisimov is now centering the fourth line between Chris Drury and Sean Avery/Mats Zuccarello, and Christensen is centering the first line with Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik. When asked about the switch, Torts was very candid, saying that he is not putting Christensen on the first line for his defensive prowess, and that they a unit that will need to generate offense.

The move isn’t unexpected –my feelings about Christensen as a first liner aside– and this line has shown that they can generate offense. The Rangers were simply shut down on Wednesday, and they need to find a way to both break through the Caps defense, and match their physicality. Hopefully this new lineup will generate more offense from the primary scorers.

The other two lines remained intact. The lines we are looking at for tonight’s game:

Vinny Prospal-Erik Christensen-Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky-Derek Stepan-Ruslan Fedotenko
Wojtek Wolski-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust
Chris Drury-Artem Anisimov-Sean Avery/Mats Zuccarello

Reasonable Expectations: The Dubinsky/Anisimov/Callahan Line

There are many Ranger fans out there that believe that the Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Callahan line is the Rangers top line. All the evidence is there: two of the team’s top scorers are on the line, they get the most ice time, they get the most important minutes, and they are relied upon heavily by the team and the coaching staff. However, there is a difference between top scoring line and most important line. They might become a trio that can score 90 goals, but that is likely to be a one-off year, one of those years where everything goes right. In reality, they are going to be a trio of 20 goal, 50-60 point players, which does not qualify them for top scoring line status.

This year has all of us Ranger fans excited about the team, especially with the Pack line. They have heart, determination, skill, chemistry, and are finally starting to convert on their scoring chances. All that aside, some of the predictions out there on Al Gore’s inter-web are pipe dreams. It is unfair to these kids to expect them to score at a clip that will rival other teams’ top lines. They simply do not have the skill to match up with the Brad Richards/Loui Ericksson combination, or the Mike Richards/Jeff Carter combo.

These three are going to be great players, but not top line scoring players. A fair expectation is for them to continue progressing, and maybe have them top the 30-goal/65-point mark a few times in their prime. In reality, they are going to be what we have seen this year: a grind-it-out, hard-nosed line that will wear down opponents. Their jobs will likely be to remain as secondary scorers, and leave the primary scoring to players like Marian Gaborik, and whoever his compliments wind up being. If I had to venture a guess at who would be the most likely to exceed expectations, I’m going with Dubinsky, as he has the physical nature and the scoring ability to become more than a secondary scorer.

Patience With Anisimov Will Be Rewarded Down The Line

Frustration and impatience with young players who take some time to develop is nothing new for New York Rangers fans. One of the targets for the frustration and impatience for many fans has been second year forward Artem Anisimov. The 22-year-old center has 16 goals and 19 assists in 68 games this season, which puts him on pace for 19-23-42 which is a very respectable second year and a 50% jump in all statistical categories. Even with those facts many have been very willing to include him in trade talks for Brad Richards or immediately deem him the odd-man out if Richards were to join the Rangers this summer. I know it is difficult to have patience with young players, especially when it seems other guys are making the transition easier, but it is time we have some for Anisimov.

I don’t see Anisimov as an expendable piece, but as an asset that if given time and patience will develop into a solid second line center capable of 60 point seasons. He has already exhibited an ability to play against opposing teams top lines have done so in large doses this season and he equated himself nicely. There is no denying that after the hot start his game and the entire line of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan dipped in their production, but it seems in many respects the first one who got the attention for the decline was Artem.

This week much of the talk has been about Ryan Callahan, as it should be, courtesy of his four goal game against Philly, but what gets lost in that performance is just how well Anisimov has been playing of late and that his offense is coming back around. Since the passing of the trade deadline and the end to the rumors of him being dealt Anisimov has three goals and one assist in four games. I am not here to excuse his lack of offensive production before the deadline as solely related to the rumors, but with a young player who already has admitted to confidence issues in the past, the rumors can have an impact on the ice. The key difference I see in Anisimov over the past week as opposed to before is that he is back to aggressively skating the puck to the net. The goals he scored against Ottawa and Philly were both on drives to the net in which he used his skill to beat the goaltenders.

Just as impressive as those two plays were, the one that shows the confidence was one he did not score on yesterday. In the third period, with the game well in hand, Anisimov came down the right side on a 2-on-1 with Brandon Dubinsky and instead of deferring and looking for the pass he drove the net looking for his own offense. Those are the kind of developmental things that need to be seen from Anisimov in order to continue believing not only that the potential exists, but that he will get there.

He has not shown enough of that offensive aggressiveness this season, at least on a consistent basis, in part because he seems so focused on being defensively responsible. His attention to the other side of the ice is admirable in a player of his age and at this stage of development, and one he is not given enough credit for by the fans. That focus does remove aggressiveness from looking for his offense and then it snowballs back to his confidence level. The Rangers already do this, but mostly when players are injured, but with a player like Anisimov, who has admitted to confidence issues in the past, maybe using him more frequently on the penalty kill would help in terms of both confidence and focus. This is one approach that seems to have helped without young players around the league in keeping them engaged in the game and keeping an aggressive mentality.

