Alas, my friends, the time has come. Nearly four months after the brisk chills of autumn were supposed to signify the beginning of the greatest season of them all, the skates have finally been sharpened, the twigs taped, and the pucks readied for dropping. The return of bone-crushing hits, wicked wristers, blazing speed, stacked pads, breathtaking breakaways, blocked shots, bottle-popping one-timers, odd-man rushes and ridiculous dangles is mere hours away.
Still, for fans of the New York Rangers there is something more to the start of this abbreviated season than just hope and optimism- there is an expectation.
For behind their young captain who leads by example with every shift, a world class goaltender who provides the chance to steal two points on any given night, and a demanding, stubborn, and motivated head coach, the Broadway Blueshirts have developed something they spent nearly a decade devoid of- an identity. When a team is matched up against Torts’ minions, they know that they’re in for a war. Every loose puck will be a battle. The Rangers will skate hard, they are going to hit you, they’re going to block shots, and they’re going to make you work for every inch of ice.
If they falter, hey, they always have that Swedish guy between the pipes.
With that kind of attitude (and goaltending), a shiny new elite-level sniper, and players who have committed to their coach’s philosophies, New York is now an undeniable force in the National Hockey League, and a team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations.
Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2012-2013 New York Rangers…
First, lets get a quick recap of the team’s off-season additions and subtractions.
ADDITIONS:LW Rick Nash (CLB), RW Arron Asham (PIT), C Jeff Halpern (WAS), LW Taylor Pyatt (PHO)
SUBTRACTIONS: C Artem Anisimov (CLB), C/LW Brandon Dubinsky (CLB), D Tim Erixon (CLB), C John Mitchell (COL), LW Brandon Prust (MON), RW Ruslan Fedotenko (PHI)
Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan “C”, Marian Gaborik, Carl Hagelin, Jeff Halpern, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards “A”, Mike Rupp, Derek Stepan
#45 Arron Asham
11/12 stats: (In PIT) 5G, 11A= 16 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 3G, 7A = 10 points
Asham, whom Sather signed to a 2-year deal this off-season, is more renowned around the NHL for the use of his fists than his skills with a stick. His presence on the 4th line will serve as a deterrent, preventing other teams taking liberties with NYR’s best players. But Ash is no Donald Brashear, and when not mixing it up, he is capable of skating a productive shift. In the 8 seasons in which he has played at least 48 games, he has chipped a total 76 goals- not bad for an enforcer.
#22 Brian Boyle
11/12 stats: 11G, 15 A = 26 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 10G, 8A = 18 points
After breaking out with 21 goals in 2010-11, Boyle failed to replicate his success for much of last year. A (frustratingly) gentle giant at 6’7/244lb, BB skates well for a big man, but netted just 6 tallies in 73 games last year before scoring 5 times in his last 9 matches. Beloved by Torts for his attitude, work ethic, and penalty killing, NYR brass hope the former 1st round draft pick can find some offensive consistency anchoring the 3rd line.
#24 Ryan Callahan
11/12 stats: 29G, 25A = 54 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 16G, 18A= 34 points
Captain Ryan “The Right Way” Callahan takes his job, and his nickname, very seriously. While some worried that the added weight of that stitched “C” on his jersey may hurt his play, the 26-year old instead used this new responsibility as motivation. No player better exemplifies the character, attitude, and overall identity that the Rangers have developed. Cally has never taken a shift off, hits everything in sight, scores clutch goals, and blocks howitzers in the defensive zone. After notching 29 goals last season (including a team-leading 13PPG), the Rangers hope Cally is just beginning to tap into his offensive potential. This guy is the heart and soul of the Rangers.
#10 Marian Gaborik
11/12 stats: 41G, 35A = 76 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 23G, 20A = 43 points
After a season of injuries and inconsistencies, Gaborik regained his game-breaking form last season, scoring 40+ goals for the second time in three seasons as a Ranger. There is little question that, when healthy, Gabo remains one of the game’s finest goal-scorers. After failing to mesh as anticipated with Brad Richards, he found some nice chemistry with Derek Stepan, alongside whom he is likely to start the season on line 1B. Just as important, the Slovak Sniper managed to stay (relatively) healthy, appearing in all 102 games (incl. playoffs) NYR played last year. After surgery on a torn labrum that limited his effectiveness in the postseason, Gabby has had time to heal and is ready to go. Do not underestimate the impact of Rick Nash’s arrival on Gaborik’s game, as other teams will now have to decide which line to match their top defensive pair against.
