BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The New York Rangers

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BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The New York Rangers

Preface: I've learned to hate the preseason.

Granted you get a look at some of your team's young up-and-comers, but waiver movement will kill you, guys get injured, guys get surgery, and you just can't win.

It's only slightly frustrating.

 

The New York Rangers were the envy of the league last season, as two of the most sought after free agent forwards—Chris Drury and Scott Gomez—ended up wearing Ranger Blue last season.

This offseason, the Rangers were a little more quieter about their business, but they still looked to make changes through free agency and trades, in hopes that those moves will put them over the top in the tough Atlantic.

Roster Additions: Markus Naslund-F (F.A.), Dmitri Kalinin-D (F.A.), Patrick Rissmiller-F (F.A.), Wade Redden-D (F.A.), Fredrik Sjostrom-F (F.A.), Nikolai Zherdev-F (Trade), Dan Fritsche-F (Trade)

Roster Subtractions:
Jaromir Jagr-F (Europe), Brendan Shanahan (Status Unknown), Marek Malik-D (F.A.), Darius Kaspiritus-D (F.A.), Ryan Hollweg-F (Trade), Christian Backman-D (Trade), Fedor Tyutin-D (Trade), Thomas Pock-D (Waivers)

2007/08 Outcome:
42-27-13, 97 points, fifth in conference, third in division, lost in second round of playoffs

2008/09 Goal:
First in Division, Make it to conference finals

Let's break'er down...

With an All-Star goalie, and revamped group of defenders, and a group of forwards that have something to prove to the division, the Rangers look to have the attitude of a team pining to compete for a division title.

In any other year, the Pittsburgh Penguins would stand firmly in the way. However the two injuries on the back end have left them vulnerable to the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, and your New York Rangers.

It's all in who can capitalize.

 

That's a Valiquette answer, so stop Lundqvist(ing) at the wrong ones...

I have to say, I’m envious of the New York Rangers.

If it wasn’t for Martin Brodeur, the Rangers would have the best goalie in the Atlantic division, quite possibly the Eastern conference.

Henrik Lundqvist has been ridiculous the past two seasons, posting back-to-back 37 win seasons, along with a 2.22 GAA at the end of the most recent season.

The Rangers have been very fortunate that Lundqvist has been able to stay healthy the past two years (as is any team who is able to keep an All-Star goalie healthy), but Lundqvist is definitely entering his prime at 26, and 70-74 game seasons don’t seem like such a stretch for a younger goalie, which will always give the Rangers a chance.

It’ll be no surprise as to who is backing up Lundqvist this year as Stephen Valiquette will be back for a third season with the Rangers. Valiquette seemed to thrive with the light workload last season, going 5-3 with a 2.18 GAA.

An exceptional starting goalie combined with a solid backup who’s started to win at the NHL level when given the chance poses a great starting point for the New York Rangers.

 

A Drury-eyed Chris Gomez could Prucha something Orr Sjostrom the under-performers out the door...

So I guess the Petr Nedved experiment didn't go so well in New York this preseason.

The 36-year old was invited to camp by the New York Rangers, but was released four days ago.

Although it seems a little strange that the team would release their leading goal-scorer in preseason, the Rangers just need the room for the younger players.

With that out of the way, we’ll get to the two gems of the blueshirts; their prized acquisitions from last season: Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. Both have Stanley Cup rings, both bring a feisty attitude to the game, and both can be 70-80 point players if surrounded with the right players to compliment their style.

Brandon Dubinsky burst onto the scene last year with a 40-point campaign, and with an increased role, he could quickly become an integral part to the Rangers’ offense. If he gets the opportunity to finish often enough, Dubinsky could finish with 20, even 25 goals, while he could easily settle in the 50-point neighbourhood by the time this season is over.

Dan Firtsche (one of those players acquired from Columbus) could certainly fit in with his two-way potential, but only if he can stay healthy. If he does, then he could reach 35-point level while also offering some solid defense from the center spot.

Blair Betts will also be able to offer a solid option down the middle for the Rangers on one of the bottom two lines if either Fritsche or Nedved ends up on either of the wings.

The wings should be a point of interest for the Rangers this season however with a couple of questions.

Is Markus Naslund going to be able to stop his steady decline over the past three seasons? If Naslund can at least hold onto his 25-goals over the past two seasons (ok 24 in 2006/07) and find a linemate who can convert on his playmaking ability and feed him the puck as well.

How is Petr Prucha going to respond from last season’s shoulder injury? Will Prucha climb back to 30-goal potential or will he be a less-feisty version of the player we once knew, trapped in a limited offensive capacity?

Will Nikolai Zherdev avoid the motivation problems he ran into in Columbus or will he just be an unmotivated, underperformer for the Rangers? If he concentrates on his game, then there could be no stopping him—that is a big if though.

