InjuriesState of the Rangers

Rangers’ depth shining in the early going

Matt Hunwick has settled in nicely

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.

On the wings, both Jesper Fast and Anthony Duclair looked solid for the first few games, but the Rangers are riding a three-game winning streak since coach Alain Vigneault opted to go with veterans Ryan Malone and Chris Mueller. Both players could be re-inserted at any point, as could J.T. Miller.

Defensively, Matt Hunwick has settled in nicely on the bottom pairing while virtually none of the other five regular blueliners is playing particularly well. Again, defense has been a team-wide issue, but Hunwick has more than held his own.

The Blueshirts have even more options in Hartford that could become useful at some point this season. Both Dylan McIlrath and Connor Allen were called upon last year and could be inserted into the lineup should Hunwick slip, or another injury occurs. And up front, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Bourque, Ryan Haggerty and Danny Kristo could be recalled in the future.

It’s unfortunate that coach Alain Vigneault’s hand was forced in the early going, but in the long run, it could turn out to be a huge positive that New York’s depth was put to the test before the meat of the season. The Blueshirts clearly aren’t going to be as lucky fending off the injury bug this year as they were last season, so figuring out who is capable now will only help when it counts.

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  1. I disagree that it was “poor planning” that led to our early depth issues at center as much as it just took a few games for things to shake out. On paper, the center depth chart looked strong heading into the preseason: Stepan, Brassard, Miller, Moore, Hayes, Lindberg, Lombardi, and Mueller. Of course, question marks abounded: was Miller ready to be the 3C? Was Lindberg ready to compete for 3C? Was Hayes, who had played center at BC, a possible option? (Center is not an “unnatural position” for him). Did Lombardi and/or Mueller have anything to offer?

    Stepan’s early injury forced AV to make decisions before many of these questions were answered and to scramble for a few games with MSL at center. No, neither Miller nor Lindberg were ready to be the 3C, Hayes is ready and, in fact, fits beautifully between Kreider & Nash while Stepan rehabs. And while Lombardi didn’t have much, Mueller appears to be a find at the PP point in Boyle’s absence and a very capable 4C until Stepan returns.

    1. Paco

      Agree with your post, and the truth be known, had Miller played up to expectations, we wouldn’t even be talking about the center problem. The Miller kid will improve his defensive game, and will be slotted in at center sometime down the road. As will Lindberg as the 4th line center!!!!!

    1. My guess is it ain’t gonna be pretty if the Rangers take any more hits to their D. A wide-open style will be a lot easier to exploit without a great D-corps. As we’ve seen, Hank can’t do it alone.

  2. Hmm…Vigneault’s hand was forced to go with vets over younger players with less experience. I seem to recall a post here about 10 days ago touting AV as a “blessing for the Rangers kids”, heaping accolades on him as the patient “Anti-Torts” that “doesn’t revert back to the veterans” and “sticks to his concept”, which supposedly was playing kids whether they were ready or not. LOLOLOLOLOLOL

    I know that wasn’t your write-up, Kevin, but I couldn’t resist taking another shot at that biased and ridiculous write up.

    Good coaches, especially those that have teams that are expected to win play the players that will best contribute to a winning effort. If a coach doesn’t feel a player is ready, then they don’t play in the NHL. AV isn’t any different then any other coach in his situation and he is no more of a blessing or curse to young players then any other coach.

    Fortunately the Rangers made good moves in the off-season to acquire the vet depth they haven’t had in previous seasons and that asset has helped stabilize their embarrassing start. They have tons of young talent and I’m sure AV will know when they are ready rather then sticking to some supposed pre-determined concept he had for them as NHL regulars…even if some people think that is detrimental to their development. Or maybe it’s okay to do that as long as your name is Tortorella.

    1. Could you point out where exactly in the post it said AV’s hand was forced to play the vets over younger players? I’ll wait…

  3. i think they need to make some moves in Hartford now while some of these guys look so good…look at our group..we have too may assets of value down there up front, and not enough on the blue line….macktruck is a 0 in the long run…cant skate well enough…there are 4 or 5 real pieces you didn’t mention like HRIVK so there are a ton of assets there

    1. where exactly are the assets down there? one of the worst ranked prospect pools. we needed to swipe one from chicago to fill a void.

  4. Good post Kevin. The Rangers depth has certainly helped them navigate the early part of their schedule without two major pieces. Props to the Slats and the front office for developing that depth.

    Along those lines, a (flawed) hypothetical question: Would you rather have Boyle for the money and years the Rangers gave him, or Boychuck for similar level prospects the Islanders gave up to acquire him? Boychuk is only signed through this year but he is significantly younger, plays much more of a physical defensive game, and he has a bomb from the point. I’m not saying the deal the Islanders pulled off was available when the Rangers signed Boyle, just something to think about I guess.

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