#62 Carl Hagelin
11/12 stats: 14G, 24A = 38 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 9G, 15A = 24 points
This kid can flat out FLY. Every time this guy carries the puck, or even races towards it for that matter, the Garden crowd buzzes as those glorious blonde locks flow through the air behind him. The former University of Michigan captain impressed after his call-up with his speed, hockey sense, board work, and 2-way play. Though he lacks some finish, and seemed to tire toward season’s end and through the playoffs (just 3 assists in 17 games), Hags will likely start the season on line 1A alongside Brad Richards and Rick Nash with the sole purpose of winning puck races and dishing to his linemates. Still, Hagelin is skilled enough to capitalize on rebounds and the open space he’s bound to have in the offensive zone.
#15 Jeff Halpern
11/12 stats: (In WAS) 4G, 12A = 16 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 3G, 6A = 9points
Given a 1-year, 700K contract, signing Halpern was a smart, very low risk maneuver by Sather. A responsible 2-way player, Halpy is certain to fill the shoes of Fedotenko on the PK, and his prowess in the face-off circle is something that the Rangers sorely missed last season.
#20 Chris Kreider
Projected 12/13 stats: 12G, 10A = 22 points
Potential can be an ugly word for Ranger fans to hear (i.e. Pavol Brendl, Jamie Lundmark, Christian Dube, Daniel Goneau, Hugh Jessiman, Josef Balej… ok you get the point), but Kreider is oozing with it. Fresh off leading Boston College to an NCAA Div-1 title, Kreider was thrown into the middle of a playoff run and riveted the Garden Faithful with a 5-goals in 18 big-league tilts. While he has a nose for the net and an impressive knack for lighting the lamp, CK must improve his play away from the puck in order to receive the ice time he desires. Early lineup projections have the kid slated for the 3rd line playing with Boyle and newcomer Taylor Pyatt. If that is the case, don’t expect gaudy numbers from the rookie. If he impresses early, he should get a chance to shine with the big guns as a top-6 weapon. On the other hand, lazy, uninspiring efforts (as was sometimes the case in Hartford during the lockout) could lead a big set back in his development.
#61 Rick Nash
11/12 stats: (In CLB) 30G, 29A = 59 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 24G, 21A = 45 points
Age: 28. Seasons played: Nine. 30 goal seasons: Five. 40 goal seasons: Two. Playoff games played: Four. First-line level centers played with: Zero. To quote John Tortorella, “I think we have him at a perfect time, perfect age. He was a hell of a player in Columbus. This is a different stage right now. I think this is perfect timing for Nash and the Ranger organization to have him here.” At the peak of his career and hungry for success, Nash will finally get the chance to play with the elite, play-making center of his dreams in Brad Richards, and a team that is ready, willing, and able to win. #61’s arrival should make New York’s struggling power play a force to be reckoned with, and I don’t envy teams that must choose between matching lines against Nash or Gaborik. This is a match made in heaven.
#14 Taylor Pyatt
11/12 stats: (in PHO) 9G 10A = 19 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 6G, 9A = 15 points
Five years removed from a 23-goal season in Vancouver, Pyatt’s best offensive days are likely behind him. Still, this is a responsible, hard-working forward who will fit right in with this team’s identity, and hopefully make up for some of the spark lost with Brandon Prust’s departure. While Taylor doesn’t kill penalties, his 6’4 frame is ideal for the grinding, relentless fore-checking type game at which the Rangers excel.
He will be counted on to provide the Rangers with some depth scoring from the 3rd line.
#19 Brad Richards
11/12 stats: 25G, 41A = 66 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 15G, 31A = 46 points
While Richards’ 66 points were modest for somebody with a $6.66Mil cap hit, Richards’ first season on Broadway was far from a bust. While the anticipated chemistry with Gaborik never materialized, Richards still managed to be a difference maker in most games, potting nine clutch game-winning goals (not to mention a memorable goal to tie Game 5 vs. Washington). Additionally, his leadership in the locker room last season is well documented, from the introduction of the Broadway Hat to his influence on the resurgence of Michael Del Zotto. With the pressures of his first season in NY behind him, and another chance to mesh with an elite scorer in Rick Nash (who seems to fit his style better than Gaborik), Richards should become an elite point-getter once again.
