How Alain Vigneault Will Get New York Rangers' Defensemen Involved Offensively

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How Alain Vigneault Will Get New York Rangers' Defensemen Involved Offensively
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Alain Vigneault has been behind the bench for a handful of New York Rangers preseason games, and thus far he stayed true to his word about getting defensemen involved offensively.

Under John Tortorella, blueliners took limited offensive chances and consequently didn't generate a lot of offense. Vigneault is the antithesis of Tortorella in many respects and, this season, AV will bring some of the philosophies he used with the Vancouver Canucks to the Big Apple.

Earlier this summer, Ryan McDonagh spoke with Andrew Gross of The Record and emphasized how important it is for defensemen to get involved offensively.

I know I’ve got a responsibility in my own end first and foremost, said McDonagh, who has not yet spoken with Vigneault. But in this day and age, defensemen create second and third opportunities. I’m definitely trying to instill in my mind that I’ll step up and make those plays. I’m confident in myself and I see myself become even more of an all-around player.

Having gone through training camp and a handful of preseason games, McDonagh provided an update on the Rangers' offensive philosophy to Steve Zipay of Newsday.

Even the guys who aren't playing [in a preseason game] are watching together, McDonagh said last week. We talk about new things we're working on. We want to be pretty aggressive [in our zone], trying to outnumber guys. Rather than trying to wait, we're trying to jump them. You're going into corners, lay the body, then go up the ice [to join the rush].

We're trying to play fast, one or two passes at the most, and get the puck to the net, McDonagh said. We're trying to get guys moving and really just crowd the front of the net. We want to get two or three guys around those loose pucks.

This uptempo style can be extremely effective for the Rangers' blue line because it has a number of very mobile defenders that can lead a rush and score.

Before Vigneault was fired this offseason, he used Alexander Edler frequently to lead or join a rush with the Canucks because of his offensive acumen and skating ability.

In the clip above, Edler uses his wheels and is able to score a beautiful end-to-end goal. Michael Del Zotto has shown similar tendencies throughout his career, but it is fair to say that there is still some untapped potential left in him.

The 2012-13 Rangers power-play unit was one of the worst in the league, and that was because the squad failed to get shots on goal. Many times, the Rangers waited for a perfect shot and squandered chances by over-passing.

This season, that should change if Vigneault uses defensemen on the power play like he did with the Canucks.

Vigneault relied heavily on Christian Ehrhoff during his time with the Canucks and the current Buffalo Sabre rearguard was a power-play asset because of his booming shot. 

Defenders such as Del Zotto, McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and John Moore could have an opportunity to fill an Ehrhoff-like role this year. The extra shots on net should yield some extra goals.

Thus far, there has been some progress with blueliners on the power play, as Staal got involved offensively during the Rangers' 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames when he crashed the net and picked up a rebound on the power play.

He accomplished this by pinching in and leaving his postsomething that likely wouldn't have happened if Tortorella were still behind the bench.

These changes should allow the Rangers' blue line to improve offensively, as Jeff Z. Klein of the New York Times pointed out.

The high point totals logged by defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Bieksa under Vigneault must be encouraging for Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and the other Rangers defensemen whose scoring potential remains largely untapped.

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Rangers this year and the potential of their blue line is a big one. The team's defense corps is one of the best in the league and could take things to the next level by adding some increased offense to the mix.

It should be possible under Vigneault. His coaching maneuvers thus far indicate that he intends to rely on his rearguards for offensive support this season.

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