"Oh God, how could Sather let this happen?"
"I can't believe we're bringing this guy back!"
"He's going to steal a spot from a deserving youngster if he makes the team!"
The aforementioned phrases are just some of the hundreds—not including the expletive-laden ones—in regards to Petr Nedved being invited to New York Rangers' training camp this fall.
In fact, it was Nedved who came to Glen Sather and the Rangers asking for a tryout. When he was granted permission, he became very excited to play for the team where he enjoyed the best success of his career. He knows he has to perform more than amazingly in order to convince the coaching staff he can play in the NHL again.
But getting back to the sentiments that led off this article—people just don't want to give Nedved a chance.
In his second and longest stint with the team, from 1998-2004, Nedved played on teams that never reached the playoffs. The players were miserable, the coaches were miserable, and the fans were miserable. But even all of that didn't stop him from reaching thirty goals once and twenty goals four times.
In fact, in 478 games with the Rangers in his career, he has a total of 149 goals and 202 assists for 351 points. Not bad for a guy who was booed unmercifully in the latter stages of his career.
Why was he booed, you ask?
Well even though he showed success and had an excellent wrist shot, he did some things that more then a few European players are guilty of. I don't mean to stereotype, but that's giving his all every night.
Nedved could have been a forty-goal scorer had he set his mind to it, but because of attitude and motivational problems, coupled with the constant pressure of playing in New York during a dark time in the history of the franchise, he couldn't perform.
Now, I know what you're thinking—even though he was decent back then, he's 37 now and hasn't been in the NHL for two seasons. What can he possibly bring to the team today?
Granted, he is older and won't score thirty goals, or even twenty—but I believe there is quite a lot he could bring to this team if he does in fact make it out of training camp.
He won't have any pressure to supply a lot of offense, as he is being brought in as a supporting player, not an offensive leader. There is also no more hooking, clutching, and grabbing—as there was when he last played here, in the pre-lockout NHL—and that much more open space could lead to more production.
And don't worry about the money because he will be signed for league minimum of a half-million dollars, as he already knows.
But where does he fit?
The Rangers have their top two centers in Gomez and Drury and a decent third-line center in Brandon Dubinsky. The fourth line seems to be set, although now it appears that Blair Betts' job is on the line. There seems to be no room for Nedved on this team, and that's where I have to try and get creative.
Nedved excels with players that complement his style of play, which is why the third line makes sense. The top two are set, and the fourth is for checkers—and Nedved never was and never will be a checker.
Which is why I suggest this as the new third line for the New York Rangers:
Petr Prucha - Petr Nedved - Fredrik Sjostrom
Prucha is a fellow Czech who loves to use his speed to drive to the net. Sjostrom could very well be the fastest player on the Rangers, and has the skill to go with it. If Nedved can get back to being as a fast skater as he was during his second stint with the team, he would play very well when centering these two.
As for Brandon Dubinsky, the current third-line center, I would put him on the second line wing, even though he's never played there before. The second line would then be:
Markus Naslund - Chris Drury - Brandon Dubinsky
We all know Naslund likes to drive to the net. Drury will do the same, and will shoot from almost anywhere—which is why Dubinsky would play an important part here. He is the biggest and strongest player on the line, and if he parks himself in front of the net while Drury and Naslund fire away, scoring chances are bound to come fast and furiously.
Overall, the entire lineup would look something like this:
Line 1: Nigel Dawes - Scott Gomez - Nikolai Zherdev
Line 2: Markus Naslund - Chris Drury - Brandon Dubinsky
Line 3: Petr Prucha - Petr Nedved - Fredrik Sjostrom
Line 4: Aaron Voros - Blair Betts/Artem Anisimov - Patrick Rissmiller/Colton Orr
The final lineup looks much more balanced than before, because now there are three solid lines that can score and bring speed. The fourth line is also vastly improved, with Voros and Rissmiller much more talented than Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr were last season. Orr in this case would be a healthy scratch in games where the Rangers do not need an enforcer.
Betts would also start the season with the Rangers and Anisimov in Hartford. After a few weeks, the Rangers could then move Betts if he doesn't improve, while Anisimov continues to develop and get plenty of ice time in the AHL.
Ryan Callahan essentially becomes the odd man out, because I really see no need for him. Yes, he checks—but he really has no offensive or special-teams ability. To Hartford he should go.
Well, there you have it—my reasons why Nedved and this new-look lineup should be given a chance as the preseason winds down and the new season begins. It should be an exciting one.
(Fun Fact: In Nedved's Ranger career, he tallied 149 goals, 202 assists for 351 points. In Jaromir Jagr's career in New York, he recorded 124 goals and 195 assists for 319 points.)