From strength to weakness to strength: A look at the Blueshirts’ center depth

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During the glory years of 2013-2015, the Rangers boasted a very deep center group. Players like Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Derick Brassard, Dominic Moore, and Brian Boyle provided critical depth in arguably the most important position on the ice. When Moore and Boyle left, Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg took their place.

Henrik Lundqvist will forever be remembered as the only reason why the Blueshirts were perennial playoff contenders since Lockout, The Sequel (not to be confused with Lockout, Part III). However the center depth was just as critical, and was one of the major reasons for the drop-off this year.

With the losses of both Stepan and Lindberg, the Rangers created a hole that didn’t previously exist. Lindberg could have been replaceable, or Stepan, but not both. Lias Andersson wasn’t ready for prime time after being taken 7th overall, and JT Miller was miscast as a center and misused to the point of needing a change of scenery.

The Blueshirts began rebuilding that center depth at the draft by taking Andersson and Filip Chytil. Mika Zibanejad is already ingrained as a 1C on this club. Ryan Spooner is showing he can shoulder the load as a middle-six center along with Kevin Hayes. Assuming Andersson and Chytil make the team, and you have five top-nine centers on the team. All this assumes, of course, that Vlad Namestnikov remains on the wing.

The interesting part is that we don’t necessarily know who will remain at center just yet. Perhaps Chytil or Andersson need to shift to the flank to further their careers. No big deal with the depth the club has. After all, that move is a helluva lot easier than wing to center.

After the trade deadline, the Blueshirts did a full 180 on their center depth. They went from forcing a square peg into a round hole (Miller to center) to having established legitimate depth at a position of critical need. This isn’t going to be a quick rebuild, but the Rangers made a lot of correct decisions in February. There’s a long way to go, but at least there’s cause for some optimism as we head to the offseason.

"From strength to weakness to strength: A look at the Blueshirts' center depth", 2 out of 5 based on 8 ratings.
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  1. … and then there’s Brett Howden …. and Boo Boo Nieves looked like he was on the cusp of being our 4th line center earlier in the year — he still might be.

    1. Nieves looked good until AV realized that David Desharnais was the second coming of Sydney Crosby and buried Nieves in Hartford.

  2. Players need to learn how to be strong on the wing before becoming a canter the Rangers have done this for years trying to make a wing a center or not letting kids develop before switching them to center. There is a lot more to learn to be a center than a wing take the time to learn before moving a player to the middle and let them develop at the NHL level first.

    1. Thank you for reminding some people on here about how tough it is to be a NFL. No sarcasm btw

      Chytil game in his own end is bad. It’s Vesey bad…. His compete behind the net is either really poor or his overall defensive game needs to be worked on.

      1. The kid is 18 years old, not 24 like Vesey … maybe you could cut him a little slack. By all indications, he’s a quick study … patience grasshopper, patience.

      2. Do you go to a lot of Hartford games? How anyone who hasn’t could be making any assessments on Chytil or Anderson is beyond me.

  3. The numbers are there, but there is still the question of a #1 center. One of the weaknesses of the 2017 Rangers was that Derek Stepan was a below average #1 center. One does not solve such a problem by trading him and elevating the #2 guy to #1. Zibanejad seems to have proved that he is absolutely not a #1, having been outscored this season at even strength by Jesper Fast (and only passed DD with a late season run).

    I am more hopeful than most that Chityl can be a true #1. Or, it is plausible that Hayes can grow into the role, but the Rangers may still have the weakness that doomed them last year.

    1. I don’t think it was a weakness at all (Stepan as a #1). We’ve had very competent groups of 4 centers through many of the good years. I could just as easily say the problem was the lack of big time elite top line scoring wingers, or the lack of defensively competent d’men over the last couple of years, etc.

      1. My comment was misconstrued in one respect. I was not dissing Stepan. Roughly speaking, a fair assessment was that Stepan was the 22nd best center in the NHL. Since the NHL needs 120+ centers, that is damn good. However, more than half the NHL teams had a better center and three quarters of the playoff teams had a better #1 center. And that was a negative factor.

        1. There’s 30plus centers better than Stepan. People forget that some teams like Pittsburgh/Edmonton have 2 centers better than Stepan. He was nothing special and this team doesn’t miss him.

        2. when are our standards gonna stop being “top 30 in league” in positional talent. no wonder we havnt had a cup in 25 years.

    2. Zib’ s career high is 52 points and 21 goals. I knew he wasn’t a top line center the minute I saw that, we’re hoping he ends up like Brass.