Nigel Dawes could help to fill the void left by Sean Avery in the offseason for the Rangers. If he continues to work hard and bring his all every shift with that tad of goal scoring potential (he could develop into a 20-goal guy at one point), Dawes will soon become an impact player in New York.

Lauri Korpikoski could improve the creativity of the New York Rangers offense as well. The Finnish product has spent the past two years in the AHL and has seen gradual improvement, culminating in a 50-point year last season. Although he may suffer a slow start at the beginning of his NHL career (he struggled in the Finnish men’s league as well as his first full AHL season) Korpikoski should develop into a solid contributor for the Rangers.

Fredrik Sjostrom’s may be one of the bigger surprises this-coming season. If he’s given the opportunity, then it’s possible that Sjostrom could be about a 15 goal scorer with potential for more. If not, he’ll just be a gritty player willing to open up the holes for his linemates.

Just like on defense, the Rangers have some quality depth options. Patrick Rissmiller should be good for 20 points while Ryan Callahan will be a quality energy guy. Colton Orr will be the toughest hombre on the roster now that Ryan Hollweg is off in Toronto while Aaron Voros will be a solid depth option, although he could thrive with more-enhanced responsibilities.

 

The Pock marks are cleaned up, but it's still pretty Redden...

The defense is a little bit of a new-look for the Rangers this season.

Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman where shipped out to Ohio (namely Columbus) in exchange for some help at forward (which we already looked at), leaving the Rangers to skulk around free agency for some replacements.

One of the names that the Rangers attracted this offseason was the much-maligned Wade Redden. Over the past two or three seasons, Redden was made out to be the whipping boy for the Sens, and despite his commitment, he was turned into a villain and was left with no other option than to leave this offseason.

With a new lease on life in a brand new city, I think Redden may thrive on Broadway. Granted he may not be the 17 goal-scorer he once was, but in playing the point on the power play for the Rangers, he could easily hit 10 goals and definitely make his way back to the 40-point plateau for at least two more seasons.

Dmitri Kalinin is the other dip into free agency the Rangers took on the back end, and he’ll be interesting to watch if he can stay healthy. Although his shoulder and knee bothered him last season, he could bounce back and be a 30-point guy on the back end, and he’ll definitely prove to be a valuable cog in the Rangers’ defense.

Since coming to the Rangers in the midst of the 2006/07 season, Paul Mara has really seen his game step up. After never being a plus player his entire NHL career, Mara is a +7 in his Rangers’ career. Despite suffering some setbacks with his head and his shoulder last season, Mara really continued his surprising performance with the Rangers, and had a solid second-season in the playoffs. Although he hasn’t really come close to his back-to-back 40-point seasons (in 2003/04 and 2004/05) the past two seasons, Mara has really stepped up his all-around game.

Michal Rosival is also becoming a gamer for the New York Rangers. Rosival has steadily developed into a powerplay threat (18 points with the extra man last season), and has really put his offensive skills to good use for the Rangers. Because of his size, you could expect more from Rosival in his own end, but at the age of 30, it’s a crap shoot as to whether or not Rosival changes his ways.

For a rookie, Marc Staal did his name proud last season. Granted he only netted 10 points for the Rangers, but at 20, Stall did well to fit in at the NHL level in his first season, which is a hard thing to do for some seasoned vets. His past history dictates that his offensive production may see a bit of a boost (maybe to the twenty-point range) this season, but there’s no doubt that Staal is going to develop into a solid defender, and aid in the cause of his family to one day control the NHL.

Sidenote: I don’t mean control in the way the Sutters do. I mean control as in Gary Bettman better watch his back. Commissioner Erik, Deputy Jordan, and Marketing Director Marc are gunning for the head jobs. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Speaking of younger players, it’ll be intriguing to watch what happens with Corey Potter and Daniel Girardi. Potter put up a solid season with Hartford last season with 32 points and rating a +33. Potter also brings a level of grit with him (102 penalty minutes last season), but it’ll depend how mobile he can be at the NHL level and how efficiently he can move the puck.

Girardi (Former London Knight…SCORE!) has a ton of offensive upside, but still needs to work on his play in his own end and without the puck. The more he develops his offense, the bigger role he’ll see, but he’ll also have to put up with splitting time with some other solid names on the Rangers’ depth chart. Girardi is a quality powerplay option though, so if in doubt, he’ll see some time on special teams.

Brian Fahey is also going to be providing some good depth to the bottom end of New York’s defense, while Thomas Pock, who would have provided a bit of depth, was claimed off waivers by the Islanders yesterday.

 

So what does it all mean?

The Rangers are in a bit of a flux. Their defense and goaltending are solid, but it’s making sure they score goals that’s the iffy part.

If their forwards can gel and create a good rapport with each other, then the goals could come in bunches. If some of the key players suffer off years though, they could tumble all the way to fourth in the division.

I don’t think Scott Gomez or Chris Drury will let that happen though.

2nd in Atlantic


Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. You can get in contact with Bryan through his profile, and you can also check out his previous works in his archives.

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