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Posts tagged: John Mitchell

The new bottom six forwards

Over the past few days, we have seen some fairly significant roster turnover for the Rangers. While the majority of the core remains intact, the Rangers saw Arron Asham and Taylor Pyatt come in to –for all intents and purposes– replace Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, and John Mitchell.

We’ve analyzed Asham versus Prust and Pyatt versus Fedotenko individually. But to be fair, you need to compare both Asham and Pyatt versus Fedotenko, Prust, and Mitchell to get a real idea of where the Rangers stand after three days of free agency.

Using the same metrics as the two posts prior, let’s look at the defensive metrics of these five players combined:

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Free agency: day one recap

Entering the first day of free agency it was widely thought that the Rangers would seek to upgrade their offense and add a depth defender.

Instead, the Blueshirts added grit on July 1st while watching several of their own free agents depart for greener pastures.

Here’s what went down on Sunday.

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Stay or go: John Mitchell

Over the next few weeks leading into free agency, we will be looking at the Rangers UFAs and RFAs and analyzing their contribution to the team, potential asking price, and potential future with the Rangers organization. In typical BSB fashion, we like to kick things off with the player that brings up the most debate in regards to keeping him. That player, of course is John Mitchell.

Mitchell was acquired by the Rangers last year at the trade deadline from Toronto in exchange for a 7th round draft pick. After re-signing with the Rangers organization over the summer, Mitchell was called up (along with Carl Hagelin) in November and made an immediate impact. In March we classified this roster move (the dual call ups) as one of the major turning points of the season. Mitchell immediately bought into the Rangers style of play, and was a direct impact in the Rangers ability to maintain puck possession.

Without rehashing the turning point post, Mitchell’s RCorsi to finish out the year was a whopping 11.1, tops on the team. Yes, his numbers were even better than Mr. Hagelin (10.3). As a fourth liner, Mitchell generally didn’t face top competition (-.080 QoC), but he started less than half of his shifts in the offensive zone, and finished more than half of his shifts in the offensive zone. Puck possession has a lot to do with zone starts and finishes, and it is clear that this is an area Mitchell excels at.

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Rangers final grades: Bottom six forwards

The bottom six forwards get a raw deal sometimes. Many base their usefulness on their offensive output, and unfortunately that is just not the role of the bottom six forward. Sure, contributing offensively is nice, but the role of these players is to shut down the opposition’s top lines. They are the ones that do the dirty work, they keep the opposing goons in check, they wear down the opposition.

So based on the above,  let me reiterate these grades are based on the players executing their specific roles within our team concept. This isn’t just based on stats.

Brian Boyle

Boy did Boyle have some major responsibilities this season. He was generally responsible for lining up against the opposition’s top scorers and was given the job of shutting them down. He also was the guy that Torts turned to when he needed a defensive zone face off win. People look to his drop in scoring (11-15-26 this year, a drop from 21-14-35 last year) and they assume Boyle has just been awful. That’s not the case. Boyle started just 28.8% of all his shifts in the offensive zone, good for lowest rate on the team. But yet, he managed to finish 43.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone. The result: a player that did his job. He handled the defensive zone pressure and set up the Rangers in the offensive zone.  Oh, and he was tied with Brad Richards and John Mitchell for second on the team in face off win percentage (51.8%).

In the playoffs, Boyle was clearly getting under the Ottawa Senators’ skin, which is why Chris Neil decided to target him with a head shot. Boyle was one of the most effective Ranger forwards before the concussion, and was clearly not the same after. Mid-season: B/Full Season: A-/Playoffs: B+.

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Replacing Boyle in the lineup

When Chris Neil took out Brian Boyle with a questionable hit on Saturday night, he took out the Rangers most effective forward. He took out their leading scorer, top defensive forward, and top penalty killer in this series. He took out the only player that has managed to get under the skin of the Senators. It’s a big blow to the Rangers, and not a player easily replaced. The best the Rangers can do is find some sort of lineup option that maximizes the return of Carl Hagelin, and minimizes the departure of Boyle. This is no easy task.

Side note: Is it great for the depth of the team to say that Boyle has been the best forward, or is it a sign of weakness in the top six? Tough call there.

The good news, as mentioned above, is that Hagelin will be returning to the lineup tonight after serving his three game suspension for elbowing and concussing Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. The addition of Hagelin adds some much needed speed and puck possession to the lineup, which also helps minimize the negative effects of having their top defensive forward out of the lineup.

This leaves the Rangers with a few lineup options to consider for the game, and while none are perfect, they give the Rangers much needed flexibility.

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Season Turning Point: Calling up Hagelin and Mitchell

With a playoff spot clinched, we are running a new series about turning points in the season. These posts will focus on moves the Rangers made that effectively turned their season from mediocre to great.

