By Steve Silverman
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The National Hockey League confirmed what Rangers fans already knew: Henrik Lundqvist is the best goaltender in hockey.
Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy last night over Jonathan Quick of the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. It turned out to be an easy choice for the voters, who gave Lundqvist a wide margin as Quick finished second.
Lundqvist had been nominated for the award three times before he finally won, and he clearly had the numbers to back up the victory. He had a career-high 39 victories, a 1.97 goals against average and .930 save percentage to go along with his eight shutouts.
Those numbers merely provide confirmation of the road map that the Rangers need to take during the offseason, and the draft that begins tomorrow night. When you have the best goalie in hockey in a league that includes Quick, Rinne and Boston Bruins stalwart Tim Thomas (but not any longer), it means that you have to look at offense if you are going to get past the Eastern Conference Finals and have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
The goaltending is good enough. The defense is good enough. The mindset is strong enough. Head coach John Tortorella has instilled enough pride in this group that the Rangers are assured of a maximum effort nearly every time they take the ice. Not that Tortorella’s players are perfect. There may be the occasional loaf or mental mistake. But compared to the competition, the Rangers seem to get more out of their talent than their opponents do nearly every night.
That’s why in a draft that is strong on defensive players, Glen Sather has to look for offensive talent. Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik are strong offensive players who had very solid 2011-12 seasons and also had some reasonably big moments in the playoffs.
But they did not have enough support, and the Rangers need a few more dynamic players.
The Rangers may have a chance to draft Sebastian Collberg with the No. 28 pick in the first round. There’s a chance that Collberg will be gone by the time the Rangers pick, but if he’s around he has a chance to fill their scoring needs.
Collberg is not the biggest or strongest player at 5-11 and 174 pounds, but when the American-born player skated for Gothenburg Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League last season he demonstrated quick feet, top instincts and magical hands. He knows how to put the puck in the net and he has that goal-scorer’s attitude. He is completely fearless when he senses a scoring opportunity. Some may view it as somewhat selfish, but the Rangers need a player who will not pass up chances to score.
The pick is a gamble, because you don’t know if Collberg has the size to endure the hard-hitting that he will have to face in the NHL. However, when you are a team that needs to add goal scoring it’s a gamble that is well worth taking.
If Collberg is not available, the Rangers might want to take a look at center Mark Jankowski, a six-foot-three prospect that recently got much taller and much more dangerous. He has committed to play at Providence College next season. Colton Sissons of the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets is another potential selection. He’s got a big shot and a powerful skating stride.
The draft, of course, is just one of the tools available to the Rangers. They used free agency last year to bring Brad Richards into the fold. Zach Parise said he has no interest in the Rangers, but if the cash-strapped Devils aren’t in a position to satisfy Parise and he doesn’t get signed away in the opening blush of free agency, the Rangers may just want to hang around and try to change his mind. It won’t be easy, but it would be worth it.
How do you think the Rangers should go about improving their offense this offseason — either via the draft or free agency? What would your plan be if you were Glen Sather? Offer your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below…