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+.

Ruslan Fedotenko

Fedotenko is another player in the Brian Boyle mold. He is not on the ice to produce. He is on the ice to shut down the opposition, so everything said about Boyle is the same for Feds. Feds was third lowest on the team in offensive zone starts (36.5%), but like Boyle managed to finish a higher percentage of those shifts in the offensive zone (47.9%). The result is the same as Boyle: he did his job. Yes, his offensive production was down from last year (9-11-20 compared to 10-15-25 the previous year), but he was an integral part in the defensive success of the organization this year.

It is also clear why Torts loves Feds in the playoffs. He just picks up his game, and was one of the most consistent forwards throughout the Rangers run to the Eastern Conference Finals. His 2-5-7 line, which included four games in a row with a point at the end of the Devils series, was a nice surprise for someone who did a good job shutting down the opposition’s top scorers. Mid-season: B-/Full Season: B/Playoffs: A.

Brandon Prust

The last of the shutdown trio, everything that was said about Feds and Boyle can be said about Prust. His offensive zone starts (33.7%) and offensive zone finishes (43.7%) were on par with the others. Like Boyle and Feds, Prust’s offensive numbers tailed off a bit (5-12-17 compared to 13-16-29), but as mentioned above, it’s tough to score when you start less than 35% of your shifts in the offensive zone. Prust was also in charge of keeping some enforcers at bay, and led the team in fighting majors this season. He still played in all 82 games this year, despite suffering a torn tendon in his hand during a fight with Zenon Konopka in January. Prust defines warrior.

As for the playoffs, Prust was his usual self in his usual role, but without the fights. His one game ban for his elbow to Anton Volchenkov hurt the Rangers, but that was really the only blip on the radar for him in the postseason. Mid-season: B-/Full Season: B/Playoffs: B.

John Mitchell

The one thing we kept saying about John Mitchell throughout the year was that he was a puck possession monster, and he continued to be a monster for the entire regular season. He had the best RCorsi on the entire team, boasting an 11.1 RCorsi, almost a full point higher than Carl Hagelin (10.3). His line of 5-11-16 is pretty solid for a fourth line player, but his last goal came on January 24. Mitchell proved himself to be a fantastic role player for this club that at times needs more speed on the bottom six.  Another positive: face off wins. As mentioned above, Mitchell was tied for second on the team with a 51.8% success rate. All it cost was a 7th round pick too.

Mitchell’s offensive game continued to struggle in the playoffs, and he was used sparingly by the coaching staff. His one point was a huge one though: he won the face off that led to Marc Staal’s overtime winner against Washington. Mid-season: B+/Full Season: B+/Playoffs: B.

Mike Rupp

Oh Mike Rupp. This is the evaluation I wanted to do because this is the type of player that many fans seem to forget what his purpose is. To be honest, his regular season numbers, both offensive and defensively, do not work in his favor. His RCorsi was miserable, his QoC was last on the team, and his offensive zone starts are not at the level of Prust/Boyle/Fedotenko. He contributed just five points (4-1-5). But Rupp is more than that. Rupp is a leader in the locker room, as evidenced by Torts constant leaning on the veteran at key times (shown in 24/7). He stood up for his teammates (remember the sucker punch on Michael Del Zotto? It was Rupp who was the first guy in).

In the playoffs, Rupp was one of the better forwards on the team. If not for Boyle’s rear-end, Rupp would have ended the triple overtime game in the first overtime. In his limited ice time, Rupp and his fourth line teammates were in on the forecheck and generally speaking had some decent shifts. But then again, Rupp did take a bad penalty or two. Mid-season: B/Full Season: B/Playoffs: B.

Artem Anisimov

Oy, what an enigma Anisimov is. Anisimov bounced around the lineup from top line to the fourth line and every stop in between. His overall offensive line of 16-20-36 is a decrease from what was a career year last season (18-26-44), but his play wasn’t necessarily poor. He saw significantly less powerplay time, and thus had four less powerplay points from last season, but he didn’t really do much to earn that time with the arrival of Brad Richards. His defensive metrics are decent, but not overly impressive (.005 QoC, 2.9 RCorsi, 52.7% OZone Start). Factor all these together and you have a player that is still adjusting to the game after his third full year in the NHL.

