The 5 Most Impressive New York Rangers During 2013-14 Regular Season

Andrew CapitelliContributor IApril 17, 2014

The 5 Most Impressive New York Rangers During 2013-14 Regular Season

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    Kathy Willens

    Playoff time is here (finally) and we can now turn the page on what was a pretty good regular season for the 2013-14 New York Rangers.

    Before the start of the year, the Rangers were expected to finish in that No. 2 spot in the Metropolitan Division, but considering the tumultuous start the team had, it was a pleasant surprise to see them right the ship.

    But they couldn’t have done it without some exemplary performers. Some usual suspects; others, not so much.

    So here they are: the five most impressive Rangers who helped get the team back on track and into the first round of the playoffs as favorites.

Benoit Pouliot

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    Wilfredo Lee

    When you look at the body of Benoit Pouliot’s NHL career you’d find it hard to believe he was not only a first-round selection in the NHL Entry Draft back in 2005, but also a fourth-overall selection.

    The Minnesota Wild were the team who chose Pouliot, but the winger appeared in just 65 games over four seasons as a pro scoring only 18 points for his initial club. His fate thereafter mirrored that of a journeyman NHL forward, as Pouliot would play for three different clubs over the next four seasons (Montreal, Boston, Tampa Bay).

    In the summer of 2013, he would add the Rangers to his list of clubs played for. On a one-year deal, Pouliot was seen as high risk, high reward for the Rangers, who were a team starving for more offense.

    After a tough start with the Blueshirts in 2013-14, it was evident Pouliot was unfocused, as he was unable to find his scoring touch and was taking bad penalties on a nightly basis. But after a short stint as a healthy scratch, Pouliot began to turn his game around.

    At the time, he’d only accumulated six points on the season, but after being paired with Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard, the forward saw both his point totals and confidence rise. It’s tough to say exactly what happened, but Pouliot simply appeared more focused and had become a menace in front of the net.

    He’d finish December with nine points in 12 games before finishing the season with 15 goals and a career-high 36 points.

Chris Kreider

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    Kathy Willens

    After breaking onto the scene during the 2011-12 playoffs, Chris Kreider has struggled to hold onto a regular NHL job.

    He played poorly during the lockout for Connecticut of the AHL and didn’t stick with the Rangers for long after the league reconvened in January. All in all, he played just 23 games in 2012-12 and scored only two goals and three points.

    Kreider was assigned to Hartford of the AHL during 2013-14’s training camp only to be called up a couple of weeks later, when the Rangers were spiraling early in the season. The Boxford, MA, native would go on to score 13 points in 15 games in November and became one of the focal points of the Rangers offense.
    He’d come a long way, considering he clearly appeared intimidated last season, which is a problem when you’re 6’3” and 226 pounds.

    But under Alain Vigneault, the winger got it together. His speed and size made him a chore for opposing team’s defenses, while his offensive instincts led to a healthy sum of goals.

    As impressive as he has been this season, it’s safe to say he still needs work. As a draftee out of high school, you’d have to imagine the Rangers saw him as a project of some sort, so I’d imagine the organization will have patience with the 22-year-old.

    Kreider’s 17 goals and 37 points were good enough for sixth and seventh on the Rangers, but ranked fifth and sixth in the league amongst rookies.

Cam Talbot

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    Nick Wass

    Virtually nothing was known of Cam Talbot before training camp this season. The 26-year-old goaltender wasn’t drafted by the Rangers, but rather signed as an undrafted free agent in the summer of 2010.

    After four seasons in the AHL and ECHL, Talbot came to training camp prepared to challenge for an NHL job in 2013. Rangers’ goaltending coach Benoit Allaire worked with the Caledonia, ON, native through the lockout and further believed Talbot was prepared to be an NHL keeper.

    Allaire must have made Vigneault privy of Talbot's readiness, because after two poor early-season performances by Marty Biron, Talbot was recalled and Biron assigned to Hartford. Biron would eventually retire, and Talbot was the last man standing.

    After losing his first game in Philadelphia on October 24, Talbot would go on to win his next five games. During the month of November he’d post a 4-0 record with a .956 save percentage and only five goals against.

    It was obvious the Rangers had found a gem of a backup keeper.

    Talbot wouldn’t miss a beat the rest of the season, either. His calm presence was his best attribute, and it allowed the defense in front of him to play a less frantic style. He finished the regular season with a 12-6-1 record with league leading numbers in save percentage (.941) and goals-against average (1.64).

    Not bad, eh?

Mats Zuccarello

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    Gene J. Puskar

    Mats Zuccarello has been a fan favorite since arriving in New York for the 2010-11 season, mostly because of his diminutive stature and playing style. But it’s taken a very long time for him to play the way he was expected to from day one.

    After being named Elitserien MVP in 2009-10, Zuccarello was looked upon to do great things in New York. In 42 games in 2010-11, the winger scored a healthy 23 points, but only saw action in 10 regular-season games the following season, due to John Tortorella’s lack of confidence in the Norwegian, as well as a late-season injury.

    He made his mark late last season, though, when he was re-signed just before the trade deadline and immediately following the conclusion of his KHL schedule. After eight points in 15 games and and seven points in 12 playoff games, the Rangers were eager to resign the winger.

    And it may have been Sather and Co.’s best decision all offseason.

    Zuccarello, as I’m sure you already know, led the Rangers in scoring this season with 50 points in 77 games. Using his puck control and passing skills, Zuccarello became the Rangers’ primary playmaker skating alongside the also forgotten Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard. The three formed the most consistent line the Rangers had all season, and Zuc was the brains behind the operation.

Ryan McDonagh

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    JIm Mone

    Easy decision, I know, to pick the team MVP as the most impressive Ranger in 2013-14.

    But Ryan McDonagh has far and away been the best player this team had all season long.

    He made the jump from “very good defenseman” status to “elite” defenseman, seemingly overnight. But that’s what happens when you have the drive, determination and focus that Mac Truck has.

    For two seasons now, McDonagh has been one of the league’s best shutdown defensemen, irritating the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Claude Giroux on the regular, but the popular thought was that there could be more to the St. Paul, MN, native’s game; namely, offense.

    With the introduction of Vigneault and the implementation of his more up-tempo. style, McDonagh found himself in good hands.

    Fourteen goals and 43 points later—both of which were career-highs—and the Rangers have a Norris Trophy candidate on their hands.

    They say you need to be highly proficient both offensively and defensively to win the Norris—which doesn’t make sense, considering Erik Karlsson won the award two seasons ago—well, McDonagh is easily in the top-three, in terms of defense in the league, and ranked in the top-20 in scoring amongst defensemen—ahead of the likes of perennial Norris hopefuls Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty and tied with Ryan Suter.

    Yeah, I’d say the deserving—but probably overlooked—Norris candidate was the most impressive Ranger in 2013-14.