Last season, the Rangers deployed Benoit Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello on their third line and Derek Dorsett, Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle on the fourth for much of the season. Needless to say, depth up front was a team strength.
Thanks to the cap crunch and some head-scratching offseason moves, the bottom-six just wasn’t quite the same this year. The team spent much of the season attempting to identify a third-line scoring winger and failed to support Dominic Moore on the checking unit. But though the sum of its parts wasn’t good enough, many members of the bottom-six did have terrific seasons.
What more could you ask for from the prized former Blackhawks first-round pick after he chose to join the Rangers last summer? Hayes really turned it on in the second-half, when it seemed like he improved every single game. Hayes has an impressive combination of size, hands and wheels, and the sky appears to be the limit for the 23-year-old. Hayes was a little quieter in the playoffs, but it’s hard to fault him for that.
He’s not good at hockey – we all know that. But you can’t blame Glass for the asinine contract Glen Sather gave him last July 1, nor can you blame Glass for Alain Vigneault’s insistence on dressing him every night. Glass did his job, albeit poorly, without a complaint all season despite constant misguided vitriol from the fan base. And he did play better late in the season. But yeah, it would be better if he wasn’t going to be on the roster for two more years.
The Swedish rookie finally got a chance at significant minutes due to injuries in the postseason, and he quickly showed that he has far more ability than just being an extremely dependable checking line forward and penalty killer. It will be interesting to see how Fast is deployed next season and how he continues to round out his game, but if nothing else Fast represents a tiny contract for an important role, and one that fits the team’s identity quite well. Those are the types of players the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks constantly unearth to supplement their superstar core.
Once again Moore did an excellent job anchoring the checking line and penalty kill, providing a tremendous example and energy for his teammates, and filling in wherever necessary. Unfortunately, he didn’t have as many chances to shine this season on a drastically weakened fourth line with Glass, but Moore was still very solid for the most part. It could be very interesting to see how Moore would do in a slightly different role with more skilled players on the third line if Oscar Lindberg proves ready for the NHL in September.
It still makes no sense whatsoever that Sather shipped out Lee Stempniak to make room for Sheppard, only to not play him in favor of Glass. When he did play, Sheppard was very unremarkable. He flashed ability in front of the net a few times and paid attention to both ends, but for the most part, Sheppard’s brief tenure in New York was very forgettable.
What do the Rangers have in Miller? He is one of the team’s few wild cards going forward. At times – especially late in the season and for some of the playoffs – Miller showed clear top-six talent with speed, skill and aggressiveness. But Miller’s development curve has also included long stints of invisibility and defensive lapses. Miller is still just 22, so there’s still plenty of time for him to put it all together.
The speedy Swede is a restricted free agent, and it wasn’t long ago that many expected him to be a cap casualty this summer in order to retain Marty St. Louis. Times have changed, to say the least. Though he doesn’t have the most talent in the world, Hagelin’s skating makes him a crucial piece of the club’s identity. You basically know what you’re going to get with him every year: 15 goals, forechecking like a racehorse and consistently strong two-way play. There aren’t too many third-liners that bring more to the table than that.
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