Season preview: Position by position

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FORWARDS:

Three years ago, the Rangers had zero legit first-line forwards. Two years ago they had one (Marian Gaborik). Last year they had two (Gaborik and Brad Richards). This year they have three, with the addition of power forward Rick Nash. The lockout gave Gaborik time to heal from shoulder surgery, and the Rangers should suddenly have some serious punch up front.

Plus they have any number of young veterans and upstarts who could play important roles on those top two lines (Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and rookie Chris Kreider), and a bunch of guys who can grind out games and play in big spots, such as Brian Boyle. They have replaced Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov with Nash and Kreider (upgrades), they have replaced Ruslan Fedotenko with Taylor Pyatt (a bigger version) and replaced fourth-line center John Mitchell with Jeff Halpern (upgrade).

One question is how will they replace Brandon Prust, who gave them heart-and-soul minutes, led the league in fights (timely, for the most part) and killed penalties. His replacement, Arron Asham, will be feisty enough, but can’t play Prust’s minutes. Asham will wind up on a line with Halpern and Mike Rupp, whose fists are probably going to be busier this year.

DEFENSEMEN:

Who knew that Marc Staal’s concussion last year would make a first-pair star out of Ryan McDonagh? The big youngster took Staal’s spot on Dan Girardi’s left, and Girardi became an all-star, too. Now Staal, who returned last January, is back and he looked good as ever in the playoffs.

Michael Del Zotto had a big bounce-back from his sophomore slump year, which was also crucial due to the concussion that cost Michael Sauer most of that season, and probably all of this one. And the Rangers have some depth in second-year rugged D-man Stu Bickel, surprisingly good Anton Stralman, dependable extra Steve Eminger, and now returning Ranger Matt Gilroy, who earned a contract this week.
GOALTENDING:

There’s not much else to say about Henrik Lundqvist, who carried the team to the best record in the East and the conference finals, played his best in big games (think Winter Classic and two playoff Game 7s) and won the Vezina Trophy.

Martin Biron makes it arguably the best tandem in the league, but in a 48-game season his chances to contribute won’t be nearly as frequent. Lundqvist played 62 games last year, so he could probably play 40 or so this year, though the compacted schedule (99 days) means he might need some breathers.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

It has been so long since the Rangers had a decent power play, and it makes you wonder how many games they might have won last year with a good one. They don’t have a prototypical point man in the organization, so a lot of that will fall to Brad Richards and Michael Del Zotto again, and with the firepower up front, maybe they can figure it out. Maybe.

The penalty kill was terrific, (86.2 percent, fifth in the NHL, and eight short-handed goals). Prust, Dubinsky and Fedotenko did a lot of that work. Givens on this year’s PK will be Callahan and Boyle. But this year’s PK could be more aggressive with speed. The coaches hope Hagelin can play more down-a-man minutes, and who knows if Kreider and/or Nash will? Pyatt and Halpern should help there, too. Of course, the best penalty killer is the goalie, so we know where the Rangers stand there.


COACHING:

His post-game press conferences aside, John Tortorella might be the best coach the Rangers have had since, well, when? Emile Francis? Demanding as he is, players go through walls for him, and he has established an identity for his team, while developing and teaching a young core of players, all with his foot on the pedal.

PREDICTION:

Second in the Atlantic, fourth seed in the East.

 AP photos, above.

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89 Comments

  1. Carp in mid season form with the analysis. Reminds me of that time Wade Redden scored from the point…wrote a lil song about it. like to hear it here it go!

  2. Fat Guy, well, my sports editor is a big Rangers fan and he’s pretty happy with the Rangers stuff I churn out, especially this week … and even happier about the blog.

    Three-day weekend? I think I had one in the early 1980s.

    Doodie, and yes, no comment. Been very unpleasant for many who had less than nothing to do with it. The janitor probably knew more about it than I did.

  3. I think the CT Whale are doing a good job honoring the Whalers this year with their less than inspiring play.

  4. _he has established an identity for his team, while developing and teaching a young core of players_

    The difference between you and me, Carp…

  5. in my haste to rip apart Brandon Segal I neglected to mention that he’s 7th on the Whale in scoring and outperforming Chris Kreider

  6. I really like bringing in Pyatt. I really hate losing the Brandons. I’m really excited for tomorrow night.

  7. Oops for the first time in the existence of this blog I just posted a link that wasn’t exactly appropriate. Mea Culpa, Carp : /

  8. Doodie Machetto on

    As I said Carp, I know you can’t comment. Just know that we’re all hoping that this doesn’t hurt you.

  9. PP aside, Torts has been great for this club.

    Just want to say that now so I ca badmouth him in a week or two if things go wrong.

  10. so which happens first…

    Brandon Segal back to Hartford
    Forgetting Brandon Dubinsky and Brandon Prust exist
    Wade Redden scores a goal

  11. So… apropos of nothing, I find myself in NYC for the first home game of the season. Any boneheads want to meet up before the game for a drink?

  12. Carp, has anything been said about Rupp’s knee at camp? Supposedly that was a big reason he didn’t drop the gloves too often last season. No comment as far as what it did to his “speed”

  13. That’s good for Segal and The Whale since Boston to Hartford is a way easier Commute than Boston to Pittsburgh To Hartford.