11/12 stats: 4G, 1A = 5 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 2G, 1A =3 points
This. Mike Rupp has filled his quota as a New York Ranger. Fully healed from a lingering knee injury, look for Rupp to get back to his physical, face-pounding ways.
#21 Derek Stepan
11/12 stats: 17G, 34A = 58 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 11G, 19A = 30 points
To the relief and pleasure of Ranger Nation, Derek avoided the sophomore slump and went on to have a very solid 2011/12 season. Stepan has an extra level of hockey sense and impeccable vision on the ice. He has the ability to not only see plays developing ahead of time, but the skill to get the puck to the open area. These attributes make him an ideal linemate for Gaborik, as the kid is able to find the sniper in prime scoring positions in the offensive end. Derek cannot afford to take a step back this year if New York hopes to make the most of their impressive top-6. For more on Derek and his importance to the Rangers success this season, I refer you to this article by Ranger Nation’s Glen Miller: http://nyrnation.net/derek-stepan-needs-to-step-up-this-season/.
CALL UPS: Brandon Segal, J.T. Miller, Michael Haley, Christian Thomas
Stu Bickel, Michael Del Zotto, Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal “A”, Anton Stralman
#41 Stu Bickel
11/12 stats: 0G, 9A = 9 points
Projected 09/10 stats: 1G, 3A = 4 points
The team’s #1 cheerleader… from the bench… down the stretch and through the playoffs, Bickel stood in admirably when called upon as an injury replacement last season. His shining moment, aside from starting his career with points in three straight games, was taking part in the 6-man line brawl to begin a March 19 game against the Devils. Always willing to drop the gloves, Bickel will likely split time in the press box with Matt Gilroy and Steve Eminger.
#4 Michael Del Zotto
Projected 12/13 stats: 7G, 18A = 25 points
Remember Michael “Del Zaster”? Yeah, me neither. Starting his 4th pro season at just 22 years of age, DZ posted 41 points (18th among NHL defensemen) and an eye-opening +20 (25th league-wide) last season. Decisive with the puck, and a physical force against those who carry it into his territory, the kid is once again a key cog in the Rangers vaulted young blueline. He will also get lots of PP time with the first unit, which will give him the opportunity to take his statistics to new heights. With the ink still drying on his fresh 2-year $5.1mil deal, Del Zotto will be expected to elevate his game even further on both ends of the rink.
#44 Steve Eminger
11/12 stats: 2G, 3A = 5 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 1G, 2A= 3 points
The veteran on the Rangers’ blueline at the ripe old age of 29, Eminger is a steady, serviceable, but not spectacular defenseman. Scratched for much of the playoff run after an injury-riddled season, Eminger will battle Gilroy and possibly Bickel for a spot on the third D-pairing.
#97 Matt Gilroy
11/12 stats: (In TB/OTT) 3G, 17A = 20 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 3G, 7A = 10 points
Gilroy is my personal favorite to win the last spot on the third D-pairing over Eminger and Bickel, largely due to his versatility. The former Hobey Baker Award winner for Best College Player provides the Rangers with some depth on both sides of the bench, and still has some untapped potential. He could turn out to be a pleasant surprise on the back end.
#5 Dan Girardi
Projected 12/13 stats: 4G, 12A = 16 points
When Superman goes to sleep at night, he puts on his Dan Girardi pajamas. The guy finished last season #2 in icetime per game league wide. Top-5 in blocked shots. Top-25 in hits. He goes toe-to-toe with the league’s best every night, takes and receives a beating, takes a quick breather and goes at it again. If Callahan represents the heart and soul of this team with his play as a forward, Dan Girardi is the… achem… guts. His play and character epitomizes what the New York Rangers stand for. Arguably the most important player last year, Girardi will be asked to at least replicate his all-star season. After going for 12 points in 20 playoff games, perhaps there is more offensive upside to his game than initially thought.