      I’m the biggest anti Stepan fan that there is but he gets called out one to many times. Kreider doesn’t post up top line numbers. He’ll Hayes is 4 goals shy of his career high of 27 goals! Truth is that Zib and Kreider produce closer to the rate as Hayes, they don’t put up points that are 6 or 8 points shy of most top line names.

      I’ve said it before and I still think it’s all on the table that Hayes will either push out Kreider or Zib. He’s a proven producer who doesn’t even need PP time. Add that and quality and that’s a perfect 2c for the future. My guess is that the Kreider trade rumors will start to pop up again.

      1. There’s no point in trading any of those guys. They’re all just entering their prime and should be part of the rebuild — might have made the same argument for keeping Miller. If we’re going to make more trades you need to look at upgrading either Vlad, MZA (age issue) or Spooner.

        Re: Mika, his high is now 27 goals … and he’s 24. There’s still room for him to improve as he starts to enter his “prime”. He may still end up as a 30 goal / 65 point guy and that’s just fine as long as he’s surrounded by other quality players. This is after all a TEAM sport.

      2. Hey Mint—Zib’s career high is 27 goals and counting. Way to distort reality and ignore facts!

        1. Last year, Stepan had 37 ES points; this year Zib has 26. Yes, he is good on the power play, but that does not make a number one center.

          ES points over the last two years:
          Crosby 114; Miller 87; Namestnikov 54; Zib 52.

          Crosby is clearly better than Miller, but it is actually more reasonable to compare Miller to Crosby than to compare Zib to Miller.

          1. I don’t know why you’re addressing me about this here, as I was merely responding to a typically mistaken and overstated post by Mint. But I’ll take your bait—Zib is tied for 12th in the NHL among centers for goals this year. Like it or not that’s first-line production. In my opinion Zib is much like Stepan—his game is very far from perfect, and he’s in the bottom third of NHL first-line centers to be sure, but he is a first-line center. And Zibby has got room to improve his production to the 60-point range if he can only stay healthy. Zib & Hayes as 1 & 2 centers in a new system could really put up some numbers.

            Lastly, you’ve (rightly) harped on Zibanejad’s poor 5-on-5 production this season, but he’s been better in the past at even strength play. In Ottawa he had strong even strength numbers, and in fact the Rangers cited that fact as one of the things they liked about Zibby’s game when they traded for him. It’s definitely something to worry about in terms of his Ranger production, but that doesn’t eliminate the value of his power play work this season.

          2. ES – Stepan averaged 40 per year his last four years as a Ranger, has 37 this year. Zib, in last three years at Ottawa was 25,32,40 – with 26,26 as a Ranger. A career year for Zib was a typical year for Stepan.

            A good center has assists. You can be a top winger with just goals, but a center with more goals than assists and fewer than 40 goals is not much of a center. Look, he’s a boon to the power play, but your top line center is not a PP specialist – he is the heart of the team.

          3. Everyone seems to ignore the negative impact AV’s ”system” has on players. Watch Zib if they get a competent coach next season.

  4. What a move it was to get rid of Stepan! If you look at the decision on the grounds of how it impacted this franchise, one could say it cost the Rangers 2 seasons of playoffs and cup contention. This is my optimistic view. Reality might be a whole lot longer.

    Let’s all just agree, just hypothetically, Stepan being traded and Giardi’s buyout is the reason for this season. Let’s all agree maybe no one realized the impact on the leadership of this team those 2 guys had. Let’s all agree those 2, albeit were declining and never could get it done, that hockey is a game of chance more than any other sport and just maybe in the next 3 years prior to this move they could have put it all together for the rangers. Stepan was only on the books for 3 more seasons. Giardi was on the books for 6.

    Now the bad deal here is Giardi. No doubter. That contract was horrible no matter how you look at it. But Stepan is a whole different story.

    6.5 million for a guy putting up 55 points a season and being a reliable defensive shutdown forward against the leagues elite players is not that much. Dubinsky is only making 750k less then him and is not columbus’s number 1 center. And he only puts up 40 points but hasn’t had a consistent number for production in his career there. But 40 points is his average since 2010-11.

    Ryan Kesler of anaheim is a 48 point producer since 2010-11 yet 175k more then Stepan.
    Alexander Steen of the Blues is a 47.8 point producer in same time frame. He makes about 750 k less then stepan.

    I could do this all day. Take any center in the league on any team aside from the elite centers and tally their point totals up to Stepan and look at their contracts.

    Since 2010 -11 Stepan averaged 51.42 points per season. And he makes the league average for that production.