In the playoffs, Anisimov was one of the top offensive players on this team with a line of 3-7-10, despite being thrust into a more defensive role (44.7% OZone Start, -10.5 RCorsi, .072 QoC). Tough to really argue with that offensive output considering the role he was in. Boy was he quiet about it too. Mid-season: B-/Full Season: B-/Playoffs: B+.

Brandon Dubinsky

Saving the most difficult to write for last, Dubinsky sure had one bad year, at least from an offensive perspective. Expected to at least match his production last year (24-30-54), Dubinsky fell off a cliff, finishing with a disappointing line of 10-24-34 while taking 62 fewer shots on goal. Defensively however, he was a rock star. Starting just 41.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone, Dubinsky managed to have the third best RCorsi on the team (8.8) while leading the team in face off percentage (51.9%). Although the argument with Dubinsky is always going to be about that contract, he is definitely a useful player on this roster. This analysis is about performance, not performance based on salary.

Dubinsky’s playoffs were incomplete, as a high ankle sprain took him out of the Washington series and left him at less than 100% for the Devils series. It’s expected he needs another 6-8 weeks to fully recover. But boy was it evident that the Rangers needed him against the Devils. Dubinsky’s absence proved that maybe all the hate towards him (we are guilty of this too) might not be as warranted as we think. Mid-season: C-/Full Season: B/Playoffs: INC.

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  • Very fair, and honest analysis!

    Brass Balls Prust has to be re-signed, he is way too valuable to this team to let him go.

    Knowing that we will not re-sign Feds, Mitchell, and hopefully getting rid of AA, we make room for Kreider, Miller, Parise, this will make us a much stronger team over all.

    Is it me, or does it seem that Prust is most effective when he lines up along side of Boyle?

    • I dont think Miller is ready for the jump, cant rush the kid like we did with Malholtra (not same player i know). Give the kid time to season like we did with Kreider and Hags, that turned out well. There are others to consider for that role. Give miller more time to grow into his body and learn his style of play.

    • Mitchell is a puck possession monster and great 3rd/4th liner…not sure why you want to get rid of him.

      AA is a low paid RFA who can play 3rd/4th line minutes and play top six when needed. Not sure if getting rid of him is the magic bullet. If you wanted to make a splash in the FA market, you need to get rid of Dubi (even though I like him)

      If we can play a more open style offensively, AA could break the 50pt plateau easily.

  • Dave,

    awesome write up as usual. I agree with you on all counts, the line up will surely change next season with departures of Ruslan,Mitchell almost imminent. Some even argue the Dubi departure is almost certain as well, depending on who the rangers sign. I think the bottom six will see an influx of youth with speed and talent. To succeed and make the final push to the cup this team will need a more balanced attack. The one problem that was made evident these playoffs was lack of scoring depth. Going to be sad to see Ruslan go bc hes a classy guy with heart and personality but its time to bring up more youth. Mitchell on the the other hand will most certainly test the water from other teams, he has proven he still can play in the league and has great depth ability. Sorry for the long rant.

  • While bottom-six guys are indeed often judged by goals rather than their specific role, the issue at hand is that other teams have players in that role that do (and can) score. I agree that it is tough to judge them, but here are my thoughts:

    Boyle: Best of the bunch, even without the offense for almost the entire year. He did his job (i.e. faceoffs, checking, etc.) out there. He is a warrior.

    Feds: I am blown away by this one. I thought Feds was an absolute nobody this year. He was a complete waste of space until a few games in the playoffs. He needs to go as his usefulness to the team has dwindled. I forget he if even on this team sometimes.

    Prust: Brandon had a tough year IMO. He did do his job (i.e. the rough stuff and PK-ing), but offensively he was like day and night compared to last year. He made terrible decisions with the puck and created zero offense. That is why he ended up on the 4th line most of the time. Torts didn’t understand it either. He IS a warrior and valuable this team, but he better not get more than Boyle.

    Mitchell: The problem with Feds is that he was playing like Mitchell all season, which is obviously NOT a good thing. Let Mitchell go and find a more effective player.

    Rupp: Completely agree on this one. Valuable beyond what Rangers fans see, specifically in the locker room.

