Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rangers Finally Found Right Tough Guy in Mike Rupp

The New York Rangers have invested big money in each of the past three offseasons, trying to find a heavyweight who can both fight and bring toughness to the team.

The first experiment was with Donald Brashear in 2009. That failed in record time, and the Rangers ended up trading him the following summer just to eliminate his contract from the books. The following summer saw the Rangers give noted fighter Derek Boogaard a four-year, $6.5 million contract. Boogaard’s first season with the Rangers was not what anyone hoped. He died in May of an accidental overdose of oxycodone and alcohol, so we will never know what could have changed over the course of his contract. But the fit never felt quite right.

With the loss of Boogaard, Rangers general manager Glen Sather took another swing at finding the heavyweight he has been searching for. Sather signed center Mike Rupp away from the Penguins to a three-year, $4.5 million contract.

After only one preseason game, Friday night's 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils, it appears Sather finally has gotten the right guy for the job. The differences in what Rupp brings to the team were apparent immediately Friday night at Newark.

Rupp has the skating ability to keep up with the play, which allows him to be the intimidating force by using his body to punish the opposition. Rupp took each and every opportunity he had to deliver a hit, and the effectiveness he has will play well with coach John Tortorella’s fore-checking approach to create offense for Rupp’s linemates.

Beyond that, Rupp is known for ability in front to screen and pester opposing goaltenders, which is something that the Rangers have not been good at over the past few seasons. If Rupp can not only add that for himself but also teach players such as Brian Boyle how to do the same, it can pay dividends throughout the lineup.

The biggest complaint that most people had about Boogaard, besides his contract, was that he did not have that instinct to protect his teammates in the same way that a Colton Orr did. Boogaard would fight any heavyweight out there but was reluctant to fight smaller guys. That left the protection duties mainly to Brandon Prust.

Rupp, meanwhile, has no hesitation to defend his teammates from whomever as he showed Friday night when New Jersey’s Eric Boulton was taking some liberties. Rupp immediately took action in a great fight. That instinct from Rupp will make Prust one of the biggest beneficiaries because Prust’s surgically repaired shoulder will need to do less fighting.

The past two years, Rangers fans have had their frustrations with the amount of money Sather has given out to enforcers. But Sather has made the right decision this summer in giving the money to a tough guy who brings more to the ice than just fighting ability. Rupp’s combination of some/limited offensive contribution, fit for the Tortorella system and instincts to defend his teammates make him a great fit for New York.