    Problem lies in that he was our best center. And it just wasn’t good enough. A couple of bounces here of there against the Kings and we would all be singing such a different tune.

    Was Stepan a Crosby? Hell no. Could he shut down Crosby? Hell yes! The problem was this franchise and it’s fans wanted Crosby. We want a McDavid. We want a Taveras. We want that highlight reel player.

    That move for better or worse is going to shape this franchise for the for see able
    future and it was a bold move. To trade Stepan for an unknown was very risky. And their attempt to cover it up with the signing of shattenkirk was just to wash over what a bold move it was. And for the most part it worked til the allstar break. But the quitting/injury of Mac, the loss of Shattenkirk, Krieder, and inability of Smith to be consistent…came to the for front on that night against the islanders. Nash/Zuc and the rest had just had enough of trying to compensate for all the other players who just were not trying anymore.

    This team and it’s future truly are in Gorton and Sather’s hands now. And how quickly the franchise rebounds is all reliant on how fast they can find another shutdown 1C/2C(however you the reader valued him). Replacing a player of Stepan’s quality is not exactly easy. They honestly thought they had it with Zibanjad and looked how well that has worked out. Hayes is the nearest thing to him, but he doesn’t make the same reads/defensive positioning as Stepan. It might be a long time til we as fans get to see that same consistency again. But make no doubt …his value to the franchise was a hell of a lot higher then anyone on here or in the front office thought it was.

    We can all talk about Chytil and Andersson all we want on here but til the day comes that one of them can shut down the leagues elite players …all they are is rookies who just can’t get it done.

    And sorry to Mint, MC, Tanto, Reena beforehand.I know you hate me and everything I say…. so just once try to read this and not just jump on the 1st thing you dislike.

    1. Also dropping 6.5 on Shattenkirk instead of looking for a #1 center didn’t help much either.

      1. I really feel Shattenkirk was just a …well why not …type of signing. If you knew as a GM your motives were to get younger and you go out and sign him and smith…i just can’t see the logic. It just doesn’t add up. You had Mac as your leader and future leader to the young d coming up. Now I can guarantee they didn’t see mac having the season he did for them. And by all means…he is not looking all that much better down in tampa. But I honestly don’t think they came into the season thinking we are moving mac at some point. I think that how the season and his play panned out it was decided it for them.

      2. What #1 center did they “not look at”? Ever notice how elite centers never get traded or make it to free agency? Because they are the most coveted commodity in the NHL. Who is the best center to make it to free agency in the last decade? Brad Richards? Ryan o Reilly? Teams don’t let elite centers walk away.

    2. agree taking stepan out of this lineup with no ready replacement negatively impacted the performance on the ice this year, although i’m not quite there on girardi yet. just disagree that this is a Cup contending team even if they do not trade Stepan last summer, unless you mean it in the hypothetical sense that any bubble team with a wildcard berth technically has a chance to compete. I think with Stepan this season you would have seen a rerun of last season, erratic and mediocre team play, maybe-a-playoff-team-maybe-not. so we will all see eventually how it works out but – until then at least – I will credit management with not settling for another three years of just being on the bubble and repositioning for something better, as it’s likely that hank can still play a few seasons, stepan will continue to grind out 50+ point seasons, and the old rangers under this wack defensive system that they can’t execute could still have had a chance of staying marginally relevant even with all the other personnel mistakes that have been made – and we all know what they are so no need to name names again here 🙂

      1. and I think you’re right, this was a wait-and-see season, especially with a few big RFA and UFAs pending, maybe they got a shot in the arm and fixed the defense to boot, but when the wheels fell off the necessary direction became much more obvious – and Stepan’s reasonable cost per point notwithstanding – bet they’re glad they moved that NTC off the books when they did!

        1. Do you think that the Rangers make the playoffs with Stepan?

          Personally I do. That was the biggest problem this season. Lack of center depth destroyed us. 2 guys can’t carry a team. Remember we lost Moore also.

          Whether we win the cup …yeah not likely with just keeping Stepan. But no one realized his value and just how hard it would be to replace him. If I could…. I would take that trade back in a heart beat regardless of the NTC. At 3 years of the same production or slightly less I keep him at his price and have Chytil play in the AHL with no rush to come to the NHL and possibly ruin his development. And still trade nash and grabner at the deadline. Just look at spooner….that was a hell of a trade with a 1st round pick included. So we still would have 2 picks in the first and we would have chytil coming up with maybe boo as our 4th line center with so much less pressure. And who really knows who we pick in the 2nd round.

