We’re one month in and the New York Rangers have been as up and down as a roller coaster this season. Amidst injuries and emergencies, the Rangers tallied a 5-4-1 record and played typical New York hockey over the past few weeks. Let’s recap:
- The Rangers failed in four of five attempts on Garden ice to win a game.
- Conversely, New York is among the league’s best road squads (4-1-0).
- The Rangers are scoring three goals a game, but also surrendering the same amount.
- New York’s power play has been slightly above the league average, which for the Rangers means a vast improvement.
- The penalty kill, however, has been underwhelming thus far and is among the low end of the league.
- The Rangers are above .500 despite injuries to Chris Drury, Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal.
But these are all general numbers that only amass to parts of the puzzle. To truly understand the Rangers' performance thus far would be to evaluate each individual player like a student in a classroom.
That is exactly what we’re going to do, taking only players who have been active in the 2010-11 season.
Each player earns a letter grade followed by logistical reasoning and analysis. Some are Straight-A tycoons while others are bordering on F-minus territory. Which Blueshirts have made the big difference? Let’s take a look.
Anisimov’s play in the absence of three top stars has been exceptional, and his steady progression to top line playmaker is becoming even more apparent. With the way Anisimov charges the net and fights for the puck, the goals will start coming fast and furious for this talented sophomore playing in a contract year.
Though there is still some concern for his two-way play, his current numbers are indicative of a player on the rise, able to capitalize on a 12-goal, 28-point rookie campaign. As long as he’s the top line center, Anisimov could be a 60-point player in no time.
The offensive side of Sean Avery’s game is often underscored by his antics on the rink. But Avery’s seven points and plus-three rating thus far are testaments to his ability to just shut up and play. That is, when Avery is just playing.
He misses the mark for an A grade because of his seemingly inexplicable behavior against Toronto’s Mike Komisarek (two slashes that could easily have resulted in suspension) and his instigation from the Boston Bruins game.
While neither incident was too detrimental to the team, Avery’s spark can still be used against the Rangers and likely will a few times this year. Still, if he keeps himself on the score sheet and out of the penalty box, Avery is as good as gold on Broadway.
In his first appearance in a Rangers jersey, Biron proved he was a worthwhile acquistion to backup Henrik Lundqvist. He put up a stellar .960 goals against average in a 2-1 victory over Toronto.
Then, in Biron’s second outing, he allowed five goals on 25 shots as the Rangers were routed by Atlanta 6-4. Even a late comeback wasn’t enough to propel New York past his few soft goals from earlier in the game.
While grading Biron is a difficult task thanks to his limited action, he’ll need to be a lot more hit and a lot less miss down the road since he’s only going to start 15-20 times this year.
Giving Derek Boogaard a grade anything above an F would seem to be a success, much less a C+. In truth, Boogaard has yet to properly find his role with the team and may need another dozen games to do so.
He’s not making mistakes with the puck, he keeps the ice level when he’s out there and he can deliver a great defensive presence when he’s properly utilized. All that said, Boogaard plays less than four minutes a game.
Perhaps we should grade coach John Tortorella instead when talking of the Boogeyman’s track record.
He seems like a totally different player from the often invisible cyclone we saw a year ago, but the lumbering Brian Boyle is finding incredible success in a limited role this season. With four goals this season, Boyle is an offensive catalyst for New York.
Each of his four goals triggered or was part of an offensive outburst New York desperately needed to get back into the game. What’s more, Boyle is playing more intelligently and seems to have gotten much faster in the Summer despite his 6’6” frame.
Oh, and four goals? Boyle has already matched his career high from the past three seasons, wherein he scored just that many each year.
Ranger fans have been nothing but patient with the homegrown Callahan, anticipating his explosion since his stellar 2007 playoff series against the Atlanta Thrashers. But as fate would have it, Callahan took a step backward before taking several forward, finding himself relegated to a career high of 40 points in one season and a smaller total this previous year.
Thinking that Callahan would decline again turned out to be a bad move as he’s been one of the hottest players in the NHL. He throws the body as good as any checker, kills penalties with the threat of breakaway scoring and he currently leads the Rangers with 11 points in 10 games.
To say that Callahan will finish the year with 70-80 points or higher would be wishful thinking, yet his excellent play begs to differ. Perhaps finally having the spotlight on him instead of the wingers in front of him (see: Gaborik, Marian) has given him the motivation to be dynamic.
Listen, I don’t want to be too hard on Erik Christensen. After all, he may have played some of the best hockey of his career in New York, but at no time was anyone claiming he’d be top line material. When considering that the two players Christensen performed the best around, Vinny Prospal and Chris Drury, were nowhere to be found in the lineup, Ranger fans were admittedly patient to see what Christensen could do.
In nine games this year, he has just one goal and three points. That’s a far cry from his predicted numbers had he been centering a line of Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov, but he’s still not completely in the tank. Give it more time and health, and perhaps he can flirt with 20 goals like he did four years ago.
I’m going to appeal to your senses and say that one of New York’s favorite fan targets hasn’t played nearly as poorly as we say he does. Michael Del Zotto is the kind of player who, given his age and ability, will still make plenty of mistakes on the road to greatness in the NHL.
This year, Del Zotto’s offensive production hasn’t picked up quite the way it did last year. He’s still a viable threat and he’s shooting more often, but the goals and assists aren’t piling up. Not to worry, the Rangers other defensive weapons (Rozsival and Staal) are producing, and Del Zotto’s defensive game is picking up.
Playing nearly six more minutes per game this season, he’s currently a plus-five. A season ago, he was a minus-20. Big difference.
Now why, you ask, after just nine minutes of ice time and two broken fingers (actually, the same finger) would Chris Drury earn such low marks? Simple, in his absence, the things that don’t show up statistically have suffered for New York.
The likelihood of Drury ever living up to his monstrous salary is quite low, yet his transformation as a defensive forward and top penalty killer can be felt as the Rangers open up and surrender too many goals to their opponents.
A great example of how missed Drury is in the lineup came when the Rangers completely gave up, or fell asleep, against the New York Islanders on Columbus Day. With Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal in the penalty box, New York was at the mercy of the Isles' power play.
We’ve been waiting for it each year. First, we assumed Brandon Dubinsky would be the top center for Jaromir Jagr. Then Marian Gaborik. Then, we just hoped he would pan out to be a 50-point player at either center or wing.
But now, as the star power of New York’s offense fades, Dubinsky has stepped up in a big way to fill the void and prove he’s worth the time and effort spent to keep him around. Consider that Dubinsky has gradually gotten better at the game each year and then you’ll realize that his quick five goals in 10 games isn’t a fluke.
In fact, I’ll go on record and say that if Brandon Dubinsky scores less than 25 goals and 60 points this year, it would be shocking. He’s playing to tough, gritty and fast to be stopped and he looks like he’s ready to shake the critics once and for all.
Save for a few of his most recent affairs, it would appear as if Steve Eminger is playing this season like he wants to be in Hartford sooner rather than later. The defenseman the Rangers picked up in a salary dump has been a headache in more ways than one.
Firstly, and most importantly, he simply isn’t playing defense. Too many highlight reels for the other team are showing that Eminger is on the ice and making poor decisions on positioning and checking with his opponents. As a former first round selection, he’s showing why he was worth as much as a contract buyout, playing like a typical journeyman on a small-but-not-small-enough salary.
Thanks to the limit of veterans on a minor league roster, Eminger likely stays in the big leagues to keep the quota from filling while other, better talents (Pavel Valentenko) have to toil away.
Never, ever fault John Tortorella for bringing in one of his “mules” to spice things up. Ruslan Fedotenko may have been a walk-on to the Rangers roster from preseason, but he’s easily been one of the best forwards each night on the ice.
Fedotenko is showing that he still has a lot of the aggressive forechecking ability and brains that got him a Stanley Cup ring with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In fact, FedEx may be out to prove even more now that he’s gotten his second ring from the Penguins after protecting Sidney Crosby.
Here was a guy who was too good to go unsigned at the start of the season, and down the road, he could be a pivotal role player in the Rangers’ chances at contention.
Acquired for peanuts in an effort to up the scoring punch, Alexander Frolov is more or less a victim of circumstance. He was expected to be a solid contributor to the Rangers offense alongside Marian Gaborik, and while he’s been decent, we once again see that there is no Marian Gaborik there to complete the picture.
At face value, he’s worth every bit of his $3 million deal. But for a guy who once scored 35 goals with top line minutes, Frolov has to produce more to be effective in New York. It would help, also, if he shot the puck more often. Currently, he’s on pace for only 131 shots, 51 less than his previous year and 63 less than his 35-goal season.
Well, we all knew this day was coming; the day where the Rangers would have to win without Marian Gaborik. But not to fear, dear fans, this time its only temporary. After separating a shoulder, Gaborik has missed seven games and will likely miss seven more before he’s ready to return.
But in the three games with last year’s New York MVP in the fold, Gaborik was playing like a different kind of forward. He killed penalties, delivered checks and got back on defense. Also, and most importantly, he didn’t score a single goal.
This Gaborik was suspiciously absent from the score sheet, yet the Rangers are more or less a better offense despite it. Who knows what they’ll be capable of if Gaborik returns with his scoring touch maintained.
Let the rumors swirl about the future of Matt Gilroy. The former Hobey Bakey award winner can’t seem to find his place fully in the John Tortorella system, but damn is he trying.
Gilroy’s numbers are almost non-existent and he isn’t showing the same kind of growth that his other young teammates are. That said, he isn’t regressing either. Matt Gilroy is a lot better than any numbers will indicate and he could still be a valuable member of the Rangers defensive corps if he can just find a purpose.
A trade in the future? Get real. Glen Sather has other elephants in the room (see: Eminger, Steve) before he’ll even consider moving Gilroy and creating a Mike Mottau, version two.
With a relatively quiet start to the year, Dan Girardi has been one of the better kept secrets on the Rangers squad. After seeing his pay increase to just over $3 million a year, fans have been anxiously awaiting Girardi to take the next step in his game.
For humble beginnings as an undrafted signing, Girardi has evolved his game to a point where he know looks poised to produce in the two-way system on a consistent basis. His plus-six rating, tops on the team, is wholly refreshing considering the ice time he’s getting.
After lighting up the OHL two seasons ago, fans pegged Evgeny Grachev for great success in the NHL. But those numbers have yet to translate as Grachev makes his first appearances on Garden ice. Granted he’s played only two games, but the slow build on Grachev will likely continue.
Grachev has been called up simply because of the Rangers' injury issues and likely won’t see more than 15-20 games at the NHL level this year. In the AHL, he’s still shaping his game and is nowhere near the level needed to be as big as say, Artem Anisimov.
The jury is still out on this one.
If there’s one player New York Ranger fans look to for a consistent sign of life, it would be King Henrik. In eight starts this season, the King has dazzled, but only very briefly.
Lundqvist’s first shutout of the season makes up for a month of somewhat lackluster play in which he surrendered three goals a game. But when comparing Hank’s projection for the remainder of the season to every season he’s played thus far, that’s the only glaring statistic.
He’s still on pace to win 35 games, lose about 25, and post a stellar save percentage. Lundqvist keeps the Rangers in games and will win a dozen on his own.
How do you grade someone whose sole purpose is to start fights, deliver hits and make solid stops on the fourth line? On a curve of course.
Brandon Prust leads the team in penalty mintues and seems to understand his role within the team better than almost anyone. He gets a B, however, because he’s a better offensive weapon than he’s shown thus far.
If the boo birds continue to be out in full force, Michal Rozsival might as well give up. There’s no doubt that Rozsival’s play at the start of the season has been among the best on the blueline, and he’s lighting the lamp with the same consistency as he did when Captain Jagr was at the helm.
Rozsival’s play almost makes his big contract worth keeping, especially if he keeps it up. While the Rangers faithful have always found a defensemen to pick on in the wake of losing Brian Leetch, it shouldn’t be this one. At least, not right now.
How is this guy not starting over Steve Eminger? Seriously.
Is there any doubt who the best New York Rangers defenseman is? Marc Staal has finally found his appropriate role within the organization and appears to be channeling his offensive side as well.
What keeps Staal from earning top honors is that he’s still taking some poor penalties and can’t seem to keep his stick down. Both of his goals were on great individual efforts, yet all of his penalties have come at inopportune times.
Since getting a hat trick in his first game of his career, the Derek Stepan hype machine has cooled off a bit. But for a rookie who was a question mark to even make the roster, can we really say we’re disappointed?
Stepan isn’t rapidly becoming a star forward in the league, but he certainly has earned his roster spot and better keep it when the team is fully healthy. Playing in between Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko has provided the Rangers with an excellent line that can make plays, score goals and draw penalties.
Stepan is also still worth a look to play with Gaborik and Frolov once the line comes together.
His goal against his former team may be the only highlight of his season, because the new NHL has clearly passed Todd White by.
The player who had a 70-point season two years ago isn’t playing with Ilya Kovalchuk anymore, and as he struggles to maintain his own spot on the team, he won’t be playing with players of that caliber at all. If anything, place your bets on his release or trade by midseason.
To this point, I haven’t given anyone an F grade. Williams earns his for playing one game, and less time than Derek Boogaard during it. Impressive, yet he's contributed more than Tim Kennedy thus far.