Midseason report cards: the top six forwards.

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Nash has been good, almost great. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Where do you start with the Rangers top six? If you’re grading the offense as a whole, it’s fair to say you would give the team a strong grade – probably A level.

The Rangers boast an elite (at least statistically) powerplay, they sit second in the league in goals per game (3.4/game) and have scored more goals than every team in the league (144 at time of writing). However, when you break it down, has every player played to his own individual ability?

Rick Nash

Nash has driven to the net more and been stronger on the puck than at any other time as a New York Ranger. He has scored goals (13 in 30), has shown more consistency and has been strong in his own end. He has also made an impact on special teams. The problem is, Nash cannot stay healthy. Could he produce more? Yes, particularly when you harshly measure his output against his salary cap. If you take out the injury issues, Nash has had a solid season that promises much in the second half. The Rangers need a healthy Nash.

Midseason grade: B

Derek Stepan

For some obscene reason, some Rangers fans think Stepan is overrated and over paid. The reality is, Stepan is a great top six center that does a little bit of everything and is a crucial part of the team. When Stepan is on his game, the Rangers are much better for it. Stepan will never be an elite goalscorer but that’s not his role. Quietly he’s flirting with his first 60 point season while matching up against the top lines from other teams. Stepan has played well the past few weeks and is primed for a strong second half.

Midseason grade: B

Mika Zibanejad

Zibanejad was well on his way to being a huge, immediate success after being acquired from Ottawa. He started hot, cooled off and then started to find his production again before going down with his leg break. Zibanejad was on course for career high numbers and the Rangers will be much better and more dangerous when he returns. The biggest fault with the young Swede is that he doesn’t hit the net enough despite possessing an elite shot. He also blows hot and cold.

Midseason grade: B

Chris Kreider

This season has finally been the coming out party for Kreider we have all waited for. Kreider is having his best and most consistent year, even if there is still room for yet more. Kreider has taken over some games and has been a more consistent force with and without the puck. He’s finishing at a career high rate (15.8%, career average of 13%) and he should shatter his career bests if he stays healthy and continues on his current trajectory. Kreider obviously possesses an elite total package and if he keeps developing, the Ranger get (and stay) healthy then the Rangers – thanks in part to Kreider- will have a lethal attack. Is Kreider on his way to being the Rangers best forward?

Midseason grade: A-

Mats Zuccarello

I have been a little disappointed with Zuccarello. At times he’s displayed his elite vision and playmaking ability, he’s been the sparkplug the Rangers are used to enjoying and he’s a difference maker when he’s on his game. This year however he has been a bit streakier than usual, has disappeared in games and is on course for a dip in production unless he has a strong second half. Above all, Zuke has struggled to finish this year and is on course for his weakest year in three. On a team that has struggled to stay healthy, you could reasonably expect Zuke to habe stepped up and at times he didn’t. While he’s been snake bitten, he has been much better recently and his line has carried the Rangers before the bye week.

Midseason grade: B

JT Miller

Miller has had an up and down season, but with more highs than lows. A torrid start, he and Kevin Hayes carried the Rangers offensively to begin the year and he should easily set career highs across all major categories. Seemingly on a shorter lease with Vigneault than every other forward, Miller has made mistakes, has overplayed the puck at times and has been quite streaky. What cannot be denied however, is his effort, his ability to excel without the puck and he’s also grown into a strong special teams player. Hayes and Miller may be one of the leagues most dangerous penalty killing units, seemingly generating shorthanded chances on every kill. If Miller can keep refining his skill set, make better decisions and continue to grow offensively Miller has regular 60 point upside.

Midseason grade: B+

With the multiple injuries to the forwards, the movement up and down the line-up of Miller, Vesey and co. it’s quite hard to do a set top six report card. Vesey, Hayes, Pirri, Buchnevich and of course, Michael Grabner have all spent time in the top six.

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  • B+ and A- aren’t that far apart. So, I think you are being overly generous with JT’s B+ or stingy with Kreider’s A-.

    So, if you go by the grades, the NYR’s second best forward is JT Miller? No. Too many shifts were he goes missing or does something not so smart. And BEYOND streaky.

    • I believe the grades are relative to expectations, so a B for Nash is not the same as it would be for Miller.

  • I hope Zucc has a better 2nd half. We all know he makes some great passes and sees the ice great. However he is not scoring goals at all. He hasn’t scored a goal other then an open net goal one time and a few SO goals in well over 20 games now. Zucc is one of my favorite Rangers but I really wish he would shoot more and most of all score more.

  • Zucc and Stepan get “B”? They have both been “C” players in my eyes scoring 8 and 9 goals respectively. These guys needs to put the puck in the net AND make the players around them better. Zucc does make his linemates better, but I am sorry, Stepan does not. How do you give Nash (for the games he has played) the same grade as these 2 players? I just don’t get it.

    Nash should get at least a “B+” for his 20 game effort. I think what these ratings tell us is that our third line is keeping the team above water.

      • Oh that’s right, that one goal elevates their grade. Forgive me. They collectively make over $10M annually. They are supposed to made GREAT plays nightly.

  • Good stuff Chris. Grades are so hard in this case. Here’s my take….

    Nash–Hard to do because he’s missed so many games. When he’s played, I’d say an A- if not an A. He’s been terrific. Reminding all of us what an outstanding two way player he is when he’s on his game. The question is, will this groin injury slow him down or become a chronic issue? We absolutely need a healthy and effective Nash to have any chance against the elite teams. He’s arguably, at his best, our one truly elite forward.

    Stepan–100% agree. I don’t understand why he is such a target of some fans. I truly believe if he is traded (which he may be with his NMC kicking in the summer), we will miss him more than people realize if he’s not adequately replaced. He’s having a real good season overall.

    Zib–I guess a B is fine. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen. But at this point, I’d say the jury is still out and I’d give him an incomplete.

    Kreider– totally agree! Finally, at long last, he’s having a breakout season. If Nash and Kreider can play elite level hockey come playoff time, then the whole dymanic of what we are as a team changes for the positive. Very encouraged, but of course I want to see this for a larger sample before I say “he’s arrived”.

    Zuc– I’d say a B is about right. Zuc has been good but not great. Even though he had a remarkable year statistically last season after his near fatal head injury, I’m not seeing the same two way effort shift after shift from a few years ago. We love him, we always give him a free pass, and rightfully so after all he’s been through. But I do wonder if this is as good as it gets and if a regression may soon be in the offing.

    JT Miller– I’d probably give him a B, maybe a B-. This is a guy with special talent, but he’s still young and trying to figure it all out. He was great early when everyone was healthy, but as I said in a prior post, it’s a huge red flag to see him essentially disappear when the injuries happened and he was asked to step up. He’s not reliable, at least not yet. I totally disagree that he would be characterized as a max “effort” guy. This is a guy who’s work ethic has been questioned on numerous occasions. I need to see a lot more here before I laud him with that kind of praise. Let’s see what he does in the second half. I’m hopeful but with a healthy skepticism.

  • Great post Chris Spot on, very insightful. Have to check this site more often. Was a regular for yrs on RangerReport

  • Hey Chris. Right on the money with the grades. I’ll have to agree with Eddie on Nash. I’d give Nash an A-

  • grades assigned are not significantly off, but Grabner is an A and merits top 6 recognition ahead of Stepan, who is 20th best C in the league nothing more/less, approx.

    Speak the truth, he is solid and while not overpaid, not a bargain at top $ of what he gets. He is NOT dominant, and Rangers WOULD be better to repurpose his salary for a needed piece and go with Zib/Hayes/Miller/Lindberg and not far down the line, Nieves, and see if we can get a dominant C from somewhere to add to my noted deep pivot roll call.

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