          1. Odie, if we hadn’t traded Stepan and we make the playoffs, you still sell off Nash and Grabner? I understand, but can you imagine the FUROR throughout Rangerland if they did something like that?

          2. Look it is a ballzy move but Nash has always been a no show at playoff time and Grabner for what we got is 50/50 to trade at the deadline. Obviously I am saying this with hindsight and that is a perfect vision. If we are a playoff bound team does Boston still trade with us for Nash? Who knows?

            But you touched on something in your response.

            I am saying this now with the knowledge that DeAngelo is not looking so good and Lias is at best looking to be a 3rd or 4th line center at this exact moment. Did management have that knowledge going into the trade? Did they know and want Lias? Was he their exact reason for making the trade? Or was there another asset who maybe got picked up before that when the Front office made the deal they assumed he would still be sitting there to take?

            Look as I have stated before the draft is a crap shoot. Getting the 7th overall pick for Stepan could have possibly been the right move at that exact moment. But that draft was not extremely deep with talent because the last time I checked only player to make and stay in the nhl from the draft last year was Nico Hischer.

            This is the most exact list out there for this last draft and there are 2 players from the draft who played more the 10 games this season and it is Hischier and Nolan Patrick. Not a very deep draft.

            Here are the players from Hockey from the 2016 draft that made a impact in the nhl right from the draft.
            Matthews, Laine, Puilujavi, Tkachuk, Chychrun, …2 of these guys are on teams that lack NHL level talent so can’t really count them. So again not the deepest draft.

            Now 2015…you had …McDavid,Eichel, Marner, Hanifin, Provorov, Rantanen, Konecny, Beauvillier, Aho, Werenski, Zacha, all of these players were out of the first round except for AHO. You know who we got that draft…Gropp and he hasn’t seen a game yet. Even during this flop of a season.

            So you want to trade Stepan…trade him in 2015 for a pick in that draft. I don’t think this coming draft is really all that strong either. But I will defer to Leatherneck. He just keeps putting up info and doing homework so I think he is right up there with the best non scouts opinions. But even he feels with the wins and the way we are not tanking the roster not the players themselves tanking is just retarded. Same old rangers in my opinion. Falling apart and not doing it at the right time. The right time is when there is a Sidney Crosby out there. Not when the first overall pick is a defender. doesn’t exactly exude confidence in the draft year. But what do I know …the only points I make on here seem to just piss off the truly devoted fans.

    3. No, I agree with most of what you’re saying here … I’ve always been a supporter of Stepan’s game, despite its obvious flaws. If one were to redraft Stepan’s draft year Stepan goes in the Top 6 or 7 … and again this year, he’s scored 55+ points on a crappy team, which would be enough to lead us in scoring. His defensive play as a Top line center was elite, his offensive production was (like Zib) marginal. His game was subtle, intellectual and therefore underappreciated by a lot of fans that just wanted him to score 25-30 goals a year and 70-75 points as if that was the only measure of Top line players’ worth. That said the decision to trade him was sound in many respects. Whether the resulting value received is enough is TBD.

  5. Hank and Marc are the only NTC left right? I wonder if Marc will retire in the face of the rebuild. Though if I were him how could he walk away from all the money the Rangers have to play him. Anyone know if Shatty has any kind of a NTC?

    I don’t see us competing for a couple of years at least, still hoping we can force Hank out but that will not happen if we keep playing him. We should have shut him down last week after he took that big hit. (maybe we would have lost last night).

    We should make it clear to him that we want to trade him there are still teams that are a goalie away from taking a run at the cup that would love to have him. Explain we are going with young goalies next year and his playing time as a backup will be limited.

    1. Hank was never going anywhere. He is here til he is ready to retire. And honestly he has earned that right. If we buy him out…I will respect this franchise even less. According to Richter he was offered to go to Pitt in a trade this past deadline and said no. Hank is a dead end. I would rather buyout Staal at his price then see hank go. Yes shattenkirk has a nmc. 10 team list and 8 team list later on in the deal. So does Smith and Belesky in the minors. Just look at as dead cap space and hope the kids can come up and play well in the next 3 years.

      1. Agree, Hank has earned the right to retire a NYR —- even though that’s “wasteful” from the standpoint of what he might bring back in trade.

        Re: Staal, I would love to move him … and perhaps Girardi’s buyout is a lesson we could learn from. TB signed him for 50% of his salary with us, could we have made even a small trade there while retaining half his salary? Might we be able to do the same with Staal? Better 50% on the books for 4-5 years than an empty buyout and nothing to show for it.

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