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New York Rangers Midseason Report Card: The Top Six Forwards

Paul J. Bereswill

At the end of tonight’s game in Arizona, the Rangers will reach the midway point of their 2017-18 regular season.  That means it’s time for some midseason report cards!  To kick things off, we’ll be focusing on the top six forwards.

Complicating matters slightly is the fact that the Rangers don’t have a strict delineation between their top six and bottom six.  There’s definitely a fourth line.  There’s Kevin Hayes handling tough match-ups on a nightly basis, but his wingers have rotated regularly.  So for the purposes of this exercise, let’s call the following players “the top six”: Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, JT Miller and David Desharnais.  Yes, that’s actually seven forwards.  Just roll with it.

When Alain Vigneault structures his lineup with these players on the top two lines (avoiding the silly stuff like putting Pavel Buchnevich or JT Miller playing on the fourth line), good results usually follow.  The Rangers, for all of their flaws, are an elite chance creation team.  They are currently tied with the Edmonton Oilers for first in the NHL with an xGF/60 of 2.62 at 5v5.

The most consistent trio during the first half of the season was undoubtedly the KZB line.  While it didn’t always produce an end product at even strength (just five goals in 194 minutes together), the unit drove offense to the tune of a 55.25 CF%, creating 48 high danger scoring chances in that time as well.  One of the turning points of this season may very well have been the now-infamous Halloween night game against Vegas, which supposedly saved AV’s job.  That night, Vigneault reunited the KZB line, which created all three third period goals, turning a 4-2 deficit into an eventual 6-4 win.  After that game, even a cynical AV would have a tough time breaking up the terrific threesome.

Further illustrating the value of the Rangers’ top guns is the fact that when one of them is out of the lineup, the effects are truly felt.  Mika Zibanejad missed nine games with a concussion, and the Rangers immediately slipped into a malaise after a decent stretch of hockey in November.  And now they’ll have to figure out how to replace the presence and production of Chris Kreider, which will be no easy task.

But while the KZB line has certainly earned its praise, the Rangers current leading scorer is none other than Mats Zuccarello.  The Hobbit has posted 8-23-31 in 40 games, putting him on pace to just about eclipse his previous career high of 61 points. Zuccarello is perhaps the most dependable Ranger in terms of his effort, even though he’s been hampered by some inconsistent play (and worse, no constant linemates to speak of).

Rounding out the top group are David Desharnais, Rick Nash and JT Miller.  Desharnais has been a valuable pickup for the Rangers, even though he’s often asked to do too much.  He’s miscast as a top six center, but because of the Rangers lack of other options, he often finds himself on the second – or even first – line.  Rick Nash might be the unluckiest player in the NHL this season.  Still a two-way force, Nash seems to get at least one or two great chances every game, but remains snakebitten with just 9 goals and a career-low 7.4 shooting percentage.  JT Miller is the team’s second-leading scorer with 27 points in 40 games, playing both center and wing (sometimes both in the same game).  Though he’s strong at the faceoff dot, Miller is probably best suited to play on the wing, especially if the Rangers can find a bona fide 2C to pair him with.

Overall, this group of players has produced fairly well so far, but the main issue has been consistency.  As the second half of the year arrives and “the grind” begins in earnest, the top six will have to find another gear in order to elevate the Rangers to contender status.

Midseason Grade: B

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  • Nash does everything but score. I know we’ve been saying this for 2 seasons now how unlucky and snake bitten he is and all the metrics support that. At this point though it can’t just be bad luck- it’s on him..for whatever reason he lost his finishing ability

    • Yes, can we please stop the stats guys favorite lazy narrative about Nash being “unlucky” or “snake bitten”? I’m not one who denigrates the guy because he typically plays a strong 200 foot game every night, kills penalties and creates a of chances. But, and this is a very significant but, he seems to have lost his ability to finish those chances. It happens. Even to the best. Luck is random. No one is lucky or unlucky on a consistent basis. When something happens over and over and over again luck is not a factor, at least not the most important factor.

