Ranking New York Rangers' 3 Most Impressive Players in 2013-14

Andrew Capitelli@@acapitelliContributor IFebruary 21, 2014

Ranking New York Rangers' 3 Most Impressive Players in 2013-14

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    After a rough start, the New York Rangers have turned their season around.

    Now sitting at 32-24-3, the Blueshirts are second in the Metropolitan Division which means that if the season ended Friday, they would have earned an automatic playoff bid and home-ice advantage in the first round.

    But without a few key players finding their games, the Rangers would still be on the outside looking in.

    Friday, we’ll take a look at the three players that have been most impressive and maybe most important for them this season.

    Find out who they are after the jump.

Chris Kreider

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    Chris Kreider had been considered a top prospect for the New York Rangers since he was drafted 19th overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft.

    Drafted out of high school, Kreider eventually chose Boston College after graduation, and the decision proved to be wildly successful.

    Kreider helped lead BC to two national championships during his three-year stint with the Eagles, and in his final season, the winger tallied 45 points in 44 games. Shortly after claiming the national title with his Boston College teammates in 2012, Kreider signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Rangers ahead of their exciting 2011-12 playoff run.

    The then-21-year-old jumped right in and scored five goals in 18 games—a couple of which were vital to the Rangers’ overall success in the tournament.

    2012-13 proved a disaster for Kreider, though, as he struggled to find his way in John Tortorella’s system. He spent most of the season with Hartford of the AHL and appeared to be a shell of the player he was the spring before.

    When the Rangers introduced Alain Vigneault as the new boss in June, it was expected that Kreider would be a prime candidate to shine under the new, more offensive coach. Interestingly enough, Kreider didn’t make the Rangers out of camp, despite being handed every opportunity to do so.

    It took only six games of AHL action for Vigneault and the Rangers to recall Kreider, and he’s been with the big club ever since.

    Since the recall, Kreider has been a completely different player. He’s no longer timid and isn’t afraid to use his size to get to the net. He’s also used his speed to evade defenders in the neutral zone and win battles on the boards.

    As a result, Kreider has scored 30 points in 52 games and has been a mainstay on the Rangers’ first line alongside Rick Nash and Derek Stepan. His point total is currently sixth best among rookies.

    What’s most impressive about Kreider so far this season has been his ability to turn his game around. Under Tortorella, Kreider was clearly nervous and afraid to make mistakes on the ice, and as a result, he never played his game which is that of a speedy, gritty power forward.

    AV has allowed him to fill that role, and it’s paid dividends, as the Rangers have been lacking such a player for seasons now.

Ryan McDonagh

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    It’s been so exciting for Rangers fans to be able to watch a player come through the system and blossom into an NHL star.

    The Rangers acquired Ryan McDonagh from the Montreal Canadiens in the Scott Gomez trade June 30, 2009. The return came as a shock, considering McDonagh was regarded as one of Montreal’s top prospects.

    Nonetheless, a year and a half later, McDonagh made his debut with the Rangers and never looked back.

    He’s a player that has gotten better every year. Although 2013-14 started out rocky for the defenseman—he may have played the worst hockey of his pro career through the first 10 or 15 games of the season—he eventually turned it around and is now playing better than we’ve ever seen him play.

    It’s obvious he’s stayed true to the defensive principles instilled in him by former coach Tortorella, but Vigneault has helped to bring McDonagh’s game to the next level with the cultivation of his offensive game.

    McDonagh now plays the power play regularly and is a major reason it has been in the top 10 for most of the season. Through 59 games, the St. Paul native has 10 power-play points—he had three total over the course of his first three NHL seasons.

    Furthermore, his 30 points thus far are two shy of his career best, and there are still 23 games remaining.

Mats Zuccarello

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    After signing a two-year contract with the Rangers during the summer of 2010, Mats Zuccarello found it hard to crack the team’s senior lineup, and as a result, the Norwegian spent most of his first two years in North America in Hartford.

    After the 2011-12 season, Zuccarello signed a two-year with Metallurg Magnitogorsk with an NHL out-clause. Furthermore, Rangers general manager Glen Sather extended Zuccarello a qualifying offer, ensuring that he could only return to New York should he decide to return to the NHL.

    Following the conclusion of the 2012-13 KHL season, Zuccarello and the Rangers agreed on a deal a couple of days before the trade deadline, and the team retained the winger’s services for the remainder of the season and playoffs.

    After scoring eight points in 15 regular-season games and seven points in 12 playoff games, Zuccarello decided he wanted to remain with the Blueshirts and re-signed for the 2013-14 campaign.

    Penciled in as a depth forward, nobody expected Zuccarello to be the team’s leading scorer by the Olympic break. Without his 15 goals and 43 points, the Rangers would have succumbed to their already anemic offense and would most certainly be lower in the standings than they are presently.

    What’s been different for Zuccarello in 2013-14? He’s much more patient and allows the game to come to him before making the smart play. Couple that with his ability to pass the puck and his offensive creativity and you’ve got yourself a quality forward.

    “The Hobbit,” as he’s called, has also found great chemistry with linemates Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot.