Midseason Report Card: The Bottom Six Forwards
The Rangers have hit the midseason point of the year, and have a perfectly timed bye week to celebrate. I say it is perfectly times because it gives us a chance to do all the report cards before the Rangers play another game. Rob did the top-six forwards on Saturday, I covered coaching earlier in the week, and now it’s time for the bottom-six forwards.
The Rangers have had a whole lot of players in the bottom six. But given who Rob covered in his post, let’s limit the bottom-six to the guys that he didn’t cover. I think that makes sense, right?
Kevin Hayes – Yes Hayes is considered a bottom-six forward this season. He’s been tasked with being the new shutdown center, and he’s been low-key very good in this role. He’s improved significantly on face offs, something that has also flown under the radar. The problem that many will have with Hayes is that he’s only put up 9-8-17 this season. That puts him in a tie for eighth on the club with Jesper Fast and Rick Nash. That said, he’s also starting 40% of his shifts in the offensive zone, down from 60% in his first two seasons. He’s the matchup center now, drawing top competition. Grade: B.
Jesper Fast – I love Fast as a Ranger. I loathe the way Alain Vigneault deploys him, though. Fast is a tremendous bottom-six forward. Skilled, smart, and calm with the puck, he makes the small plays that lead to goals. When Fast is in the bottom-six, you get a two-way player who can skate and generate offense. He’s also the only forward on the roster with fewer offensive zone starts than Hayes. At 7-10-17 for the year, he’s been better than expected. Grade: A.
Michael Grabner – Remember when Grabner was supposed to regress? He wasn’t going to continue shooting 900%, right? Yea…about that. Grabner leads the team in goals with 18, is a constant threat on the penalty kill, and has found chemistry with basically every forward he’s played with. And he’s done all that with 42% OZ starts. Quite the bargain for $1.6 million. Grade: A.
Jimmy Vesey – What you see with Vesey is what you get. He’s a guy that will go to the dirty areas, and he’s probably the most feistiest Ranger not named Zuccarello. Vesey is one of the few that you can expect to give 100% every game, which has been a problem for a bunch of guys on this roster lately. He’s also been much better this year away from the puck, improving his xGF% by a full four percentage points. He’s another guy like Fast, who you love to have in your bottom-six. At 9-7-16, he’s in the same mold as Fast as well. Grade: B+
Boo Nieves – When Nieves was called up, most of us said “about time.” His presence really stabilized the fourth line, probably because he’s an actual center playing the center position. Novel concept. Nieves hasn’t been a scoring machine (1-8-9), but he’s been steady and has found great chemistry with Fast and Paul Carey. Interesting fact: Nieves and Hayes are the only two Rangers with an xGF% over 50% in the bottom six. Grade: B+
Paul Carey – What a story Carey has been this year. The 29-year-old journeyman AHLer has found a nice niche with Nieves and Fast, putting up 5-5-10 in 30 games and forming a surprisingly dangerous fourth line. With Carey, my concern is his ability to keep it up. There’s a reason why he is a career AHL journeyman. He’s been a tremendous story, I hope he keeps it up. Grade: A-.
Pavel Buchnevich – BONUS TIME! Buchnevich has seen a whole bunch of games in the bottom six, and I’m a little bit of a troll, so why not! Buch has had some lapses in his game, but he’s still the third highest scorer on the team. He clicked with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider to form a lethal top line and top powerplay unit. He’s not perfect, but he’s progressing along the same lines as the other talented Russians to make their mark on the NHL. Grade: B.