2012-2013: The Best in the League?

I know it’s foolish to look too far down the line, so much changes in a short space of time. However, is it possible that the Rangers will ice the league’s best defensive unit in 12 months time?

Look at the age, the skill sets, the personalities and physical tools that the Rangers have (and will have) at their disposal over the coming seasons. It’s actually quite scary when you look at the depth and age of the players the Rangers can choose from. It’s also a massive compliment to the drafting, trading and developmental ability of the Rangers in recent times.

When you consider the Rangers defensive core this season, it compliments each other very nicely. Marc Staal is coming off a 29 point season and has been one of the best shutdown defenders in the entire league for a few years now and is still only 24 while Dan Girardi’s assets have been well documented (blocking, blocking, blocking) while he too adds some offensive ability.

The Rangers (assuming Del Zotto starts in the minors) don’t benefit from an offensive whiz on the back end like the Kings do with Doughty or the Capitals do with Green but the Rangers may have one of the very best groups of multi faceted defensemen in the league right now. Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer are wise beyond their years and all four defenseman should continue to provide the Rangers with an excellent top four. With Girardi being the eldest at 27 the foursome could be together for many years and chemistry (and continuity) should not be underrated.

Beyond the top four, this season will see Mike Del Zotto – the Rangers own offensive hope – and Tim Erixon likely competing for bottom pair duty to begin the year with Steve Eminger. The key here is depth. Eminger has draft pedigree and proved to be a solid depth player for the Rangers so the Rangers truly don’t/won’t need to hold their breath when any of their defensemen take the ice. How many teams in the league can rely on each pair as much as the Rangers can?

Not only have the Rangers a great defense now, but even more impressive may be the future. Do the Rangers have their answer to Zdeno Chara in Dylan McIlrath? Only time will tell but the signs are encouraging and even if he doesn’t reach that standard the Rangers D only stands to get scarier. Never a bad thing. With Erixon, McIlrath and Del Zotto representing the future they are ably backed up by the likes of Valentenko and Kundratek to name a few.

Indeed, the Rangers may have 5-6 legitimate NHL candidates for the blueline beyond the current roster and again, how many teams can boast that depth? The current defensive roster is set but the Rangers haven’t rested on their laurels thanks to good drafting and the defense should be a strength (potentially) for another decade which bodes very well when behind them is a certain Henrik Lundqvist in net. These are many of the reasons for optimism surrounding the Rangers. They have built the right way, from the back out, and it doesn’t look like slowing down.

When I think how the Rangers have built recently I think of the Predators. Year after year the Preds drafted defensemen and they boast one of the deepest cores in the league. It has helped make a small market team highly competitive. The biggest difference is that the Rangers can keep their best players and always attract better ones. The Rangers can compete on every level the Predators cannot and the Rangers now boast a similar defensive pipeline as the Predators have.

It isn’t a stretch to say that with another year of development the Rangers could have the best defensive corps in the entire league. The unit has size, youth, skill, character and pedigree. When you have the talent and youth the Rangers do then it stands to reason that it should be a strength. We’ll see if it becomes the Rangers calling card.