On November 24, the Rangers had lost two games in a row to the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers. It wasn’t so much that the Rangers lost the games, it was that they were getting beat to every single loose puck in those games. They looked slow, and even looked slow in their six wins prior to those losses. The two players made an immediate impact, and the Rangers won their next five in a row, including three in a row against Washington, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.

But those wins weren’t just ordinary wins. The Rangers looked faster, and for good reason. Hagelin and Mitchell eventually replaced the revolving door of Erik Christensen, Wojtek Wolski, and Sean Avery (with a little Andre Deveaux as well). Only Avery had some sort of speed out of that trio. Their success paved the way for the removal of all three spare parts (and distractions) from the Rangers locker room, permanently. It was not only addition by speed, but addition by subtraction.

It wasn’t just speed though. Something was different. Both players immediately bought into the John Tortorella system of forechecking, two way hockey, and grinding out games. The Rangers had the puck more often, and it showed. Their time of possession in the offensive zone shot up noticeably, and the Rangers were generating more offense off the physical offensive zone play. They had the puck more, it’s as simple as that, and it was mainly due to Mitchell and Hagelin.

Puck possession is an easy enough metric to figure out, as it’s defined by the stat Corsi. Corsi is a stat that counts the number of shots directed at your net (missed, blocked, saved, or goals) versus the number of shots directed at your opponents net (missed, blocked, saved, or goals) while a specific player is on the ice. All shot attempts for – all shot attempts against = Corsi. Essentially, the more shots directed at your opponents net, the more you have the puck, and vice versa.

Relative Corsi (I’m going to abbreviate this as RCorsi) takes Corsi to a different level. Generally speaking, the better teams in the league will dominate Corsi. RCorsi accounts for this, and takes the Corsi of the player (as described above) and subtract the Corsi of the team when that player is off the ice. This makes for a more balanced measure of puck possession, as it eliminates the team concept and focuses solely on the player, and how he affects the team.

Now that we’ve explained RCorsi, it’s easy to see why Hagelin and Mitchell were instrumental to the Rangers long term success. They boast the two highest RCorsi among forwards on the team. Mitchell’s RCorsi is 13.1, and Hagelin’s is 12.6. To really put a value to this, the next best Ranger is Brandon Dubinsky at 8.5 RCorsi. Brad Richards sit’s in 4th at 2.7 RCorsi.

What’s even more impressive about their RCorsi is that Hagelin starts less than 50% of his shifts in the offensive zone (46.5%) and Mitchell is barely above 50% offensive zone starts (51.1%).

The best part is that these guys are showing they made a difference on the ice and on the scoreboard. Despite playing 20 fewer games than the rest of the team, Hagelin still sits in the top five in scoring on the team (14-23-37). Average that out over a full 72 games thus far for the Rangers, and that’s 18-30-48. That’s Calder discussion worthy. As for Mitchell, he has 15 points (5-10-15) while playing mostly checking line duties.

The Rangers didn’t just call up two AHL guys, they called up two difference makers. These two almost single-handedly righted the ship for the Rangers in what could have been a disastrous stretch. Just think Mitchell was acquired from Toronto for a 7th round pick, and Hagelin was a 6th round pick in 2008. Not bad Mr. Sather.

Minor addition, solid contribution

The title of the post; that’s how you can measure John Mitchell’s impact since coming to the Rangers at the tail end of last season. Not every player can be judged solely on points as Brian Boyle would surely agree.

Mitchell has come over to the Rangers and fits with how John Tortorella wants to play. He plays hard in the corners, uses his size to good effect while his work ethic and effort are unquestioned. However, Mitchell can use the puck effectively as well. In fact, 13 points in 45 games don’t do Mitchell justice even if they look better when considering his +14 rating.

Mitchell has been rewarded with powerplay time in recent games and while that’s perhaps more damning to other players – and the powerplay overall – as it is a reward for Mitchell, it suggests the coach has a high opinion of the big center. Mitchell has a good chance of being retained by the Rangers after this season because simply put he’s a low cost player that can contribute all over the ice. Getting cheap role players that can contribute is a critical aspect of a successful team in the cap era.

The Ontario native is another underrated addition by Glen Sather as the forward only cost a seventh round pick in this year’s draft and has made an impact for both the Whale and now, for the Rangers. Depth wins you hockey games and Mitchell is a solid bottom six role player for the Rangers who has surprised with hockey intelligence.

Mitchell played on poor Toronto clubs where he scored close to thirty points (or a 30+ point pace) and his junior and AHL careers point to some decent offensive ability. The Rangers have done in a good job in recent seasons of getting contributions from all over the roster and it is indeed one reason for their success this season.