#27 Ryan McDonagh
11/12 stats: 7G, 25A = 32 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 5G, 14A = 19 points
For Scott Gomez? Really? Wait… he was a throw-in in that deal? That’s just not OK. Mac Truck is only 23 years old and he’s already an elite NHL defenseman. Thrust onto the top pairing with the injury to Marc Staal, MCD teamed up with Girardi to become the league’s best shutdown pairing while managing to show some impressive offensive flair. Unfazed by the massive minutes and responsibilities on his shoulders, Ranger Nation just has to hope his body can take the wear and tear. An excellent skater who is calm and skillful with the puck at both ends of the ice, look for Mac to continue his development into a perennial Norris Trophy candidate.
#6 Wade Redden
#36 Michael Sauer
11/12 stats: 19GP, 1G, 2A = 3 points
Projected 12/13 stats: N/A
It’s unfair to witness such a promising career get derailed due to the effects of a lingering concussion. A smart, rugged, simple-play making blueliner, Sauer is a true, steady rock to have on the back-end. Unfortunately, a heavy hit put on him by Dion “Sloppy Seconds” Phaneuf knocked him out cold, and he has remained out of the lineup ever since. Rumors persist about small improvements in his health, but he has been all but ruled out for this entire season. Concussions are tricky injuries, the effects of which can change very quickly, but Sauer’s career resuming has to be very doubtful at this point in time.
#18 Marc Staal
Projected 12/13 stats: 3G, 11A = 14 points
After returning from a concussion of his own for the Winter Classic, it took Staal a couple of months to regain his form and catch up to game speed. However, come playoff time, Staal was arguably New York’s best defensive defenseman. While some of his offensive skills took a back seat during his comeback, both he and Torts have spoken about regaining the confidence to move up ice without sacrificing his play in his own end. Nonetheless, a full year with a healthy Marc Staal gives the Rangers anther stalwart minutes-eater on D.
#6 (NEW NUMBER) Anton Stralman
11/12 stats: 2G, 16A = 18 points
Projected 12/13 stats: 3G, 9A = 12 points
A pleasant early-season free agent singing after the injury bug bit the Blueshirts, Stralman proved to be a reliable third pairing player with some offensive punch. Though vulnerable to lapses in defensive coverage, (and being told by Torts on 24/7 to motivate himself), the Swede earned a two year extension with his steady play throughout the season and into the playoffs. If he can give Torts quality minutes on the third pair, the Rangers will be in very good shape.
CALL UPS: Dylan McIlrath
#43 Martin Biron
11/12 stats: 21GP, 12-6-2, 2.46 GAA, .904SV%, 2 SO
Projected 12/13 stats: 11 GP 7-3-1, 2.55 GAA, .904SV%, 1SO
Biron is the most important Blueshirt who nobody is talking about. He is valuable not only in that he provides the Rangers with a body capable of substituting in for Henrik once in a while, but he allows the Rangers to do so without throwing two points out the window. Marty is a more than capable backup who has the full confidence of his coaches, fans, and teammates… and he has earned that trust with (mostly) great play between the pipes. If he can continue to play around a quarter of the schedule (especially with the games condensed in lieu of the lockout), Lundqvist will be that much fresher for the games that matter.
#30 Henrik Lundqvist
Projected 12/13 stats: 37GP 22-11-4, 2.15 GAA, .922 SV%, 4 SO
Not sure why we call him “The King”? Well, this guy is really good at hockey. 4th in the league in Goals Against Average. 3rd in the league in Save Percentage. 3rd in Wins. 3rd in Shutouts. Lundqvist collected his first career Vezina Trophy as the league’s most outstanding goaltender with good reason. (Don’t forget, he was also a Hart Trophy (MVP) candidate). A big reason the Rangers can hit the ice with such confidence every night is because they know that if they do slip for some reason, if coverage falters, if the puck takes a bad bounce, Henrik Lundqvist will be there to cover up their mistakes and thwart the opposition. His penalty shot save in the Winter Classic was as clutch as they come. The guy loves to win, and the bad taste of last year’s defeat will be sure to stick with him, and the rest of his squad, through this season and into the playoffs. A condensed schedule is never ideal for a goaltender, but should the Rangers stumble out of the gate they will be sure to lean heavily on the Swede- and they will need him to be at the top of his game. Judging by his performance in Atlantic City, reports from training camp, and the words of his teammates, he seems to be in mid-season form. The fact remains that with King Henrik between the pipes, the Rangers have a chance to win every game they play.
Let the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup Begin!
PREDICTION: 29-14-5, 63 points
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