It's funny to think that the New York Rangers are now a top-heavy hockey club when it comes to both offense and defense.
Sure, in 1994, 1997 and immediately following the lockout of 2004-05, the Rangers had what would be considered elite talent on their scoring lines and, maybe to a lesser extent during the Jagr years, top defensive pairings.
But what those teams also had was depth. When the third and fourth lines rolled out, nobody was worried about a letdown. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
Last year, the Rangers had the opposite; their top lines were lacking, but they boasted some of the best team depth in the league.
If this team is to make another deep run int the playoffs, the role players are going to have to step it up. As any hockey fan knows, these types of players make names for themselves during the playoffs, as they provide invaluable contributions that can be the difference between winning and losing.
Here are the four role players the Rangers will need to step up during this season if they're going to make a splash come the spring.
Brian Boyle is a slid fourth-line center: He plays end to end, is a great teammate, kills penalties well and is willing to sacrifice is body for the team.
The problem is, he isn't a fourth-line center anymore.
With the departure of three players who can play center—John Mitchell, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov—the Rangers have found themselves short on depth, so Boyle has been the one who has assumed the third-line center position.
As the third-line center, Boyle will still retain all of the previously mentioned elements of his game, but in his new, accelerated position, he's also going to be expected to score more.
He's done it in the past. How, you ask? Well, nobody is really too sure, but Boyle was able to pot 21 goals in 2010-11. But that easily could have been a fluke considering that before then, he scored no more than four in a season and even went on to follow up that 2010-11 campaign with 11 in 2011-12.
Basically, if the Rangers are looking for goal production from their bottom two lines, they're going to look straight at their third-line center, and that's Boyle. So if he can't cut it, look for GM Glen Sather to make a move for a centerman near the trade deadline.
One that isn't named Jason Arnott, of course.
Mike Rupp was brought in to bring some added toughness to the club as a free agent in the summer of 2011.
But toughness wasn't the only reason the team wanted to sign Rupp; the Rangers believed he could also be an effective player.
He's won Cups with two of the Rangers' Atlantic Division rivals in the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His ability to thrive in both of those teams' systems proves that he is capable of bringing a lot to the ice every night.
Early on, though, that hasn't been the case for Rupp in New York. He's appeared slow, really bad on the puck and has little to no penalty-killing ability. He also can't win a fight if his life depended on it at this point.
So if he can't do what he was brought in to do, then where does he fit in? I'll tell you where—nice and cozy on the bench, next to Marty Biron. Rupp has averaged roughly six minutes of ice time per game so far this season, his lowest total coming against Toronto on Saturday when he only saw 2:08 of ice time.
At $1.5 million a year, the Rangers simply aren't getting what they paid for out of Rupp. Not only is he disappointing management, he's disappointing his teammates because he was brought in to fill a role that he is only half fulfilling, at best.
Asham was brought in this past summer to hopefully fill the void left behind following the departure of Brandon Prust.
Ask any Rangers fan and they'll tell you that's easier said than done.
Nevertheless, Asham can still pick up some of the slack, but certainly not all of it.
He's nowhere near as good of a skater as Prust was and won't be able to forecheck anywhere near as hard as Pruster did. Asham may not even be able to or get the chance to kill penalties, either.
But what he can do is intimidate as good as—and probably better than—Prust was able to. He also has significantly more offensive talent than Prust; his wrist shot is very impressive for a guy in the bottom-six.
Torts has already stated that he likes Asham and thinks he will be a useful player, which is good news for Arron. Now, if he can seize the opportunity and prove to the team and the coach he can contribute, the loss of Prust won't be as severe and the team will be better off because of it.
We'll have to wait and see if he has what it takes to step up in coming weeks. If he can't, then he can still serve a purpose for this team as an enforcer. But it's up to him to prove that he can play, and the Rangers will be hoping he's up to the challenge.
Oh, Stu. What are we to do with you?
This young man has become one of the league's best fighters, without a doubt. His pummeling of Flyers enforcer Tom Sestito on Jan. 24th proved that he is capable of dropping the gloves with anyone, no matter how big they are.
It's great that Bickel is a solid fighter, it really is, but the problem is that he's not a forward by trade—he's a defensman.
In hockey, it isn't a problem to dress a player for the purposes of fighting if he's a forward because you have 11 other forwards to choose from at any given moment. When you have a defenseman who is a goon, it can complicate things.
We saw it last year in the playoffs. Torts would continually dress Bickel and give him one or two shifts all game, forcing the rest of the defense to tack on additional ice time, which wore it down deep in the playoffs.
Bickel is another case of a player having the chance to seize the opportunity to be a Torts guy. He's already on his good side, as he sees more games than Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy, which means Torts appreciates what he brings to the team as a guy who sits on the bench before he's set lose to bash some skull.
Could you imagine how much Torts would love him if he actually played some defense?
The point here is that Bickel is the only one left on the team who will protect his players at all costs; that's important and he's really good at it. If he could work on his skating and gain some confidence with the puck, he can be very valuable to this club because it will bring balance to a top-heavy defense.