To be successful in any sport—not just hockey—a team needs their top players to perform, and the New York Rangers are no different.
Their five “star” players eat up roughly $30 million in salary, which is nearly half of what the team is allowed to spend under the cap. When a team invests that kind of money in players, they expect them to perform.
But, in the Rangers’ case, these five players have drastically different roles, because they have drastically different attributes. It’s important to have a host of players to perform different duties, and in this area, the Rangers are in good shape.
The five players in question are the team’s most popular and accomplished players. Today, we’ll take a look at what each one’s best attribute is and why they’re so important to the Rangers.
Best attribute: Persistence
Ryan Callahan is a terrific leader and one of the league’s best captains. But being a great leader cannot be a player’s best attribute if he can’t bring anything else to the table.
Callahan provides a whole lot, but his persistence and hard work are definitely what makes him such an effective player.
He isn’t the most gifted offensive guy, but through determination he’s willed his way into the NHL and become a solid player. Callahan rarely takes a shift off and consistently finishes his checks. His ferocity and commitment to the team have, at times, changed the landscape of a game.
And while many players in the league bring a gritty, selfless brand of hockey to the table, Callahan does it night in and night out, shift in and shift out, because he’s as persistent as a player could be. He’s become one of the most difficult players to play against, and his successes have led to many of his teammates replicating his style.
Best attribute: Responsibility
It’s no secret that defensemen have to be responsible if they’re to be successful, but defensive defensemen have to be uber responsible.
Responsibility is what’s made Marc Staal a top stay-at-home defenseman in the NHL, and his ability hasn’t gone unnoticed. Team Canada invited Staal to their summer orientation camp in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Though he has the ability to join the rush when necessary, Staal seemingly never will if the stakes are too high. He’s a defenseman first and is determined to prioritize his actions on the ice.
Being a responsible defenseman means the player must have great positioning. When you’re responsible, you’re aware of what’s going on on the ice, and so a responsible player is almost always in position to make a play. Staal is a master positionally, and as a result, he’s become one of the league’s top shut-down defensemen.
Without Staal, teams with an abundance of highly skilled forwards would give the Rangers a lot of trouble. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi did great against other team’s top players when Staal was injured, but with him in the lineup the trio can split the responsibilities. With one of the three spilling over to the second pairing, the Rangers can successfully combat two scoring lines with two defensive pairings.
Considering the fire power the newly formed Metropolitan Division packs, Staal’s responsibility and smarts will become even more valuable to an already strong Rangers’ defensive group.
Best attribute: Vision
We all know about Brad Richards’ struggles over the course of the past two seasons, but Richards is still a talented hockey player. And his most valued attribute is his on-ice vision.
Since breaking into the NHL, Richards has always assumed the role of playmaker. He’s recorded over 50 assists in a season four times and over 40 assists nine times. His best campaign came in 2004-05, when he registered 68 assists and 91 points for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He’s played with quality wingers throughout his time in the league, with his primary role being facilitator. His ability to read a play and make a great pass was one of the reasons the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04.
When he was brought to New York, it was expected that he assume the first-line center spot on the Rangers and create more time and space for superstar sniper Marian Gaborik. The partnership quickly fizzled, and the two rarely played with one another before Gaborik was traded in April.
Going into 2013-14, Richards won’t be expected to be in the team’s top pivot, seeing as he was thoroughly outplayed by Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard last season. But the truth is, Richards may still have the talent to reclaim a spot on the top line.
His vision is superior to that of both Stepan and Brassard, and if he can somehow recapture his game and forge a powerful chemistry with the talented Rick Nash, then Richards could become a very dangerous player once again.
Best attribute: Size
Rick Nash possesses what I like to call the Holy Trinity of hockey talent: size, speed and skill. It’s these three attributes that have made him one of the most dangerous forwards in the league. But it’s his size and ability to use it to his advantage that stands out above the other two.
At 6’4”, 213 pounds, Nash isn’t huge, but for a player to be that big, that skilled and that quick is unique. What makes him so effective, though, is the way he can shield the puck from defenders. Not only can he blockade opposing players with his frame, but his wingspan makes it seemingly impossible to steal the puck from him.
Furthermore, his long reach is a nightmare for goaltenders. When Nash moves in, whether it be on a breakaway or odd-man rush, he does it quickly. And once a goalie commits to one side, Nash can use his reach and talent to quickly shift and then stretch the puck around the helpless goaltender.
Let’s be real—Nash isn’t the most talented player in the league, nor is he the fastest—but when you combine his above average skill and speed with his large frame, he becomes one of the most dangerous players in the league. Without that size, and know-how to use it, Nash is not as good a player.
Best attribute: Willpower
Henrik Lundqvist is the best. There’s really no way to dispute that fact. But what is it that makes Lundqvist so good? His will and desire to be the best.
This is a player who, at 18, was drafted in the seventh round of the NHL Entry Draft and then waited five years to even be considered for the Rangers. He was invited to camp for the first time in 2005 because, simply, his performances in Sweden for Frolunda HC could not be ignored. It may have taken a while before the Rangers took notice, but Lundqvist stuck with it and was determined to play in the NHL.
And since day one, it’s been clear that Lundqvist has to be the best, and for him to do that he has to win the Stanley Cup. That’s his goal, and everything he does to prepare for a game or a season is, in his mind, a step toward the Cup.
It’s this willpower that has allowed him to improve every aspect of his game, from on-ice ability, to preparation and focus. Nowadays, his teammates avoid him before games because he’s so focused and they don’t want to be the one to interrupt his preparation.
It’s always been my feeling that you can only deny someone with as much willpower, drive and talent as Lundqvist has for so long. I don’t think the guy will hang up his skates till he’s won a championship, and every day he heads to the rink you know that’s what he’s focused on.
You can’t beat that kind of mentality.