Where have you gone, Jan Erixon?

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Disregard the obvious reasons for a moment — you know, that I’m a 160-pound forward of middling ability — and I’m still pretty sure I’m not what Tom Renney and the Rangers are looking for right now.

I was thinking about this around 10 o’clock last night, in the midst of my first skate of the year, when my occasional ventures into the defensive zone were merely to swoop in and collect a pass from a defenseman.

No, what this team needs is a player in the Jan Erixon mold. Remember him?

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The left wing played close to 10 years for the Rangers, and for most of that time, he displayed as much touch around the net as someone wielding a fence post. But because he was so proficient at shutting down opposing forwards, Erixon was among the Rangers’ most valuable skaters.

There is a misconception about defensive forwards which says the reason they play that way is they’re not good enough to score goals. What I’m beginning to realize, though, is that playing defensive hockey is an art form all itself, and right now, it eludes most of the Rangers forwards.

Since I took some shots at the Rangers’ defense yesterday, I suppose it’s only fair to point out that there’s plenty of blame to go around. As Renney said at one point last week, every forward wants to play in the offensive zone because “they might read about it the next day.” But it’s the play everywhere else that will likely to dictate whether this team is a success or disappointment.

In that vein, “my story today”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061024/SPORTS01/610240375/1034/SPORTS discusses Nigel Dawes, the rookie who scored the first goal of his NHL career before a nationally televised audience in Toronto. With the puck, Dawes’ ability to play at this level are unquestioned. But he, like so many others on the Rangers, is still laboring to grasp his responsibilities everywhere else; and it may explain why his ice time has been limited thus far.

To be clear, Dawes isn’t the worst offender on this team. But he is perhaps the best example of how, right now, scoring goals isn’t the highest priority.

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14 Comments

  1. Sam, The best defense starts with the offense and if you don´t have forwards backchecking, you always will have problems as a defenseman.

    After my opinion you guys talking too much about the failures of players like Ozolinsh, Rachunek, Malik or Kasparaitis.

    Last year´s success was mainly built through a team game and this season the Rangers obviously lacking those things because of some new members in the squad. You need some time to get used to the new environment especially in NY in such a big market. Aaron Ward or Matt Cullen have to adjust to a new team and it´s takes a while…

    Sorry I have never heard about Jan Erixon and I started to become a fan of the Rangers when Mark Messier first came to Broadway….

    (Baby koala is playing with the Mark Messier bobblehead right now :):)

  2. Jan Erixon was a low maintenance player.Joined the Rangers at the same time with another fellow Swede Peter Sundstrom.Erixon’s bad back ended his career.He played for Herb Brooks,Ted Sator,Phil Esposito,Tom Webster,Michel Bergeron and Roger Neilson.Too bad Erixon and James Patrick weren’t on the Cup team because both players spilled blood for the Rangers.When Bergeron took over the Rangers,Le Petit te tiger didn’t like Erixon(made him a healthy scratch) but then he grew on Michel and never left the lineup

  3. Jan Erixon was such an underrated Ranger! He gave 110% EVERY NIGHT and was a tremendous Penalty Killer and defensive forward…

    I remember many nights, when Erixon would keep the puck in the corners (to rousing applause), while time ticked away on the penalty-kill…

    Jarkko Immonen is a Ranger that seemed very responsible when it came to the defensive aspect of the game (in his brief time at the NHL level, so far)… Thus, I am surprsied he doesn’t get any opportunities to play with the NHL squad this season… He’s a two-way Center, but I’m sure he could play the Wing successfully as well, and I doubt he’d give any less production than Marcel Hossa (zero points in 8 games)… Plus I’m willing to bet Jarkko is a better defensive forward than Hossa is…

    Of course, it’s still a great mystery to me (and many other Ranger fans) why players like Rachunek and Hossa have “guaranteed” spots in the lineup every game, when it seems clear that there are many other players that can at LEAST do what they’ve been doing, and more…

  4. Hopefully, when Ort gets back, he’ll take Hossa’s spot on the roster… Ortmeyer may have hands of stone, but so does Hossa and at least Jed can spark the team with some BIG HITS!!!

  5. In the interim I heard about rumours that Sam wants to trade me to a weblog of a fansite of the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for a coyote because of my lack of knowledge about Rangers insight, my unprecised and sketchy comments and my terrible grammar of the english language….

    Well done guys in the desert of Phoenix it´s seems to be more comfortable spot for a koala like in the cold northeast of the U.S.A. :)

  6. Hi Sam,

    As this is my first post, may I say what an excellent job you do with this blog – very informative, with a charming manner and sharp wit. Your articles are excellent too, but the blog really has established you as my #1 read when it comes to Rangers news.

    Quick question – do you have any read on how Nylander feels about being ‘demoted’ to the 3rd line, and how he felt about their superlative play on Saturday (as the only Rangers with positive +/-, three goals, etc.)? I haven’t read any post-game comments of his.

    Cheers,

    Chris

  7. Jan Erixon is one of my all time favorite Rangers!! Thanks for bringing him up!! Great defensive forward!!

  8. Heck, I keep expecting the defenseman being burned to turn out to be Michel Petit, returned from the dead to suck again…

  9. As the Rangers all around defensive game being in the toilet, I really think they miss Steve Rucchin. I had a feeling this would happen when I heard we let him get away.
    The Rangers have that much more adjustment to make with his absence.

  10. Jan Erixon was terrific…Especially when he played with Lucien DeBlois, and Don Maloney..Great possession checking line. What the Rangers need however are more young, quick, strong, tenacious players to win puck battles. There is plenty of skill on the team (sans a real strong second line center). Opponents know that as constituted, the Rangers are not tough or disciplined enough to be in the elite class of the league.

  11. Oh my, Jan! An absolute fave. I once had the huge luck of sitting next to him at the annual Rangers fan dinner. My brother got us tix as a Christmas gift for me and he snagged the seats next to Jan cause he knew how much I dug him (also, cause he could play, too :) Thanks for the memory Sam.

  12. Chris —

    Thanks for the compliment. I can’t say I know exactly how Nylander feels because I haven’t had a chance to ask him. But bear in mind this was a guy who found his way in and out of Tom Renney’s doghouse on several occasions last season, so he’s likely to take it in stride.

    But you’re right, his numbers have been really good so far, and I can’t imagine he can keep up the same pace without Jagr and Straka (even if he still on the power play). Might he take satisfaction in elevating a player like Dawes? Not sure. But either way it’s likely to light a fire under him.

  13. Sam –

    Great read. This really is the best source in Rangerland. Thanks again.

    Erixon-Deblois-Maloney was perhaps the best checking line in my lifetime as a Rangers fan. The one detail I’d like to add to this picture is hitting. Time and time again Ranger forwards turn away from players who have just passed the puck, instead of stepping into them and taking them out of the play. If this small detail was paid attention to on a shift by shift basis, it would open up the ice for transition and cut down on the third or fourth trailer from adding to opposing rushes.

    In other words, while the Ranger forwards sacrificed their bodies by blocking quite a few shots in the last game, a majority still refuse to impose a physical presence out there. Most teams in the league are stressing speed, skill, and hard work. If you don’t focus on hitting, it’ll be hard to climb above .500.

    IMO, if Korpikoski never turns into a 30 goal scorer, he could be a more imposing version of Erixon.

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