Here’s my preview from The Journal News and Lohud.com (unedited version):
By Rick Carpiniello
FORWARDS: If, if, if, if.
The Rangers’ forward group will be better – and really, it must – if Brad Richards bounces back from the worst season of his career; if Derick Brassard proves he can be a top-six NHL player; if Rick Nash is the player he was last regular season, and not the one he was in the playoffs; if Ryan Callahan can stay on the ice; if a J.T. Miller or a Jesper Fast or another rookie not currently on the roster can make the jump and contribute.
If they can score goals minus two-time 40-goal scorer Marian Gaborik, whom they sent to Columbus at the trade deadline. If they can somehow even be a middle-of-the-pack power play.
The Rangers’ bottom six were far worse last season than they were the season before, and should be better this time around with one or two of those rookies, with Dominic Moore centering the fourth line, with Derek Dorsett backing up Arron Asham’s muscle, with two-way winger Benoit Pouliot’s arrival. But we thought the bottom six last season was going to be better than the season before … and it sure wasn’t.
Then the top six went south, too, with Richards and Gaborik, two-thirds of the top line, performing terribly.
Brian Boyle needs to be better offensively, and in his consistency, so does Taylor Pyatt. Benoit Pouliot should help in both ends of the rink, too. Mats Zuccarello, who was an important addition near the trade deadline last season, needs to produce offense. Carl Hagelin, who will miss at least 10 games after summer shoulder surgery, too.
There is potential for this to be a decent corps of 12. There is also potential for it to be a weakness compared to the top contenders in the NHL. We’ll see. If.
DEFENSEMEN: With Marc Staal – back from two nightmarish seasons in which he missed half a season with a concussion and then suffered a frightening eye injury the following year – this has a chance to be one of the deepest defense groups in the league.
You know exactly what you will get from Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, the shutdown pair, though you wonder if Girardi’s DNA is going to allow him to pull up instead of diving in front of frozen pucks every night. Staal will play, at least at the start, with Micheal Del Zotto, who, the theory goes, should benefit from new coach Alain Vigneault’s looser reins. Del Zotto, a lefty shot, will play the right side because the Rangers are thin there, and because he can.
Anton Stralman made huge strides last season, and is on the third pair with John Moore, whose skating reminds everybody of McDonagh, but who still has a lot to prove. When all is said and done, Moore could tip last season’s Marian Gaborik-for-Brassard/Dorsett/Moore deal heavily in the Rangers’ favor. Justin Falk is the spare D-man, and Conor Allen opened eyes and is an injury recall away in Hartford.
Though there isn’t a pure offensive defenseman in the group, and though there isn’t one of them with a bomb from the point, The entire defense is going to be more involved in the offense.
GOALTENDERS: Henrik Lundqvist is going to see more rubber this season, there’s not much doubt about that. He won’t have his teammates going all-in to block every shot under Vigneault as they did under John Tortorella.
It’s a contract year for Lundqvist, too. You’d probably expect that he will be highly motivated to be The Man again, to be one of the best in the world at his position. But really he’s a guy who doesn’t seem to ever need any extra motivation.
Martin Biron, after a luke-warm competition for the backup job, is still one of the best in the biz in that understudy role. He will probably get around 20 starts.
COACHES: There’s a lot less tension now that Tortorella is in Vancouver, and system-wise the Rangers will look significantly different under Vigneault, though it’s not going to be the run-and-gun some envision.
Vigneault, without question, is a very good, proven NHL coach. Whether he’s the right coach for this group remains to be seen, or proven. He has put together an interesting staff, too, with Scott Arniel taking over the terrible power play, and ex-Ranger Ulf Samuelsson running the defense and the penalty kill, and another ex-Ranger, Dan Lacroix added to the staff with holdover goalie coach Benoit Allaire.
PREDICTION: Second in the Metropolitan (gag) Division, fifth in the East.