Alright Wilderness. Today starts the first day of our NHL previews for the Metropolitan Division teams. I still can't think of anything but Neapolitan ice cream when I hear that name though.
First things first, I made a glaring mistake when I said we were done with the Atlantic Division previews yesterday. Sometime this week we will take a look at the Ottawa Senators, brought to us by our friends over at Silver Seven Sens.
Today though, we get a look at the New York Rangers. I adopted them as my Eastern Conference team to follow last season, which didn't turn out great for them. I have higher hopes for you next season Rangers! (although you have to finish below the Wild and the Hawks, sorry about that)
The Rangers might have the best offensive potential they have had since Jaromir Jagr wore Broadway Blue. Rick Nash and Derek Stepan will almost certainly finish first and second in team scoring just as they did last season but the offense won't rest entirely on their shoulders.The Rangers also have a lot of depth scoring in players like Derrick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot, Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello, and Ryan Callahan. Brad Richards, of course, is also in the mix. Richards has already expressed how excited and motivated he is to play under new head coach Alain Vigneault and if he finds his game again the Rangers offense could be one of the most potent in the Metropolitan Division.
The Rangers blue line has depth, youth, and all kinds of talent. Led by All-Star shutdown man Dan Girardi, a now healthy Marc Staal, and the smooth-skating Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers blue line is the envy of the other teams in the Metropolitan Division. Behind the big three are Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman, and John Moore with Justin Falk as the likely seventh man. With the exception of Del Zotto the Rangers won't have much offense coming from their blueliners although both Ryan McDonagh and John Moore have the potential to add more offense to their game.
Brian Boyle is given grief by fans because he doesn't pick up opponents and snap them in half over his head as his 6'7" frame might suggest he is capable of doing. Boyle has developed into an excellent defensive center that is strong on the faceoff dot, takes the body, sticks up for his teammates, and plays shorthanded minutes. Boyle catches a great deal of flack for not repeating on his twenty-one goal performance in 2010-11 and for not using his size as well as he could. Boyle scoring twenty-one goals was, in my opinion, a fluke.
Anton Stralman might be playing on the team's third pair but he has excelled in his role and played important minutes when important blueliners were knocked out of the Rangers lineup with injuries. Stralman, like Boyle, is in the last year of his contract and is looking to impress not only the Rangers but other teams around the league. When Stralman is on the ice he dominates lesser competition and he rarely makes mistakes. One could say that he's the epitome of the Rangers blueline depth; he's versatile, he's on the right side of 30, and he's committed to the team and the system.
For at least one more season the Rangers have the best goalie in the world since the 2004-05 lockout between the pipes. Handsome Henrik will be taking the lion's share of the games this year (just like he does every year) backed up by veteran Martin Biron who is also on the last year of his contract. The biggest storyline regarding the Rangers goaltending is why its taking so long to find a way to re-sign King Henrik and give him his retirement contract. Hank currently set to become an UFA at the end of this season has Rangers fans a lot more uncomfortable than they'd like to admit.
A new head coach and four new assistants behind the bench is a big storyline going into this year. Gone is the bombastic and cantankerous John Tortorella and in comes the tidy-haircut and impish smirk of Alain Vigneault. Most Rangers fans expect that with Vigneault comes offense but he won't have the same kind of personnel that he had in Vancouver (sadly, the Rangers have no super twins... yet) and there is a lot more to Vigneault than just offense. Most Rangers fans are cautiously optimistic about what AV can bring but I can't comfortably give any educated or informed opinion on how I feel without seeing some preseason games and what he does in the first quarter of the season.
The future is pretty bright in New York especially considering that the current team is hardly filled with aging players. I'll focus on two players that have a huge chance to make a difference this year instead of rattling off a list of all the promising prospects in the system.
Chris Kreider- Kreider is looking to find his niche and will likely be playing on either the second or the third line this season. Kreider's size, nose around the net, and ability to finish has Rangers fans buzzing and the team will certainly look to him to add more depth scoring and have a breakout season.
JT Miller- Miller will likely get playing time early this year with both Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin likely out with injuries for the start of the season. Miller played in 26 games last season and struggled to produce offensively but didn't look intimidated by the NHL game. Miller might not have the same offensive ceiling as Kreider but his two-way game and the edge he plays the game with is a good fit with the Rangers.
Depth of the Team:
The depth of the team is the best it has been in recent memory. For the first time in quite some time it looks like the Rangers won't regularly be dressing a goon on the fourth line we have learned not to count our chickens before the eggs hatch. The bottom six looks solid and has some scoring potential which is a very nice change from what the club has seen the past few years.
There's too many to list! Rangers fans embrace their players and appreciate hustle, talent, and character and the team has a heck of a lot of that going on. Stand-outs are the team captain Ryan Callahan who never takes a shift off, the speedy possession monster Carl Hagelin who wins nearly ever puck race, Henrik Lundqvist who gives the Rangers a chance to win each and every single night, Ryan McDonagh who never ceases to amaze and impress and could easily be in discussion for the Norris sometime in the near future, and undrafted All-Star Dan Girardi who plays difficult minutes against the best players in the world and makes it look easy.
Must Follow Writers? Andrew Gross: @AGrossRecord, Steve Zipay: @stevezipay, Pat Leonard: @NYDNRangers, and Larry Brooks: @NYP_Brooksie, Dave over at Blue Seat Blog: @blueseatsblog, and all the writers from Blueshirt Banter, of course.
Must Follow Fans? ... I dunno. There are far too many to count or list so I'll just give you guys a .gif of a puppy being adorable instead. I suppose I would recommend following @RangerSmurf because he's smarter than me and is good with numbers.