When several of your bottom six forwards, role players, are all chipping in between 5-10 goals each respectively it eases the burden of expectation on the likes of Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan. With playoff opponents such as Boston, Pittsburgh and Jersey looming it will be critical to maintain a level of production from the ‘lesser lights’ on the roster. Players such as John Mitchell.

Mid-Season Report Cards: Bottom Six Forwards

Today we are going to be talking about our unheralded, but no less vital bottom six forwards. Prior to Tortorella’s arrival, the Rangers bottom six was typically composed of too many wannabe skill players like Matt Cullen, Marcel Hossa, etc. The last few years we finally started to value players who understood that their role is to forecheck, backcheck, hit, score dirty goals, and protect their teammates.

Before we get started, let me just reiterate these grades are based on these respective players executing their specific roles within our team concept.

Brian Boyle: Boyle has much improved at faceoffs this season (51.5% vs. 48.5%) and it’s a big reason why the Hagelin-Boyle-Mitchell line was out possessing the opposition. He’s gotten some flak for his offense being down, but he’s pretty much doing everything defensively you could ask from a third line center. He forechecks, he blocks shots, and he doesn’t turn the puck over. I would like to see him lay people out a little more often given his size.

With that said, we are going to need more scoring from our bottom six in the second half and beyond. Boyle is on pace for 4 goals and 16 points, which is down from last season’s 21 goals and 35 points. Icetime isn’t much of an excuse as his avg. icetime last season was 15 mins and change. This season he is skating 14 mins and change. Essentially he’s playing one less shift per game. Grade: B

Ruslan Fedotenko: Feds has been one of the most reliable trenchmen in the game for the past 10 years. Every season he gives you steady corner play, second chance efforts, and 30 points give or take. Most of his strengths are often overlooked because he’s not a puck carrier or a fighter, but he is a strategic insertion in this lineup and he executes Tortorella’s puck pursuit system to a T. The only reason I didn’t grade him higher was because he played on the second line for a while and did squat with it and he could stand to be more physical when playing in a bottom 6 role. Grade: B-

Carl Hagelin: Hagelin is a bottom six player this season, but he won’t be next season. He may not even be a bottom sixer by the end of this season thanks to his explosiveness, escapeability, and positional awareness. As he’s gained more experience, he has also gained more trust from his coach, which is evident in the increase in situations he is being utilized.

The question really is what is this kid’s ceiling? It’s hard to know at this point, but what really impresses me about Hagelin’s game is that his puck handling keeps up with his foot speed. Rico Fata could skate like the wind too, but he had no hands.

Many will write that Hagelin is too small or that he needs to bulk up. To which I say, BS! How many times have you seen him get pancaked and lose the puck? Grade: A

John Mitchell: While many of Avery’s supporters blame his current status on Rupp and Erik Christensen, Mitchell too deserves culpability. Of course Mitchell deserves a spot on this roster over Avery, so you won’t hear any complaints from me.

Mitchell has been a possession monster for us, as he currently leads the team in relative corsi. He’s also been dynamite on the draw (FO 58.6%), he’s quick, and he plays gritty without taking dumb penalties. I’m not sure who scouted this guy in Toronto, but whoever it was deserves credit. Like a glove! Grade: B+

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Carl Hagelin And John Mitchell Recalled

During yesterday’s Thanksgiving festivities, the Rangers made a pair of call ups that got the Twitter-verse and blog-o-sphere talking. Much hyped prospect Carl Hagelin, who has been tearing up the AHL, and John Mitchell were both recalled. In 17 games with the Whale, Hagelin has a line of 7-6-13 and a whopping +12 rating, while Mitchell has posted a line of 7-7-14 with a +1 rating.

Hagelin is one of the Rangers higher rated prospects, but fans have gravitated towards him because of his speed. Hagelin can seriously fly, but missed the cut out of camp because he needed to control his speed and use it at the right times. He struggled in his first few games with the Connecticut Whale, but really turned it on in the past few games, and has been the Whale’s best player thus far.

Both players being called up means the Rangers are looking to shake things up a bit. Likely out of the lineup is Andre Deveaux, who only played three minutes against the first half of the game –he was given a match penalty for an elbow to Tomas Fleishmann’s head. The hearing on that will be this morning.

The Rangers would only call up Hagelin to play on one of the top three lines. The current top three LWs are Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ruslan Fedotenko. I’m no coach, but considering Fedotenko’s offensive struggles, inserting Hagelin on the third line could be done to help provide a boost to that line.

Running through the numbers, unless Mitchell is scratched the Rangers will need to scratch another forward from the lineup. The obvious candidates here are Erik Christensen and Sean Avery. Avery had less ice time against Florida, but had four more shifts than Christensen. It’s really a toss up to see who sits. My money would be on Avery, because Christensen does have some offensive talent that could potentially mix with Mitchell (who has put up decent numbers in the NHL before) or Hagelin/Fedotenko.

