Brian Boyle attempts to block a shot against the New York Islanders.
The New York Rangers’ struggles in 2013 have, naturally, put the team under a high amount of scrutiny. These things tend to happen when a team, favored to win the Stanley Cup in preseason, finds itself in a dogfight to make the playoffs as an eighth seed.
Most players have earned the criticism that has been hurled in their direction for nearly the entire regular season, but there are also players who maybe have been unfairly critiqued or been victims of the team’s overall lack of success.
What I mean by that is, there are players on this team who've been playing good hockey, but it’s either been ignored or gone unnoticed because the team as a whole has played poorly.
A successful hockey team is a sum of its parts, and when things are going well, there’s a limited amount of criticism. But when a team underachieves, that mantra is the exact opposite.
There are three particular players on the Rangers this season who, I feel, have been unfairly critiqued. Though none of them have had anywhere near career years thus far, they still have flown under the radar as underrated players because the team has not performed up to standards in 2013.
Darroll Powe skates for the Rangers in a game in Pittsburgh.
Just to get this out there right away: Darroll Powe has zero goals this season.
He’s actually got zero assists, too. That being said, he’s still doing was brought in to do.
He’s been a mainstay on the Rangers’ penalty kill since being acquired from the Minnesota Wild on February 4. His speed and willingness to sacrifice his body has made him a suitable replacement for Brandon Prust on the penalty kill.
Since Jeff Halpern was waived last month, Powe has slid into the fourth-line center position with ease. His faceoff-winning percentage is over 50 percent, which is higher than both Derek Stepan and Brad Richards’.
At times, Powe has been, admittedly, a frustrating player in the sense that he’s basically a zero in terms of offensive production. And that hasn't gone unnoticed, because the Rangers are a team starving for goals.
But his play in the opposition’s zone has improved since playing on a line with Arron Asham and Taylor Pyatt. He’s getting the puck deeper and using his speed and the help of his linemates to cycle the puck quickly and generate some goal-scoring opportunities.
If this team was in a battle for the division title, nobody would have a bad thing to say about Powe. They’d praise his effort and penalty-killing ability. But the team isn't in that position, and with the lack of goal production this team has had, nobody is safe from scrutiny, especially the guy with zero points.
But in light of that, he’s been a solid player for the Rangers and has done what he was acquired to do.
Arron Asham fights Tanner Glass of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Another player brought in to help ease the loss of Prust, Arron Asham has only played half of the Rangers’ games this season due to injury.
When healthy, Asham has skated almost exclusively on the fourth line, which means he’s seen serious ice-time fluctuation on a nightly basis.
Traditionally a tough guy unafraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league, Asham has only 26 penalty minutes in 21 games. I doubt coach John Tortorella has a problem with that, though, because Asham has played well under him.
For a 35-year-old, he’s still got his legs, and they've helped him to get the puck deep and implement a solid forecheck with his linemates.
Asham also possesses some offensive talent. Although he’s only got two goals this season, Asham’s nose for the net and impressive release have served him well, not only this season, but throughout his career.
For a fourth-line player, those talents can come in handy, and I’d bet he’s got another clutch goal on his stick before the clock runs out on the regular season.
For a team that lost much of its grit last summer, Asham has been a good replacement. He’s the only player on the team who can be considered an enforcer, and just because the game has changed over the course of the last decade or so, there’s still a place for tough guys in the league.
Teams need guys who will stick up for their teammates, and when you can employ one who’s got the offensive talent and experience that Asham has, then you’re fortunate.
The team’s lack of goal-scoring production is not the only reason Asham has flown under the radar; his injuries have also contributed. Despite that, he’s been good for the Rangers when he’s been in the lineup, and he’ll continue to contribute down the stretch.
Brian Boyle in a game in Pittsburgh.
The Rangers' fans whipping boy for the past couple of season, Brian Boyle has had trouble living up to expectations after scoring 21 goals in 2010-11.
Last year, he had only 11 and this year he’s only got two in 37 games. Tortorella has even scratched the 28-year-old on a number of occasions, but he really hasn't been all that bad.
The worst thing Boyle could have done was score 21 goals a couple of years ago, because he’s never going to do it again. Those who expect him to produce at a similar rate are just setting themselves up for disappointment.
Tortorella’s affinity for Boyle has also contributed to the player’s dwindling reputation. Playing him as a third-line center is not putting him in a position to succeed. He’s a fourth-line guy who can play the third line only if he’s on the wing. He’s not fast enough, nor is he creative enough to center the third line.
Since the Rangers acquired center Derick Brassard from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the April 3 trade deadline, Boyle has skated on his wing on the third line. There he’s been impressive, playing his best hockey of the season.
That being said, he wasn't entirely disappointing before then. I personally don’t expect a lot of goals out of Boyle, so when I look at his stats and see he’s only got two goals, I say to myself “That sounds about right.”
But there are a host of other attributes that make Boyle an effective player.
He’s another outstanding penalty killer and his enormous frame—6’7”, 244 lbs.—has allowed him to be a monster along the boards. He’ll stick up for his teammates and would be a great addition to any locker room.
Boyle has been one of the only players this season that’s come to play every single night. He may not be pretty, but that’s the way he plays, and when he’s slotted into the right spot in the lineup he’s very valuable to this team.
It’s a shame that his career year in 2010-11 will haunt him for the rest of his career. If it wasn't for that, or the team’s anemic offense, he would not be as underrated as he is.