Why Brad Richards Is New York Rangers' Biggest X-Factor for 2013-14 Season

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor ISeptember 16, 2013

The New York Rangers might not have made the best financial decision by keeping Brad Richards for the 2013-14 season, but he will be their biggest X-factor this year.

He is a polarizing player who has a lot to prove this year, and he should be a big difference-maker for the Rangers this season.

Richards is currently the Blueshirts' No. 1 center because Derek Stepan is still holding out of training camp. Once Stepan signs, Richards will be moved down to the No. 2 position, but he will still have an opportunity to earn minutes on the power play.

The Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island native is a cerebral player who is very analytical in his approach; however, that strategy got the best of him last season. 

Richards made a name for himself during his days with the Tampa Bay Lightning because he was an elite offensive thinker, but over-thinking caused Richards to slump mightily last season.

Even though he slumped, writers like Pierre LeBrun of ESPN were confident that Richards would be able to bounce back:

Richards worked out like a monster throughout the summer, and if you follow Richards on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, you would know that he took the opportunity to get better seriously. The results have been illustrated throughout training camp, and that is a great sign:

He looks stronger, has looked faster in scrimmages and line rushes and has the right attitude. It is fair to say that Richards was in terrible shape last year, and that could explain why he struggled.

The Rangers' new motto for this season is "clean slate," and that is something that Richards is going to take full advantage of.

Via Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:

Alain Vigneault instructed maligned center Brad Richards in their pre-camp individual meetings to forget about the past and seek a fresh start with the Rangers' new coaching regime. 

But on Thursday, Richards reflected on last season's struggles in his first scrum with the New York media, explaining how "I lost myself a little bit last year."

Even though Richards was referencing the past in order to illustrate his excitement for the future, Vigneault gave a slight grimace when he heard about the interview.

"Was he talking about last year?" Vigneault said Thursday afternoon. "I told him not to."

Vigneault feels that Richards can still be an elite player, and the Rangers will need that this season. Richards is 33, so don't expect him to return to a point-per-game pace, but 70 points should be achievable.

During his time in New York, Richards has 100 points in 128 games, or 0.78 points-per-game. It is a decent number for a veteran scoring center, but under a coach that promotes offense, that number could improve.

Under Alain Vigneault, Richards will benefit from more offensive-zone starts, and that should increase Richards' effectiveness. In the past, Richards was tasked to take a number of defensive-zone draws even though faceoffs are not his strong suit.

This year he will be put in places to succeed, and that should help revitalize his role as a top-notch offensive player. The Rangers' alternate captain should also improve on the power play because he will have some direction this season.

One of the reasons the Rangers signed Richards back in 2011 was because of his reputation as a power-play specialist.

Throughout his career, Richards has been a member of many successful power-play units, but last season he was the de facto power-play coach. This year Scott Arniel will be in charge of telegraphing some X's and O's, and that should take some pressure off Richards.

Richards can also be an X-factor by continuing to be a mentor for young players. Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan have already learned a lot from Richards, and this year Derick Brassard will have an opportunity to learn a lot from Richards.

Although Brassard's numbers aren't that great, he has the opportunity to flourish into a quality center. Via Allan Kreda of the New York Times, Brassard admitted that coming to the Rangers was a great opportunity, and he is looking forward to become a better player under "AV."

Brassard led the team in playoff scoring last season, and he showed glimpses that he could be a top-six center. With Richards still on the roster, Brassard will likely remain on the third line, but that could change throughout the year.

There are already a number of things that Brassard does well, and Richards can help him fine-tune his game. Last season Brassard looked like a younger Brad Richards at times, and that is something the Rangers would love to see continue.

This season will be intriguing in many ways. Everyone wants to see what Vigneault can do with this team, and there are millions of people that will be keeping a close eye on Brad Richards. 

Richards will be centering a line with Chris Kreider and Rick Nash during the first preseason game against the New Jersey Devils, and that could be a group that does a lot of damage this season.

There are only a few weeks until the puck drops for the beginning of the season, and Richards will be looking to prove a lot of people wrong.

Whether he does it or not remains to be seen, but it certainly will be a great story to follow throughout the entire season.


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