Just a note about why Hagelin was called up in lieu of Mats Zuccarello: there are salary cap issues with calling up Zuccarello. These could be solved with a few moves (placing Mike Rupp on LTIR), but it seems the Rangers want to get a good look at Hagelin at the NHL level. This is around the time last year when Ryan McDonagh forced his way on to the roster. So there may be something to this.

 

Rangers, Prospect and Whale Puck Talk (Part Two)

Earlier this week, we ran the first part of our most recent Q&A with Brian Ring of the CT Whale who has kindly taken time out to discuss a whole array of things with us such as the Whale, Rangers’ prospects and his candidates for breakout performers in the future. Today we have the second part of the Q&A.

Today’s final part looks at the Whale’s potential season, more prospects, the goaltending carousel and MVP candidates for the 2011/12 season. Happy reading…

  • What achievement would be considered a good season for the Whale in 2011-12?

Brian: The benchmark of this franchise has always been to make the playoffs, as the Wolf Pack/Whale have made the playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons in their history. But I think that may be setting the bar low this season, as the upside given the talent and skill on this year’s team should be more than enough to set their sights on making a deep run into the postseason and going for the Calder Cup.

  • Chad Kolarik is another relatively young forward that played well for the Whale. What can Rangers fans expect from Kolarik and does he have a chance at cracking the NHL this season?

Brian: Kolarik is a highly-skilled player with a great sniping and playmaking ability. He had a bit of a nagging injury last year which kept him from being completely healthy but he still managed nearly a point a game during his time in a Whale uniform (17-14-31) in 36 games (he also played 13 games for Springfield). I would say he certainly has a chance of spending some time in New York this season, battling it out with guys like Kris Newbury, John Mitchell and Dale Weise, among others, for potential call-ups.

  • A relatively unknown name to most fans is that of Kale Kerbashian. Can you provide fans a brief ‘scouting report’ on the young winger and where is he expected to begin the new season?

Brian: Kale really broke out last season with a pretty big junior year for Sarnia, totalling 37-51-88 in 68 games for the Sting. I haven’t seen enough of him to really make a solid judgement, but I did watch him a bit at the Rangers’ development camp and he seemed to be one of the more confident players on the ice and had no problem rushing the puck and making plays. All evidence points to Kale being a rugged guy who is not afraid to get physical on the ice, and the team was impressed enough to lock him up to an AHL deal this year.

  • Is it fair to suggest that the Whale’s biggest question marks are in net and how do you see the goaltending position playing out heading in to the year?

Brian: I think it will be one of the more intriguing aspects of the preseason and the Whale training camp to see how Chad Johnson, Cam Talbot and Jason Missiaen will compete and battle each other for spots on the team. Throw Scott Stajcer into the mix and things get even more interesting. Johnson is certainly someone that has had success at the AHL level and has spent time with the Rangers, and Talbot has as well. If I had to venture a guess, I think Johnson and Talbot will be splitting time with the Whale, and I’m willing to bet that goaltending ends up more of a strength than people think, especially considering the team’s corps of defensemen.

  • How is the organisation able to balance the almost conflicting priorities of prospect development and competitiveness in the American Hockey League?

Brian: I think the biggest thing is that the Rangers have continued to draft and acquire high-end talent that allows the Whale to both develop players and win hockey games with those player’s abilities at the same time. Even when the Rangers make a trade for a player that is likely to play in Hartford, such as a Kris Newbury or a John Mitchell, those are players that are able to step right into an NHL line up but are also excellent AHL players. That, combined with the solid drafting the Rangers have done for some time now, has led to good organizational depth and this lessens the need to compromise either player development or competitiveness. Development is certainly the first priority for most AHL clubs, however winning is always a nice side effect of generating top-tier talent.

  • If you had to say one name today, who will be the CT Whale MVP at the end of the 2011-12 season and why?

Brian: Such a tough question because there are a lot of factors regarding who will be here to start the year, who will miss a lot of times with call-ups or injuries. I’m going to take Kris Newbury, who I’ll project to finish top ten in the AHL in points this year. I think there will be a lot of goals scored this season and he’ll have plenty of guys to dish the puck to.

 

A final big thanks to both Brian Ring and the CT Whale for participating with the Q&A. It’s always interesting to hear insight from Brian about the Whale and the Rangers prospects. Be sure to follow both Brian and the Whale on twitter at @brianring and @CTWhale. Make sure you check back throughout the season for updates on how the Whale (and the Rangers future) are getting on with their season and be sure to check out the Whale’s own website  too.