There are obviously things that Anisimov must work on his game, most notably his strength, faceoff ability and consistency on the offensive side of the ice. The strides he has made from year one to this season give strong hope for what the future holds for Artem and his work ethic makes me believe that he will get there. The consistency with offense is something he has to learn and before he gets written off, let us remember that Brandon Dubinsky, the team’s leading scorer this season put up nearly identical numbers point totals to those that Anisimov is on pace for, though with less goal scoring touch (13-28-41). Anisimov is clearly a work in progress and it will take time and patience for him to reach that ultimate level, but I believe it will be worth the wait when he puts it altogether and starts playing consistently how he can in spurts right now.

Tell me what you think: Is it worth the wait?

If Richards Wants Too Much, Walk Away

Brad Richards, assuming he even gets to free agency, stands to be far and away the best free agent now that – as of today – Alex Semin is off the market. With that said Richards can probably ask for whatever he wants and chances are there will be a team willing and desperate enough to give it to him. This is where the Rangers cannot be too seduced by his talent, pedigree and their need for a top line center.

While the Rangers are relatively ‘green’ down the middle and struggle at face offs they have a ton of upside at the position whether you look on the current roster or at their prospect depth. The Rangers should go after Richards but as soon as his asking price threatens the ability of the Rangers to field a balanced roster they should walk away. The Blueshirts have excellent youth learning on the job with Stepan, Anisimov and Boyle in NY. They have prospects such as Carl Hagelin, Roman Horak (and when healthy) Ethan Werek thriving in junior or college so it’s not like there is nothing to build on. This season the Rangers have prospered due to their mentality and never say die attitude and the coaching staff’s trust in the young talent on the roster to be able to produce to a successful level. For the sake of acquiring a brand name such as Richards, the Rangers should not stray from their path. The sexy choice isn’t always the right choice, as Rangers fans can recall all too well.

Now, all this being said, If Richards can be had for a sensible price (again, this is assuming he gets to free agency – no guarantee) the Rangers with Stepan, Boyle and Anisimov behind him down the middle, become a very deep team offensively. When you consider the presence of Gaborik, Dubinsky, Callahan and Wolski – not to mention some of the kids – on the wings it could be a very exciting Rangers team next season. Let’s just not get too ahead of ourselves at this stage. After all, with Semin the latest example, one by one the best free agents are being taken off the market, meaning Richards and company could very well cash in big time this summer.

Does Anisimov Need the Del Zotto Treatment?

Artem Anisimov is a very good, responsible hockey player and should be a solid player for the Rangers for a long time however right now he is struggling mightily on the offensive side of the game and could benefit from the same time in the press box as the young defenseman, Del Zotto. Anisimov is currently mired in a 9 game point drought and is looking off the pace. While he is still making solid plays in his own zone the Rangers need him to contribute at both ends. The roster simply doesn’t have enough skill to carry players offensively and right now Anisimov is indeed being carried. A game or two in the press box would perhaps allow Anisimov the chance to see where he needs to be on the ice. He’s a good puck handler and is pretty strong on the puck (with room to grow) but doesn’t go to the net nearly enough given his skill set and size. Anisimov is also a player whose confidence levels are very critical to the way he plays the game. He’s admitted in the past to suffering confidence dips and again, seeing where he has gone wrong with the aid of a coach alongside him in the stands could really help his game.

Since starting the year on a tear – on a line with Callahan and Dubinsky – it’s been Anisimov who has carried the least momentum forward from the three young Blueshirts. Earlier in the year it may have been a nice alternative to see if Anisimov could have handled centering Gaborik but without confidence and form he’s further away from that prospect than he has ever been. Make no mistake, class is permanent and form temporary and the lanky Russian has shown enough in New York and Hartford to suggest he has the ability to be a good top 6 center for New York but he is entering a key period for his Rangers career. Given the way Derek Stepan is developing (and getting opportunities with Gaborik), given the continued development of juniors Roman Horak and Ethan Werek and the constant – likely accurate – reports the Rangers will pursue Brad Richards should he reach free agency, Anisimov needs to make sure he has a role on the Rangers long term. There are a lot of potential centers waiting for a chance, especially when the above list doesn’t count Erik Christensen, Chris Drury and 2010/11 revelation(?) Brian Boyle. All of a sudden, Anisimov needs to kick on; maybe the best way to do that is to watch from off the ice for a while.