  14. I think the knee is why he was so bad, and he also broke his hand or wrist or thumb or something when he was slashed by Boulton, I believe it was. Not saying he’s great, but that can’t be easy for a 6-6 guy who’s supposed to fight. He’s supposedly 100 percent healed now. He’s going to have to drop them this year.

  15. The private jet ride from Logan to Bradley will probably be the highlight of Segal’s career thus far.

  16. Talk to you later, ‘heads. Taking my big family upstate for the weekend. Haven’t been there since September.

  17. I think there’s a minivan that goes from Logan to downtown Hartford, too. Much more likely form of transportation for him.

  18. They’ll need him to be that guy this year. Asham will fight but I don’t consider him an “intelligent” fighter. Not the way Prust and even Rupp usually are.

  19. That’s fine. You shouldn’t mock a guy who has to take a bus over a plane..The big bopper mocked someone like that once…..once.

  20. I have a feeling fighting is going to be way down in this shortened season. points are to important to waste time with staged fights.

  21. I think there’s going to be plenty of fighting … it’s been rising. Especially the staged stuff. That’s the only reason those clowns are on rosters.

  22. Stranger Nation on

    great review – would include Torts assistants as part of the ‘development and teaching’ component of the staff.

    Lets Go Rangers…clap, clap…clap, clap, clap!

  23. Yup, Torts’ assistants obviously deserve a bunch of credit, and that includes Mike Sullivan, Benoit Allaire, Jim Schoenfeld and the entire Hartford crew. … can’t wait until somebody asks Torts why he has only one assistant coach.

  24. The only saving grace in losing Prust is they’ll need him less after trading Dubinsky, who was kind of a penalty machine. They weren’t ‘good’ penalties either. 30 minors put him in the top-25 last year.

  25. The team should go out for a hearty dinner at the Old Homestead Steakhouse. It was grandma Mema’s favorite place. The chicken is a full bird, stuffed with ham and topped with gorgonzola.

  26. ok then…while you were all thinking the last valuable spot was taken! your loss, punks!

    *CARPED 4 LIFE! League draft is at 9PM TONIGHT!*

  27. reasonable and fair analysis.

    rupp abolutely needs to do more this year.

    asham is a bad guy but he can skate.. rangers over the last 2 years i think have become a much faster skating team; kreider, hagelin, gabby, mcdonagh, etc.

    this team appears to be well rounded, young and in good shape.. the king do his thing they are ready to contend…devils are going to be way down this year…islanders still stink… mtl. stinks…southeast is still weak.

    cindies, rangers, and philthy are 3 of the top 5 teams in the east…..

  28. Good evening all! Oh my, all this real hockey talk is making me beyond thirsty!!!

    kiwi et al, there is a group of Blueshirt fans gathering in the city tomorrow to watch game on the tube (can’t speak for Sunday)….if interested, e-mail me at lbabs@aol.com….if I don’t know you, put LGR in subject line…..

    Carp, you going to Beantown????

  29. Very shocked Redden actually wound up with a good team. So if the Rangers play the Blues in the finals (like everyone seems to project) does he get a ring either way?

  30. actually going to bed shortly. plan to be on couch celebrating my 35th bday tom wathcing hockey all day and night. need sleep now

  31. Olga Folkyerself on

    Panthers sign Kovalev? Isn’t he the last link to the ’94 Cup team? Sather should have signed him, had him stuffed and hung in the entrance to MSG.

  32. Olga Folkyerself on

    So to sum it all up….

    New York Rangers traded Alexei Kovalev Mikael Samuelsson, Rico Fata, Joel Bouchard, Richard Lintner and cash

    to the Montreal/Penguins for Jozef Balej Alexei Kovalev and Harry York and a 2nd round selection Alexei Kovalev, Dan LaCouture, Janne Laukkanen and Mike Wilson Sean Pronger and Chris Tamer

    If we remove an “Alexei Kovalev” from each side of the equation…

    Rangers trade Mikael Samuelsson, Rico Fata, Joel Bouchard, Richard Lintner and cash for:

    Jozef Balej, Harry York and a 2nd round selection Alexei Kovalev, Dan LaCouture, Janne Laukkanen, Mike Wilson, Sean Pronger and Chris Tamer.

    Pound for pound it was a pretty good deal for NY.

  33. Olga I’ll go out on a limb and say he’s going to have at least 5 points against us this season.

    ps- you forgot the original trade to Pittsburgh for Luc Robitaille. so you have to work he and Kevin Stevens into the mix

  34. just to say hello and it’s so nice to see hockey talk again. don’t know about everyone, but I kept so busy then not thought about blueshirts not playing.

    so tomorrow is kind of like an additional winter holiday. any ideas for a title?

  35. iDoodie Machetto on

    I feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve. I just want to get to sleep so it could be Christmas morning already.

  36. Hugo Folkyerself on

    That’s already taken. It’s Ground Hog Day. If Bettman sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of lockout.

  37. Great read Carp, very happy hockey is back! I worry about Torts penchant for “losing” players he doesn’t know well during early parts of seasons. The 4th line are all new and with the condensed schedule they are going to have to contribute.

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