Midterm Grades: The Top Six (Learning to Love Hockey Again)
I just finished up my first semester of law school, which naturally means I wanted to take out some pent up frustration on grown adults that I do not know playing a sport I ostensibly enjoy. Dave also needed someone to cover the top-six forwards. It was a match made in heaven, except now I’m thinking about rubrics and curves and all kinds of ridiculous things, all of which are probably good ideas as far as intellectual honesty goes. However, in the not-so-distant past I had been finding myself deeply disillusioned with picking apart hockey (don’t worry, a week without it has got me back in the groove) and made a conscious effort to make it more, well, fun. So that’s how we’re looking at this folks: whether or not they’re fun.
Our number-one center is on a roll. He’s scoring like crazy, hustling every night, and in general just a treat to watch. His finest skill is perhaps his one-timer, a rocket from the circle that few goalies are able to handle if he gets enough on it. Still, he does so much more than just that – he’s greatly improved along the boards this year, just one aspect of his defensive improvement more broadly. He’s coming into his own as a bona fide 1C on both ends of the ice, and it’s a special kind of thing to be able to watch a guy in his prime like that. Whether it’s the goals he scores or the long-term project Mika Zibanejad is certifiably fun.
Kevin Hayes has had a bit of a tough run lately, with injuries keeping him out and persistent trade speculation being probably not the most encouraging thing he’s been hearing about. Still, Hayes is great. He’s another one who’s really come into his own and self-actualized this year, with his puck protection skills shining on a regular basis now as he moves freely about the ice with the swish and dish going. At his best he looks like a Jumbo Joe Junior, making Papa Thornton proud with his big-man style. He’s a primary point machine with a knack for high-danger chances too – basically whenever you see him with the puck he’s either going to do something cool himself or put someone else in a position to do something cool. To be quite honest here, on the whole, he’s pretty fun.
Zucc is someone else who’s had a hard time with injuries and trade rumors, but boy does he keep his head up. Shortly after an overseas interview made it sound like he’s never smile again, he upped his game considerably and started to do the damn thing. Maybe he’s not as consistent these days, but that’s OK, because we love him one way or the other. That’s what good fans do, and I know we’re all good fans. He’s still that same old Zucc, the kind of player that’s both hard-working and talented. He’s a heart-on-his-sleeve kind of dude, an infectious personality, and a three-dimensional, top-to-bottom fun guy.
It’s no secret that Chris Kreider is having a career year. We’ve been saying that for a few years now, and it’s a pretty sweet feeling to have that thought over and over. What might surprise you a bit is that he hasn’t really changed much up, unless you count his newfound cool and health-conscious diet that he acquired in the wake of his terrifying blood clot and rib removal. He just plays his game, keeps it simple. He’s that same old crash-the-net speed demon, screening goalies, ripping shots coming down the wing, and getting those vicious tips into the back of the net. Not many players come back from a potentially career-ending injury and find themselves having the season he’s had, but if there’s anyone who could do it we all knew it was Chris. He’s our Blueshirt Buddha – an enlightened and appreciate soul who just so happens to come barreling through the neutral zone at 1000 MPH with a rocket wrist shot on his stick. I’ve gotta say, it’s fun.
Oh Buch. Such a polarizing player. It can be hard to see clear-headedly sometimes during a rebuild, and even harder to see clear-headedly on the internet almost all the time, but I’m going to try it. He was supposed to have a breakout season, reinvigorated under Coach Quinn, and that’s only sort of happened. Still, it’s sort of happened! It’s good! He makes nice passes, shoots nice shots, and in general plays a solid positional game through all three zones. And hey, if we’re going to say watching a guy grow and learn is a fun experience, we’ve got to be accepting of growing pains and keep a bigger perspective. This might not be great now, but it’s good, and you don’t get great without good. If we’re going to watch players mature before our very eyes we’ve got to recognize that it’s a process, and a wise man once said “Fall in love with the process. Fall in love with the hard work.” That was actually Chris Kreider, but he’s pretty wise, so I think it fits. We’re doing the hard word of loving a player because he’s on our favorite team no matter what, we’re experiencing the process of a rebuild, and one way or another we’re all just here having fun.
This was pretty fun, not withstanding what happened to Rask.
You know I’ve got to say, this was a pretty fun one too.
You might be confused if you’ve made it all the way to the end here. I didn’t actually grade any of these guys, I just said they’re fun to watch. Well, sure, fair, but I’ve also (hopefully) highlighted how even during a down year, as we watch this Rangers team try and grow some brighter future, that hockey can still be fun. It’s something I was aware would be necessary at the beginning of the season, realizing that we’d probably be pretty bad this year, even if management acknowledging it made it a bit more palatable and young draft picks stir up some excitement over in Europe or in college. It’s something I failed at, despite making an active effort to find one big thing to love about each game no matter the result. Still, I’ve tried to have fun here today. I hope you had fun too.