First and foremost, how will the big guns adjust to life under Alain Vigneault? Will they find immediate success, or will it be a feeling-out process?
Do they have enough talent to perform in the more up-tempo style Vigneault wants them to play?
And although we don’t have the answers to these questions, it’s constrictive to speculate. And that’s exactly what we’ll do.
Today we’ll make a bold prediction for each of the Rangers’ top stars heading into the season.
Read on after the jump to see what they are.
Rick Nash is without a doubt the Rangers’ most lethal forward, and for most of the season, the offense will go as he does. But the last five months have not been kind to the former Rocket Richard Trophy winner.
In 12 playoffs games in 2013, Nash registered just one goal and four assists. His very public disappearing act was one of the major reasons the Rangers were bounced in five games by the Boston Bruins in the second round.
But a new season brings new fortunes, right? Coming into training camp, Nash had the opportunity to take advantage of the clean slate given to him and all his teammates by new head coach Alain Vigneault. A strong showing early would have fans and pundits alike forgetting his playoff shortcomings a half a year ago.
Although, in four preseason games, Nash failed to register a single point. Not a one. And, yes, I know, it’s just preseason. But Nash wasn’t playing with guys he’s never played with before. And if you think about it, a good chunk of the players he was playing against in the preseason have been demoted to lesser leagues. The fact that Nash wasn’t able to make a single offensive dent in preseason, playing against lesser players, in a system that’s supposedly more offensive under Vigneault is a sign of a bigger problem.
For me, Nash is clearly still battling a confidence issue. In last season’s playoffs, we saw a different Nash—a completely inefficient one who was afraid to get into the high-density areas and make things happen.
That’s the same Nash I saw in preseason, and I believe it’s going to take some time before he gets back to the 40-goal scoring superstar he once was.
If there’s one player who’s truly taken advantage of Vigneault’s new forward-thinking system, it’s defenseman Marc Staal.
The six-year NHL vet scored a pair of goals and looked unbelievably mobile during the preseason. But his success when joining the rush shouldn't come as a surprise. Staal was actually one of the only defenders former coach John Tortorella encouraged to join the rush, and the Thunder Bay native made things happen when he did it then.
But under Vigneault, who will further emphasize offensive pressure from his defensemen, Staal will have the opportunity to take his offensive game to the next level.
Not only will Staal be encouraged to join the rush on a regular basis, but he’ll also be paired with Michael Del Zotto, the team’s only true offensive defenseman. Vigneault has a made it a point to make sure these two defenders become more acclimated with each other because he plans to play the pair with his top offensive unit. As a result, Staal will have the opportunity to play regularly with the team’s top talent in a cohesive unit whose main goal is to create offense.
This is great for a defenseman of Staal’s caliber, because he’s already one of the league’s top shutdown defensemen, and now he’ll have the opportunity to put up more points and become a more rounded, two-way defenseman.
If Staal can find the right balance between putting up solid offensive numbers and continuing to play solid defensive hockey, there’s no doubt he can join the elite group of defensemen in the league. I think that’s exactly what he’ll do and not only become the Rangers’ best defenseman once again, but also contend for the Norris Trophy.
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan is one of those players who gets just about everything he can out of his skill set. No, he’s not the most talented player in the league—not even close. But Callahan still finds a way every night to make an impact, whether it be with a big hit or a big goal.
And fortunately for him, and the team, those big goals have been coming more frequently.
In 2010-11, Callahan only appeared in 60 games but still managed to score 23 goals and add 25 helpers for 48 points. Impressive for a grinder who never scored at more than a point-per-game pace in juniors.
In 2011-12 Cally continued to develop his offensive game and came agonizingly close to eclipsing the 30-goal mark, registering 29 goals in 76 games. Surely, 2012-13 would be the year he did it.
But as we know, the lockout put the winger’s 30-goal aspirations on hold. Yet, another strong showing—16 goals in 45 games—proved Callahan was still firing at a near-30-goal pace.
Now, in 2013-14, Callahan has a real shot on finally potting 30. Playing in a more progressive system, Callahan will benefit from the team’s overall increase in scoring opportunities.
Callahan, in many ways, can be compared to Ryan Kesler—a player Vigneault turned into a 40-goal scorer in Vancouver. I believe despite his injury, which will keep him out for at least the team’s opening game, Callahan can be the next great two-way player AV turns into a goal scorer.
Henrik Lundqvist has not only been the Rangers’ most consistent player over the past five years, but he’s also been the league’s best goaltender.
His career numbers are simply staggering: 2.25 goals-against average, which is good enough for 11th all time, and .921 save percentage, which ties with Tim Thomas for second all time.
In addition, the 31-year-old has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy five times and won it in 2011-12 for the first time, and his seven consecutive 30-win campaigns to start his NHL career is unprecedented.
There’s no two ways about it, the guy’s the best in the business. But I think The King is going to have a down year.
He didn’t have a great preseason, but I don’t look into that too much, simply because preseason is tough for a goalie. Getting your game focus down can be difficult and can certainly take some time. If you remember, last season Lundqvist came out stale in the first handful of games, and a lot of that had to do with his lack of real-game action.
But in 2013-14, I believe Lundqvist is going to come down to earth a bit. The past two seasons he’s been lights-out. After winning the Vezina in 2011-12, Lundqvist again was nominated in 2013, and although he didn’t win, he certainly had a case.
I just have my doubts as to whether or not Lundqvist can continue to play at that level for much longer. I think he’s going to remain one of the best goalies in the league, but the pressure is so high for Lundqvist every time he hits the ice; his game is going to sag eventually.
And it makes sense that it would happen this season. With a new coach and a new philosophy, there are bound to be systematic breakdowns that result in more pucks directed at Lundqvist. Also, the smaller pads are something he’s going to have to get used to. Although the changes are not drastic, they’re still changes, and Lundqvist, and goaltenders alike, are going to have to grow accustomed to their new gear.