Gaborik The Glue

Marian Gaborik is more than just an elite goal scorer; he’s the player that causes the Rangers lines to be appropriately allocated. Against Edmonton we saw what Gaborik can do with the puck; score on opponents almost at will. However perhaps more important than his scoring ability, is Gaborik’s presence and what that means to players such as Erik Christensen and Alex Frolov. With Gaborik to pass to, EC suddenly resembled (a poor man’s) Adam Oates. With Gaborik on the opposite wing Alex Frolov became Glenn Anderson to Jari Kurri (the less heralded winger….). Playing with an elite line mate made both players better. More importantly, playing with Gaborik made both players productive. Both Frolov and Christensen have struggled to be effective offensively this season but both looked transformed alongside an in-flight Gaborik.

Along with the benefit felt by Frolov and Christensen, Artem Anisimov’s line played against lesser opposition, as did Derek Stepan’s line, and both lines had subsequent success. Gaborik causes a rippling effect on the roster that makes the offensive side of the Rangers look that much deeper. The Rangers don’t (yet)have the high end skill of the Caps or the Pens and don’t have the overall physicality of the Flyers, nor do they have the defensive depth of the Bruins but with Henrik Lundqvist in net and all three lines healthy and contributing the Rangers can match these sides on a game-by-game basis. Over a playoff series the Rangers may still come up short but it’s this potential ability to match up with the East’s premier teams that evidences how critical Gaborik is as both a producer and as a singular element on the roster.

Allowing for current projections/career seasons from the trio of Anisimov, Dubinsky and Callahan; allowing for a healthy (from here on in) Gaborik and counting on a consistent ‘presence’ from Avery and the occasional flash from guys such as Frolov and the Rangers can have a good season this year, a season which by all accounts is transitional. There’s nothing like success to develop the kids. They may only be 9-7-1 and they may (most probably will) lose games in bunches but the season looks promising as long as Gaborik is on board.

Need a Sign

The Rangers have done a good job this year of competing against and holding their own against superior teams even if the results haven’t always shown it. Refereeing aside, the Rangers may have been the better team against the Caps; they beat the champion Blackhawks and took a decision over Boston. Then there’s the other side of the Rangers. They dropped a stinker to the Isles, gave up one to an inferior Toronto side and had poor showings against Atlanta and Carolina. This inconsistency is to be expected from a young team that is going through a transition year but at some point progress needs to be seen.  With the struggling Edmonton Oilers due at the MSG on Sunday the team needs to put in a dominant performance.

The team needs to show that they can not only play chipper and put up good effort against better opponents but at some point this season they need to show they have the ruthlessness to put weaker opponents to the sword. The Rangers have a lot of upside and a lot of players who they will be looking to as the core going forward but some of these players need to show they can take a game by the scruff of the neck and lead their team to victory. For as well as Ryan Callahan has played offensively this year he still has periods (like recently) where he doesn’t contribute for games at a time. He isn’t alone as there are plenty of names on the roster that need to show (offensive) consistency. It’s been encouraging to see Brandon Dubinsky’s new found offensive consistency and Artem Anisimov’s ability to play consistently throughout the year (despite the goalless stretch prior to the Sabres win). Now we need to see these players take over against the Oilers. The Rangers youngsters need to show they can take the next step and not just be part of a collective.

If Stepan Stumbles… Let Him.

When a baby takes his first steps he inevitably falls over trying. You don’t stop him trying again. Derek Stepan is going through growing pains as a young Ranger right now and the Rangers need to let him learn on the fly. Let the player make his mistakes and teach him; show him patience and develop him in New York where you have direct influence on his development unlike in the AHL, especially given the current form of the Wolf Pack.

The Rangers have a pretty nice mix of veterans and youngsters on the roster right now and they have the luxury of allowing Stepan to make mistakes on the fly because of the brilliant starts made by Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov.  It’s almost an ideal situation but it will be interesting to see if the Rangers send Stepan down when Prospal, Gaborik and Drury return. Obviously, someone will need to be sacrificed in addition to the likely demotion of Todd White (waived twice already). Some may argue that Stepan will be better served (long term) by playing big minutes in the minors rather than having large portions of a game glued to the bench which has happened recently. That may be true, but until the veterans return there’s no harm with having the youngster ride the pine and watch (and learn) from the best seat in the house. Tortorella has praised his accountability, maturity and ability to absorb his teachings so teach him in NY.

After a stunning start Stepan has stumbled offensively (2 assists in his last 12 games) but he still makes plays and, on the whole, is not a liability when on the ice. It’s important Rangers fans realise that Stepan was never going to score 40 goals as a rookie and would have large patches of ineffectiveness. It’s important to remember the season is still a rebuilding one for the Rangers and it’s an ideal situation to play Stepan in; a season with little expectation. If he doesn’t score for another 10 games let’s not declare him a bust like some fans are already declaring Ryan McDonagh as, on the back of a difficult start in Hartford. The key for all these prospects is patience. What the Rangers need to do is realise what they have in Stepan and throw every resource they have into his development. Have him soak up Mark Messier’s knowledge and experience, get him every possible crutch they have so the youngster has the best opportunity to become the player he could be. Let him take his first steps and let him fall and get back up because Derek Stepan has the intelligence to learn and become a key cog for the Rangers.