    AA: Ugh. Please move this guy. He indeed showed spurts of offense (and offensive jump) in the playoffs, but the guys is so ridiculously soft. He isn’t the type of guy you want in the trenches next to you when battling for the CUP. Seems like a good guy, but he just doesn’t have IT.

    Dubi: You just can’t have a $4M+ third-line player. Sather needs to move his contract and let some other team deal with the enigma that is Brandon Dubinsky. If he was making $2M, I would be singing a different tune, but a team so lacking in goal scoring needs to use that money to get it.

    • on AA…you must not have watched the playoffs, he was hitting everything that moved. And he was one of the few rangers who could gain the zone and hold the puck. Would hate to see this kid get moved and show that it was a mistake to get rid of him.

      I am actually hoping that Torts finds a way to get more talent in the lineup….the Hobbit comes to mind. With a solid defense, you can afford to play a more offensive minded game. We need to stop looking at the club being in transition, we need to let the kids grow into the game in the NHL. A roster that boasts, Dubi, Haggy, Cally, Gabby, Richie, AA, Kreider, Stepan should be scoring a lot more than we do.

      • By soft, I didn’t mean that AA wouldn’t hit people, because he does. The problem is that players half his size easily bump him off the puck and often times when he does hit, it isn’t an effective one.

        In general, AA will not get better than he is now. He is a third-liner who can throw in offense every once in awhile.

  • I have to think that Prust and Mitchell will be signed. Mitchell is a good player that can get better if he realizes he has a grand opportunity for next year. He is a very serviceable 4th line player that should take over Fedotenko’s spot. The biggest eye should be on Christian Thomas and his opportunity as well. I am not so confident that Parise will sign here and I would not trade for Nash with that RANSOM that they want for him. The signing of Justin Schultz in my opinion is the biggest Free Agent move we should make. Paul Gaustaad would also be a nice pick up.

    • marine in vegas,there are already potential tampering charges being hinted at with Schultz,especially in Toronto where it seems he’d like to play. Sather better be careful or he might lose his first rounder. Wait, given some of the moves he’s made in the past,this could actually be a plus!

  • Dave,your charity is commendable. However all you’ve done here is to identify a group of third line forwards who in sport’s parlance are JAG’s. Just a guy! Your most egregious analysis is with Rupp. He’s overpaid,signed for too long,can’t really fight because he can’t take a punch. Simply and accurately put,another mistake by Sather!

  • If we don’t bring Rusty back, I’ll be very upset. He’s a veteran who knows how to win, and is a great teammate. He does all the dirty work so the scorers can get opportunities, and is a valuable backchecker.

    In my opinion, we could live without Rupp or Mitchell, btu we should hang onto Prust, Dubinsky. and Fedotenko.

  • Too many defensive forwards on the 3rd & 4th lines, we need more scoring from this area. That’s why you need a guy like Zuke out there even if it isn’t the top two lines. In today’s NHL you need scoring. Jersey got a lot of that from their 4th line. Enough said.

  • The explanation that Rupp is worth his salary because he is a leader in the locker room is not grounded IMO. If Richards wears the “A,” he should be that guy (not to mention the other captains on the team).

    Rupp’s may purpose was to carry the tough guy burden AND add a scoring touch. Hence the extra $$ over just a tough guy. IMO, he couldn’t do either of these as Prust still had to fight way too much and 2 of Rupp’s 4 goals game in one game (don’t care if it was the WC).

    Rupp is too slow, can’t win a fight against true tough guys, and has lost his scoring ability. Being a leader and a “good guy” does not make up for these short comings at this point in his career at his current cap hit.

  • I dont get how you give Dubi a higher relugar season grade than AA, who clearly had a better season.

  • I’m sorry for being a bit late here, Dave, but I don’t agree with one of your premises – that you should rate these players according to how well they performed their assigned roles. Each player is assigned a role that Torts thinks he can handle. If that role is really important, checking line, PK, etc., yes, one can earn high marks without scoring much. But a fourth line forward or third line defenseman who plays five minutes a game shouldn’t get a pass just because he does his job. Opposing top line typically faced the third line or Callahan’s line. Torts didn’t trust his fourth line much. Compare Line 4 of Rangers to Line 4 of Devils. Rupp doesn’t really play defense, can’t put the puck in the net, and kept MZA out of the lineup. He works hard sometimes.

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