The New York Rangers' 2013 NHL season will start on January 19 at 7:00 p.m. against the Boston Bruins, and although all eyes will be on Rick Nash and other top guns throughout the year, the secondary production of forwards like Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider could be the key to the team's success in 2013.
The Rangers have had a knack for bringing in high-end talent over the past few years to compliment a base of young players, and that remained true during the past offseason.
In 2009, New York signed speedy-sniper Marian Gaborik; in 2011, marquee-pivot Brad Richards was inked; and in July of 2012, the Rangers reeled in power-forward Rick Nash via a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets
While these high profile pieces are always under the scrutinous and blistering lights of Broadway, there are other homegrown players who could end up playing larger roles in 2013.
In a 48-game season, Nash and Gaborik should have no problem scoring at least 20 to 25 goals each, and Richards may end up with at least 25 to 30 assists and around 50 points, but what about the other group of young and future high-end talent on the roster?
Derek Stepan came into training camp a new man, and the third-year center added some muscle over the summer. Stepan is coming off a 51-point season, and the youngster projects to become the team's No. 1 center in the coming years.
Stepan is a player who has shown true brilliance so far in New York, and he has not stopped impressing since he recorded a hat trick in his NHL debut back in 2010.
The Rangers' second-line pivot will play an important role this year because he will likely center Nash or Gaborik at one point or another.
Splitting up the Rangers' top two snipers will allow the team to exploit the defensive deficiencies of opposing teams that load up their top defense pairing.
If Stepan can have another big year, he can become a top threat in a Rangers' offense that could be one of the best in the Eastern Conference. If his line is clicking, it could force teams to change defensive strategies which would allow the team to send out Nash or Gaborik against a miss-matched defensive pair.
Stepan has the tools to be an effective center with high-quality linemates, and look for him to have another breakout year in 2013.
Another interesting forward to keep an eye on in 2013 is sophomore Carl Hagelin. The speedy Swede put up 38 points in 64 games in 2011-12, and John Tortorella has been raving about the youngster throughout training camp.
The Rangers' stern but fair bench boss feels that "Hags" is in a secure spot right now, and he has helped change the dynamic of the team (NY Daily News) .
Hagelin is a smart two-way forward who found chemistry with Richards last season, and the duo showed flashes of brilliance that existed with Martin St. Louis and Richards back when the two were linemates in Tampa.
While Hagelin is nowhere as talented as the potential Hall of Fame winger, his speed allows him to be a constant threat on the ice, and he can always get open for a Richards breakout pass.
Having a player like Hagelin adds a dimension of speed to the lineup, and his skill set could allow him to be a wild card for the team in 2013.
The ultimate wild card for the upcoming 2013 season will be rookie and playoff-sensation Chris Kreider.
The Rangers' top offensive prospect has not played in a regular season NHL game to date, so fans should taper their expectations for the upcoming season.
However, Kreider possesses a rare combination of size, speed, strength and shot that is not found in many prospects, and teammate Rick Nash thinks that will allow him to eventually become a superstar (SNYRangersblog.com)
The former-B.C. Eagle is arguably one of the the faster skaters in the league despite his 6"3' and 230-pound frame, and he has an amazing shot that was able to best future Hall of Fame-goaltender Martin Brodeur in last year's playoffs.
Although the youngster put up lackluster numbers in the AHL, you need to keep in mind that he was a fast skater playing in a slowed-down league in which his linemates where primarily checking and grinding forwards.
With like-minded linemates on the Rangers' roster, Kreider will have an opportunity to show what he can really do for the Blueshirts. In 2013, the youngster will be challenged, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility to see Kreider contend for the Calder Trophy.
He is by no means the favorite, but he has the skills to compete for the award and be a great secondary contributor for the Blueshirts.
Heading into this upcoming season, players like Gaborik, Nash and Richards will be able to live up to expectations because of their pure skill and experience.
They can serve the Rangers in a big way, but their value to the team can be enhanced if players like Stepan, Hagelin and Kreider play to their potential.
It has been said by critics that Henrik Lundqvist, Richards, Nash or Gaborik could be among the Rangers' most important payers in 2013, but in the regular season and playoffs, depth and secondary contributions matter.
If all goes to plan, the Rangers can dress two lines that would serve as a 1A and 1B line.
For fun, here is a prediction for the production of the potential top-six forwards in 2013.
If the offense produces as predicted, it would add to the team's all-world goaltending, their stellar young blue line and line of checking forwards that include Ryan Callahan, Taylor Pyatt, Brian Boyle, Mike Rupp and newcomers Jeff Halpern and Aaron Asham.
This will gives the Rangers and strong and well-rounded roster, but at the end of the day it will come down to scoring goals, the Rangers' Achilles' heel during the postseason.
Players like Stepan, Hagelin and Kreider may fly under the radar because of the expectations placed stars like Gaborik, Nash and Richards, but that should ultimately allow them to have the potential to be the key contributors to the team's success in 2013.