      • Agreed. He is a class guy, but I think he may have lost a bit. I’d like to be very wrong about that.

      • That’s true and I think that his fortune will change at some point this season. It may be too little, too late by the time that happens but Nash is too good a player to be held down for Long.
        Eventually he will Get going again. Hopefully it happens for him before the trade deadline and GM’s are salivating over him. One can dream. Even in real life.

  • Here we go again. Yes, the Rangers create a lot of quality chances, well, on some nights, Other nights, like last Wednesday, they create very few because of the over passing virus which seems to afflict nearly every forward they have. But unless you convert those chances into goals they’re worth exactly nothing. In the past four games the Rangers have scored 0,2,2 and 2 goals in regulation. That’s not very pretty and doesn’t speak well of their forwards corps even if they managed to eke out a SO and OT win in those four games.

    To use a football analogy, creating quality scoring chances is like piling up yardage between the 20 yard lines. While that may look impressive on the stats sheet its pointless unless you get some touchdowns and field goals out of it. I would give the forwards no better than a C-. And finally, as good as Mats Zuccarello is he needs to shoot the puck more. He lets too many scoring opportunities go to waste by passing, or trying to pass to a guy who is in worse position to score than he is. Same story with Hayes.

    • I agree with the over-passing statement. In addition, at least half of the passes seem to connect with the other team. The Rangers in general seem to have no real game plan and just throw the puck around. They are supposed to have great team speed. That may have been true a couple of seasons ago but lately it seems every team they play is faster. They have no scorers, yes include Gabner without his open net goals.

      I have been a Rangers fan for over 50 years and I am beginning to think it is time for a total rebuild. There are very few players on the team that are worth half of what they get paid. There appears to be talent but the desire and determination are missing. I’m not sure who you point the finger at, lousy coaching or complacent players.

  • Grabner continues to find the net. He has provided some timing goals. Effective on the pk as well. Yet he gets no respect. Michael is the Rangers Rodney Dangerfield.

    • Yup Bloomer…..very underappreciated…..same as last year …..possibly our MVP again, yet most everyone is advocating trading him…..Ludicrous…
      WHY trade a proven 25+goal scorer, team mvp ????? Unless mcdavid or stamkos etc are on the way back!
      Are #1 draft picks guaranteed to score 25+ every year????????/ NO!!!!!!!
      What we need is a couple more like him… a phil kessel type we passed on a few years ago……I agree with Bobby B… about evender kane???/
      All he does is play a physical game and score consistently…..He would be awesome here!!!!!!

      • You can’t look at this in a vacuum. If he was signed for the next few years I could see them not trading him for a #1, but he is a FA next year. I do not see the Rangers going deep in the playoffs (if they get in) and would gladly trade him for a #1 pick right now.

  • The team problem is DD, I mean not DD personally but the place he takes in a team, we need top 6 center….. which is not DD. And also it’s time to trade Nash and most likely Grabs, I don’t think it has sense to go forward with Nash (he lost his speed) and Grabs is going to be to expensive. Dump the season and play youth

  • Original title of this post was “Report Card: 7 of the Top 9, Most of Whom are Probably in the Top 6 on a Given Night, One Who Spends Half His Time on the 4th Line, but What About Grabner and Hayes Oh To Hell With This”

  • 1. Zucc
    2. JT
    3 Mika
    4. Nash
    5. CK
    6 take your pick of inconsistency. All theses guys have good upsides but sometimes disappear. Hayes, Jimmy V, Buch, DD.

    • All the guys in number 6 are young guys. AV doesn’t do a good job with young players. Look at the way he handle Kreider and Miller a few seasons back. He doesn’t trust young players and allow them to play. They make a mistake and they are strapped to the bench.

  • DD is complete disaster, gives little offence as a top 6 center and no presence in defense at all, trade/wave in 1st opportunity

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