By Brian Monzo
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What a summer it was for the New York Rangers. A big signing, a new captain and more. After losing to the Capitals in five games in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Rangers added and removed what they thought was the problem. They are finally hope to exceed expectations, and go deep into the playoffs, and perhaps bring a Stanley Cup back to New York City.
Welcome to the Big Apple, Brad!
The Rangers first try of adding top centers with Scott Gomez and Chris Drury turned out to be an epic failure. This season, they went for the best again, bringing in former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards. Richards, 31, has over 700 career points and will be part of the Rangers top line with goal scoring forward Marian Gaborik and likely streaky winger Wojtek Wolski. Together, they will be expected to provide the Rangers with the offensive punch they have desperately been seeking for years. The addition of Richards (also named an alternate captain) hopes to reignite Gaborik, who scored only 22 goals last season, after scoring 42 two seasons back. Richards can also handle running the point on the power play, which has been another shaky situation for the Blueshirts since Brian Leetch was in his prime.
The second line will likely be centered by third year center Artem Anisimov, whose point total has increased from 28 to 44 in his first two seasons, centering newly appointed captain Ryan Callahan and the gritty Brandon Dubinsky. This unit had some success last season and it makes the most sense to keep them together. They’ve also come up the ranks together with the Rangers organization. It would seem Callahan and Dubinsky, both the hearts of the team, would be inching their way toward dual 30 goal seasons. The combination of the three add a perfect offensive, gritty punch that forms a solid second line. Callahan and Dubinsky both will be used on the penalty kill units, too.
On October 9th, 2010, rookie Derek Stepan played in his first ever NHL game. The 20-year-old would score three goals against Ryan Miller that night. From there he would score 18 more goals, notching 21 goals and adding 24 assists in a superb rookie season. Stepan will now be the third line center, and will be looked upon to improve on those numbers. The good news is that with the Rangers first two lines being depended on for most of their scoring, Stepan can do his thing without a ton of pressure on him as a sophomore. It’s expected that Ruslan Fedotenko, brought back after a consistently consistent season with the Rangers, will be on Stepan’s right side. At this point, it isn’t clear who will take that left winger spot, but I would expect the shifty Mats Zuccarello to be there come opening day (1p ET on Friday). Zuccarello’s game is purely offensive, and with Stepan and Fedotenko able to play on both ends of the ice, Zuccarello fits well. Zuccarello was also almost near perfect in shootouts last season.
The emergence of Brian Boyle last season was a shock to everyone, including the coach’s. Boyle scored 21 goals last season, and was used in every role a player could be used in. It was thought that the former 1st round pick of the LA Kings would not be on the big team last season, but he worked on his skating and all around games and really turned some heads. Now Boyle, rewarded with a three-year deal, is locked in as the fourth line center as well as being given power player and penalty kill time. The Rangers have four players who could play with Boyle. Brandon Prust scored 29 points, and accumulated 160 penalty minutes. His chemistry with Boyle last season and in the playoffs locks him in on the left side. Mike Rupp was signed to a three year deal on July 1st, and like Prust, can drop the gloves and put the puck in the net occasionally. It is expected that those three fill out the fourth line.
The Rangers last roster spot was filled with versatile forward Erik Christensen. Christensen can show signs of brilliance, and other times looks lazy, but he is dynamic in the shootout. Sean Avery was competing for that final spot, but was waived and his future with not only the Rangers, but the NHL is question.
I know people are not fans of Avery, but I would have preferred him as the extra forward. He still brings something to the game that no one else can and can be effective. However, towards the end of last season it was clear his time with the Blueshirts was coming to an end.
On the Blueline
As we talked about a few weeks back, the unknown situation of Marc Staal’s concussion is scary one. It’s already known he is missing at least the first two games, when the Rangers start their season in Sweden. From there, he will at least rejoin the team. When he is cleared to play in games is still a mystery. Staal is easily the Rangers best defenseman, and his loss is going to hurt.
They are going to need to find a way to fill that gap. Dan Girardi, Michael Sauer (hurt in preseason, but should be a go for the start of the season), Ryan McDonagh and Steve Eminger are all locks to make the team. Michael Del Zotto looks like a lock to make his way back to the big team and perhaps traveling veteran Brendan Bell, signed in the offseason will round out the start six. Tim Erixon was impressive in his first training camp with the Rangers, but was sent to the AHL to start the season. It’s a formality that he will be called up at some point during the season. If Staal is expected to be out for a quite some time, Erixon should be in New York sooner then later. Eminger has the most NHL experience, and at this point will be relied upon as a 6/7 defenseman, with his most important job in the locker room with the younger guys.
Girardi, perhaps one of the most underrated players in the league, will be looked upon for some power play time and a ton of shot blocking.
The Rangers defense is the weak point of their team at this point, based purely on their age. The amount of potential though, is unlimited and with players like Erixon, Dylan McIlrath and even Stu Bickel upcoming, their defense is truly a bright spot.
And in goal…..
#30 — Henriiiiiiiik Lundqviiiiiiiist, as Joe Tolleson announces at the Garden 40 times a year. There really isn’t much to say here. Lundqvist has been a top three goalie every season he has joined the league in 05-06. Last season he shut teams out 11 times, and a total of 35 times in his career. The Rangers offense may be a question mark, as well as the defense, but one position there is no question is in the net. The King, yet to win a Vezina Trophy, is due — and this could be the season. In six seasons, he has won 30+ games every season.
What is just as important as Hank is his backup goalie Marty Biron. At this point in his career, Biron has accepted his backup role, and accelerated at it. Before breaking his collarbone, Biron was 8-6-0 with a GAA close to 2.00. Nothing to complain about that. If I am Glen Sather, one of my priorities is making sure I get Biron signed for a few more seasons. On a personal level, Biron told me he’d like to board op a radio show, so getting Biron to WFAN sometime soon is a priority of mine to run a show for Somers.
I am not sure what the opinion of John Tortorella is around the Ranger fans, but I am believer. He wants to win. That’s all you can ask for in a coach.
Here we go….
What do you think Rangers fans? How will the Blueshirts do this season?