NY Rangers: Power Ranking Their Corps of Defensemen

Andrew Capitelli@@acapitelliContributor IJanuary 4, 2013

NY Rangers: Power Ranking Their Corps of Defensemen

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    After finishing last season in third place in the goals against category, it's safe to say the New York Rangers are one of the more difficult teams to score on in the NHL.

    Without a doubt, Henrik Lundqvist should receive a bulk of the recognition for these accomplishments, as he has literally stood on his head since entering the league in 2005.

    But it would be wrong to dismiss the group of defensemen who play directly in front of him.

    It seems every season the Rangers are able to graduate and develop a quality young defenseman, and that's a testament to the team's excellent drafting and minor league affiliate, the Connecticut Whale.

    Both organizational strengths have allowed the team to compile one of the league's youngest and most balanced defense corps. With the oldest among the group being only 29 years of age, Rangers fans could be in store for a solid defensive product for years to come.

    But not all defensemen are created equal, and that's why we're here. So here are the power rankings of the Rangers' seven active defensemen.

7. Stu Bickel

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    It's too bad I couldn't find a picture of Stu Bickel sitting on the bench, because that's what he did for a majority of last season.

    And it wasn't unwarranted; Bickel is just not a very good hockey player. He's not a strong skater, he has little to no offensive ability and his own zone decisions are not good enough to warrant regular playing time.

    Don't get me wrong, Bickel can be a useful player, and if by useful you mean doing things like this and this or even this, then he's a superstar. 

    But the league is in an era where it really has no use for players who can only fight and protect their teammates. If you can't perform as an effective hockey player shift in and shift out, then your career will have an early expiration date.

    Although Bickel signed a two-year extension with the Rangers this past summer, his career in the big leagues will be in jeopardy if he can't become a regular shift defenseman over the course of his new contract. 

6. Steve Eminger

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    Despite being employed by six different NHL clubs over the past five seasons, Steve Eminger has emerged as a solid No. 6 defenseman for the Rangers over the past couple of years. 

    Although he can be a stranger to the scoresheet—he's only accumulated 11 points as a Ranger—Eminger brings to the ice a hard-nosed, no non-sense style that has appealed to coach John Tortorella. 

    He can be trusted in five on five situations as well as on the penalty kill, which is important because Torts likes to employ a sizable group of penalty killers.

    Despite a late season injury, which saw Eminger miss the final 12 games of the season and most of the playoffs, he was resigned this past offseason to a one year deal and will retain his depth defenseman position with the club whenever the league starts up again.

5. Anton Stralman

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    After joining the Rangers mid-season in 2011-12, Anton Stralman has become a pretty important piece of the puzzle.

    He possess above average offensive skill for a defenseman, yet he is still very strong positionally and is one of the better skaters of the group. 

    He's yet another who could be trusted in just about any situation, and despite his calm and reserved style on the ice, he's been known to throw the occasional hip-check once in a while, with, might I add, a fair amount of success. 

    He finished the regular season with 18 points in 53 games, but it wasn't until the playoffs that he showed his true worth. A handful of clutch goals helped the Rangers in their run to the conference finals.

    Whether it be his offensive abilities or his steady, calming approach on the back end, Rangers' brass saw enough to re-sign Stralman this past off-season to a two-year contract.

4. Michael Del Zotto

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    Drafted in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Michael Del Zotto found himself dressing for the Rangers nearly 16 months after his selection date, becoming the youngest defenseman to ever feature for the club on opening night. He was only 19 years old. 

    Rangers fans immediately licked their chops at the prospect of this one. His excellent vision and passing ability, combined with his feisty, cocky attitude has given the Garden faithful a lot to look forward to. 

    Despite hitting what appeared to be a developmental road block in 2010-11, which saw the youngster endure two stints with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL, Del Zotto has once again found his game and really emerged as a quality top-four NHL defenseman. 

    His 41 points and plus-20 rating, as well as his outstanding defensive positioning saw Del Zotto finish 12th in Norris Trophy voting at the end of last season.

    Unfortunately, his impressive season has complicated his status as a restricted free agent. He believes he deserves a more generous sum than what general manager Glen Sather is offering.

    Although Del Zotto doesn't have arbitration rights, Sather should be more understanding, because Del Zotto is without a doubt a player he would regret losing.  

3. Dan Girardi

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    For years now, Dan Girardi has been a defensive stalwart for the Rangers, but it wasn't until this past season that the rest of the league took a serious look at him.

    With Marc Staal sidelined indefinitely at the start of the season, the Rangers' Stanley Cup plans looked to be doomed. But Girardi seized the opportunity to become the team's leader on the back end.  

    He and his partner Ryan McDonagh saw roughly 30 minutes of ice time on a regular basis. In any situation, the pair was Tortorella's first choice. 

    It's Girardi's reliability and consistency that has made him so valuable. And with that has come much deserved recognition. Girardi appeared in his first All-Star Game in 2012 and, more deservedly, he finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting as the league's top defenseman.

    The biggest question regarding Girardi's future is whether or not his body can withstand the grueling punishment it's been handed over the course of the past few seasons. Not only does he see a ton of ice time, but he also plays as hard as he can shift in and shift out, sacrificing his body for the good of the team.

2. Marc Staal

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    The return of Marc Staal in the Winter Classic last season was greatest gift the Rangers could have received midway through the year. Little did they know, it would be a very long time before he performed like the Marc Staal of old.

    But it did happen.

    Come playoff time, Marc Staal was running on all cylinders, especially in the series against the Devils. The argument could be made that he was the best Ranger in the conference finals.

    Before last season, Staal saw improvement with every year that went by. In 2010-11 we saw Staal transform from a pretty one-dimensional stay at home defenseman to a rough around the edges type who wasn't afraid to take his chances on the offensive side of things. That year he featured in his first All-Star game and became one of the league's top shut-down defenders.  

    Although his injury was unfortunate and his development may have stalled a bit, it's clear that Staal is back on track to become a top-pairing defender for the Rangers once again. He's one of the few players out there who will benefit from this lockout. 

1. Ryan McDonagh

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    Boy Wonder himself: Ryan McDonagh.

    How's that Gomez trade looking now, Bob Gainey?

    It's funny how one of the worst signings in the league's history can possibly become one of the greatest acquisitions the Rangers organization has ever made.

    When McDonagh was recalled from Connecticut mid-season in 2010-11, it was clear he was going to stick around. Simply put, Ryan McDonagh is one of the best skaters in the NHL. His ability has allowed him to defend some of the best players in the league in one-on-one situations just as good as any defenseman in the league. 

    And he's only 22 years old.

    In 2011-12 we even saw a more adventurous McDonagh, one not afraid to jump into the action offensively. He can even be classified as dangerous in four on four situations because it's not difficult for him to jump into the rush and get back in time to defend. 

    He racked up 32 points last season, but his 11th place finish in Norris Trophy voting is overwhelmingly attributed to his outstanding defensive presence. 

    His partnership with Dan Girardi is currently one of the league's most solid pairings, but the most exciting thing about McDonagh is that the best may lie ahead of him.