The Rangers have had a strong year to date – even as we conveniently forget Tuesday’s defeat – but entering the second half of the season find themselves scrapping for the final seed in the Metropolitan division and stuck behind the Islanders and Penguins as they approach February. The Rangers can improve; something that bodes well for the rest of the season. Here are four players that have plenty more to give.
The Rangers captain missed a chunk of the season through injury and since being back has had dominant games as well as games where he’s been inconsistent, particularly defensively. McDonagh has been streaky rather than his consistent self. Before the All Star break McDonagh had a seven game pointless streak and has scored his points in bunches (including 4 points in one 3 game spell and 6 points in a 6 game spell).
It’s not all about numbers; McDonagh can improve in his own zone as well, by being better positionally while also cutting down on the turnovers. Against the Isles on Tuesday, McDonagh again wasn’t exactly stellar but he needs to be for his team to succeed. If McDonagh gets back to his consistent, elite self it’ll go a long way in helping the Rangers catch the Pens and Isles in the standings.
The good news is that Kreider was coming on very strong before the All Star break. The bad news is that he was making up for what has been a very stop-start season so far, individually speaking. Kreider has the overall package to take over games with his size, speed and willingness to crash the net and play physically. Kreider had six points in his last six games before the break and has three game winners in his last nine games showing his increasing ability to be the difference maker the Rangers hoped they’d found in Kreider.
To be successful, the Rangers need Rick Nash to continue his All Star ways but if Kreider can help Nash produce and begin to develop the consistency that has so far eluded his game the Rangers will have two physically dominant power forwards that could help create match-up nightmares for the opposition.
Another player hit by the injury bug, Dan Boyle has flashed his ability and shown, in patches, why the Rangers went out and committed to a 38 year old no longer wanted by his former employers. As expected, most of Boyle’s damage has come with the extra man (7 of 9 points on the powerplay) but he needs to produce more, stay healthy and help the Rangers decide games with a legitimate and consistent powerplay. As Dave discussed earlier this week, the Rangers powerplay has been much improved this season and Dan Boyle will be a major part of that unit so long as he’s healthy.
(this was mostly written before the Isles loss….) Has Miller finally found his feet in the NHL? Has he earned the full trust of Alain Vigneault? What’s Millers actual NHL upside? There are a lot of questions confronting JT Miller as he enters the second half of the season. Miller’s talent is undeniable; he’s already centred the Rangers’ second powerplay unit and has already popped up with some big goals for the Rangers this season.
However, like others on this list, Miller hasn’t been consistent enough, has gone long stretches without producing and on top of that still hasn’t earned Alain Vigneault’s complete trust. It appears that Miller is again a scratch for tonight’s game against the speedy Canadiens. Miller is clearly struggling to convince Vigneault of his worth. Something to consider as the club approach the trade deadline.
A big part of any success the Rangers have this season will be because of their depth stepping up and the kids (including Miller, Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast) on the roster will be a big part of that. We saw the Rangers lose to the Isles on Tuesday in part because the Islanders’ bottom six outplayed their Rangers counterparts. It’s a legitimate concern for Alain Vigneault. If Miller can establish himself over the next 37 regular season games it will likely mean the Rangers have finally developed a consistent third line and Miller will have banished any lingering doubts about his long term Rangers future. He’s clearly capable of more.