Power Ranking New York Rangers' Top 6 Forwards for 2014-15 Season
Goals, goals, goals. They always seem to be a problem for the New York Rangers.
New coach, same issue. New personnel, same issue.
That being said, the Rangers are probably as talented now as they’ve ever been. Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis are among the league’s most prolific goal scorers of the past decade, while a supporting cast of young guns will round out what could be a potent top six.
Today, we power rank the Rangers' heavy artillery—from No. 6 to No. 1—with the memory of 2013-14 still fresh in our minds.
Read on after the jump.
6) Rick Nash
On talent alone, Rick Nash is No. 2 on this list. But based on playoff form, he comes in last.
I’m not going to waste anybody’s time and bash Nash anymore than I already have this offseason, but I’ll just outline the facts.
Nash scored 10 points in 25 playoff games for the Rangers after scoring just four points in the final 10 games of the regular season. Of those 10 playoff points, just three of them were goals.
Nash’s annual cap hit is $7.8 million, and his only real job is to score goals.
What we’ve learned watching him play in two playoff campaigns with the Rangers is that he has trouble adjusting to the more intense and physical style of play the postseason brings. As a result, he plays poorly and experiences a crisis of confidence.
But at some point, one has to think—you know, once his team is playing for the Stanley Cup—that Nash will put his big boy pants on, put his head down and get to the net to score a greasy goal.
Instead, he managed zero points in the Cup Final.
5) Derick Brassard
As I write this, Derick Brassard is still unsigned by the Rangers, with his arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday, July 28.
Chances are there won’t be a resolution until Sunday or Monday, but Ryan Dadoun of Pro Hockey Talk reports Brassard wants around $5.5 million per season from the Rangers.
But is he really worth that much? Can the Rangers, at this point, pay their second-line center as much as John Tavares makes?
Brassard is a quality player who’s done some good things since joining the Rangers. He had a solid postseason, scoring 12 points in 23 games after potting a healthy 45 points in the regular season.
That's not a bad number for your second-line pivot, but I’d still be hesitant to pay him not only $5.5 million but to rank him higher on this list. He’s one-dimensional and prone to goal-scoring droughts.
That being said, he’s highly intelligent, good on the boards and a smooth passer of the puck. Rangers general manager Glen Sather will have to do his best to convince the 26-year-old to lower his demands.
4) Derek Stepan
Derek Stepan may not come to mind when you think of first-line centers in the NHL, but the truth is he’s done well in that very position with the Rangers.
He has manned the first line for three seasons now, and the Rangers have advanced to the Conference Final, the Conference Semifinal and the Stanley Cup Final in those three years.
He’s defensively responsible and sees the ice well, although his skating should be noted as a weakness. He came off what I thought was an up-and-down playoff campaign. The Hastings, Minnesota, native did manage 15 points in 24 games but was very quiet in the early rounds.
He shone in the Eastern Conference Final though, scoring seven points in five games. He missed one contest after having his jaw broken by former teammate Brandon Prust.
In the final, Stepan managed just two points but helped hold his adversary, Anze Kopitar, to the same.
Heading into 2014-15, Stepan will have to elevate his game. His skating needs to get better, as does his shooting and faceoffs.
Yet, despite those vital shortcomings, the guy continues to get it done.
3) Chris Kreider
Chris Kreider is entering the most important season of his NHL career.
After a miserable 2012-13 campaign, he found a home in Alain Vigneault's system after initially being cut out of training camp.
The hulking 6’3”, 230-pound winger saw ups and downs in 2013-14 but recorded a promising 37 points in 66 games during the regular season.
But he proved to be worth the wait.
In 15 playoff games, Kreider scored five goals and 13 points, eight of which came in the Conference Final against Montreal.
For Kreider, 2013-14 saw him realize his own potential. He’s big, fast and talented; what more could you want? Well, confidence. Kreider seems to have found it and is turning into the player the Rangers always hoped he’d be.
2) Mats Zuccarello
It’s been a long ride for Mats Zuccarello, but in 2013-14 he finally got to play his first full NHL season.
Always an intriguing talent, he found it hard to survive under former Rangers coach John Tortorella (surprising) and spent the better part of the previous three seasons either in Hartford or in Russia.
Sather obviously always held out hope that the Norwegian sensation would pan out, and 2013-14 was the canvas Zuccarello needed.
His 59 points in 77 games led all Rangers skaters during the regular season, and his 40 assists were tied for tops with Derek Stepan.
Zuccarello was a part of New York’s most consistently dangerous line alongside Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot. But as dynamic as they were as a group, Zuccarello was the facilitator.
The 26-year-old put in a strong performance come playoff season as well, netting 13 points in 25 games.
But something more than points has made Zuccarello such an integral part of the team and a fan favorite. At 5’7”, he backs down from nobody and is not afraid to mix it up in the corners. It’s no surprise he was selected as the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner as voted by Rangers fans at the conclusion of the regular season.
Freshly signed to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, Zuccarello will again play for a contract, and as a result I think we’ll see the feisty winger improve on his success.
1) Martin St. Louis
It’s still hard to believe that Martin St. Louis—the Stanley Cup champion, two-time NHL scoring leader and future Hall of Famer—is a Ranger.
But he is, and he was a driving force in the Blueshirts’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.
His leadership, experience and talent were invaluable and almost age-defying. At 39 years old, St. Louis is still a force, and as a matter of fact, he’s the Rangers' best forward—and by quite a bit.
New York is one of the fastest teams in the league, and he never looks out of place. As a matter of fact, he’s probably the second- or third-fastest skater on the team.
Beyond that, he sees the ice better than any forward, he can still put the puck in the back of the net, and he remains one of the most slippery players in the league.
After scoring 29 goals and 61 points in 62 games for Tampa Bay, St. Louis came to New York and struggled. Big time.
In 19 regular-season games, he scored just one goal and eight points. On some nights, he looked engaged; other nights, he was invisible.
Yet New Yorkers looked to the playoffs in hopes that he was saving his best for the second season. After coming out strong against Philly, St. Louis disappeared a bit.
He racked up 15 points in 25 games, which was good but not terribly great. I think he still has something to prove to the fans and himself—that he’s still got it.
He does, and against all laws of nature he’s going to lead the Rangers in 2014-15.