NHL Free Agency: 5 Key Players for a Successful New York Rangers 2011-12 Season
Mike Hume of ESPN New York wrote an article today saying that the time is now for the Rangers to win. The Rangers certainly have the talent to compete with the best that the Eastern Conference has to offer, but can they hold-up in a seven game series against these teams?
The playoffs call for a team's depth to take over a game. The stars are expected to do their part, but the dirty work and grind-it-out players are needed to provide for a team to get the 16 wins necessary to hoist the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers were a grind-it-out team last year, and with the same players who personified that back this year, I expect nothing less. The Rangers also picked up more skill by signing Brad Richards.
The youth of the Rangers shows a bright future, but there is no reason why this team cannot be a major competitor in the East right now. If some players can step up, the Rangers may be able to do some damage in the playoffs.
So here are my 5 key players for the 2011-12 Rangers season.
1. Henrik Lundqvist
Let's just get the obvious out of the way.
The Rangers only go as far as Henrik Lundqvist takes them. I don't care how well the other players play, Lundqvist makes this team dangerous.
As always, the Rangers will be relying on Lundqvist for another superb year. With more talent, they can rely on him less, especially with the emergence of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi as a bona fide number one defensive pair.
Lundqvist has always won games for the Rangers that they had no business winning. The Rangers are going to need that again at some points this year, maybe not as often, but there will be times when it is "The Henrik Lundqvist Show."
Lundqvist has proven time and time again that he is a top-five NHL goalie. All the Rangers need him to be is the man who has been in goal for them since 2006, nothing better and nothing worse, and this team will always have a chance to win.
2. Artem Anisimov
Artem Anisimov just signed a 2 year deal to stay on Broadway with a cap hit of $1.875 million. The 24 year old has been developing for the past two years and now he needs to break out.
He needs to be a good center. Rangers fans have seen his development and when he struggles we remember how young he is. Well, the excuses are starting to get old. It's time for Anisimov to start being a consistent scoring threat for this team.
He had 44 points last year with 18 goals in the regular season. To me, there are no more excuses with Anisimov, it's make or break time. He has two years to prove why he is a part of the long-term Rangers plans and has not yet reached his potential.
I want to see Anisimov reach 25 goals and have 60 points. I want to see him be physical in front of the net and use his size to do the dirty work along the boards. He also needs to improve on face-offs, but so does the rest of the team.
If Anisimov can put up over twenty goals on a line with Callahan and Dubinsky (who should be between 20-32 goals each this season), then the Rangers will have two lines who can put the puck in the net. That's a team that looks poised for a long run in the spring.
Speaking of consistency, how about Marian Gaborik? Who is he, the 22 goal scoring Gaborik or the 42 goal scoring Gaborik? There is no reason why Gaborik should not be a successful player this season with the acquisition of Brad Richards. Marian Gaborik should be leading this team in goals by a wide margin.
I don't think Marian Gaborik was at full health last year. For a sniper with such a great release, he passed up opportunities last year that, in 2009-10, he put on net. Something wasn't right.
Speaking of injuries, maybe Gaborik can play in 75 regular season games this year. He has so much skill and is so important to the Rangers' success that his inconsistency is inexcusable. I know for snipers sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes you don't, but with Brad Richards, the puck is going to be on Gaborik's stick in good scoring situations. He just needs to bury them.
I fully expect Gaborik to have a good year this year if he can remain healthy. A healthy and scoring Gaborik makes the Rangers have a legitimate scoring option who can change a game with the snap of a wrist.
4. Ryan McDonagh
Ryan McDonagh played an important role on the Rangers last year as a rookie. Paired with Michael Sauer, he gave the Rangers solid defensive play, while giving Staal and Girardi rest. McDonagh's skating ability is his best asset and he is great at making up ground when he is out of position.
I am a little skeptical of the sophomore slump. The Rangers have to make sure that they don't put too much of a burden on him this year. Remember, if everything goes according to plan, this will be his first 82 game NHL regular season. Will he hit the wall?
The good news for the Rangers is that they have a defensive pair capable of shutting down a team's top scoring line, and it doesn't involve McDonagh. McDonagh is going to be responsible for the second defensive pairing again which means that his minutes should be around the same as last year.
I would love to see his offensive game step-up, especially with that skating ability. If he could join the rush at points that could be a huge boost for the Rangers. However if that means he has to sacrifice his defensive play, then I would rather him concentrate on defense. Fans and opponents know what Ryan McDonagh can do now, so let's just hope he is ready for the challenge again.
5. Michael Del Zotto
Going into training camp, the Rangers have four defenseman competing for two spots. The four defenseman are Tim Erixon, Del Zotto, Pavel Valentenko and Steve Eminger. To me, I think Erixon has a spot to lose and Del Zotto and Eminger will be vying for the 6th defenseman spot, while Valentanko could use some more seasoning with the Whale.
I would like to see Del Zotto win the job out of training camp. At only 21 years old, Del Zotto still has a bright future. He started his rookie year in 2009-10 on fire and then slowed down, deserving of a demotion but fed to the wolves because no one was better to replace him.
Last season, he had to overcome injury and a demotion. He didn't take the demotion too well which leads me to believe he has the competitive fire to make this team out of camp. Del Zotto is too young to be given up on. I hope he wins the job and proves that he has improved.
Del Zotto could be an offensive boost from the blue line, and if he plays well enough could earn a spot on a power play unit to quarterback the second power play line. Del Zotto could be a huge help for the Rangers if he plays well. If he can hold the job, the Rangers would have a very bright future on defense.
The Rangers have other players, who did not make this list, who are key to success. Among them are Tim Erixon and Derek Stepan.
I'm not saying the Rangers are going to win the Stanley Cup or make the Conference Finals. They may very well make it, but those expectations are unrealistic at this point. But if the Rangers can manage to be competitive in the playoffs, I think the future is bright.
And who knows, maybe they can pull off some magic in the spring. Crazier things have happened right?
But the Rangers need all the help they can get, and big years from these five players could go a long way for this season.
Thanks for the read and feel free to comment.
Keep the military in your thoughts and prayers.