‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Following the Rangers’ frustrating 2-1 defeat to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, head coach Alain Vigneault admitted that recently-acquired superstar winger Martin St. Louis is “pressing.”
“Oh, he’s pressing,” Vigneault told reporters at XCel Energy Center. “New environment. He wants to do well, he’s putting a lot of pressure on himself and he’s got to work his way through it, and he will.”
Through his five games as a Ranger, St. Louis has been held without a goal. The typically shifty and creative winger has only registered one assist and is a minus-one. St. Louis hasn’t made the immediate impact some expected since joining the Blueshirts at the March 5 NHL trade deadline.
Not to worry. Once St. Louis gets comfortable, he will ignite the Rangers’ attack with his elusiveness, renowned scoring touch and expert vision.
Currently, Vigneault is experimenting to determine the best fit for St. Louis. He originally paired St. Louis with ex-Lightning teammate Brad Richards and speedster Carl Hagelin. On Thursday, Vigneault tweaked that line by swapping Hagelin for powerhouse rookie Chris Kreider.
It won’t be long before St. Louis starts firing on all cylinders. He’s always had the steely gaze of a gunslinger in his eyes and a take-a-team-on-his-back-and-carry-them mentality. St. Louis is a leader in the truest sense of the word because he’s not afraid of anything.
“Believing in yourself is the biggest thing as a player,” St. Louis said on March 5. “I think I’ve done that throughout my career, and I know this is going to be a challenge for me. But I love challenges. I like to rise to the occasion and be put in that position.”
Meanwhile, former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan scored his first goal as a member of the Lightning in Tampa Bay’s 5-4 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
Callahan drove to the net and scored an opportunistic goal in front of the crease. His production has been energized since joining the Lightning. Callahan has scored one goal, notched two assists and is a plus-three in four games since arriving in Tampa.
Don’t get carried away by Callahan’s increased production and St. Louis’ initial struggles. These are small samples.
St. Louis is a player who Callahan will never become. That’s not a knock on Callahan, who has been an effective, all-effort workhorse and inspirational figure since his December 1, 2006 NHL debut.
The difference is that St. Louis is all of those things and so much more. He’s the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner and has seen every possible situation through his wise, Jedi eyes.
His experience alone is invaluable. St. Louis is a teacher on the bench, directing teammates and imparting his essential wisdom. On top of that, he’s still one of the league’s best players at 38. St. Louis has the unrelenting work ethic and drive required to remain at the top of his game as he gets closer to 40.
Kreider, Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, etc. are all going to become better players by soaking in St. Louis’ wisdom and studying his work habits and tendencies.
Some fans scoffed when general manager Glen Sather pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Callahan, a 2015 first-round pick and conditional 2014 second-round pick to the Lightning for St. Louis.
Soon enough, the St. Louis trade will start paying tremendous on-ice dividends for the Blueshirts. Fans who initially questioned the “captain swap” will soon be won over by the extraordinary St. Louis.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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