Monday, March 7, 2011

Rangers Analysis: Preaching Patience on Artem Anisimov

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Frustration and impatience with young players who take some time to develop is nothing new for New York Rangers fans.  One of the targets for the frustration and impatience for many fans has been second year forward Artem Anisimov.  The 22-year-old center has 16 goals and 19 assists in 68 games this season, which puts him on pace for 19-23-42 which is a very respectable second year and a 50% jump in all statistical categories.  Even with those facts many have been very willing to include him in trade talks for Brad Richards or immediately deem him the odd-man out if Richards were to join the Rangers this summer.  I know it is difficult to have patience with young players, especially when it seems other guys are making the transition easier, but it is time we have some for Anisimov.

I don’t see Anisimov as an expendable piece, but as an asset that if given time and patience will develop into a solid second line center capable of 60 point seasons.  He has already exhibited an ability to play against opposing teams top lines have done so in large doses this season and he equated himself nicely.  There is no denying that after the hot start his game and the entire line of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan dipped in their production, but it seems in many respects the first one who got the attention for the decline was Artem. 

Today the hoopla is with Ryan Callahan, as it should be, courtesy of his four goal game yesterday, but what gets lost in that performance is just how well Anisimov has been playing of late and that his offense is coming back around.  Since the passing of the trade deadline and the end to the rumors of him being dealt Anisimov has three goals and one assist in four games.  I am not here to excuse his lack of offensive production before the deadline as solely related to the rumors, but with a young player who already has admitted to confidence issues in the past, the rumors can have an impact on the ice.  The key difference I see in Anisimov over the past week as opposed to before is that he is back to aggressively skating the puck to the net.  The goals he scored against Ottawa and Philly were both on drives to the net in which he used his skill to beat the goaltenders. 

Just as impressive as those two plays were, the one that shows the confidence was one he did not score on yesterday.  In the third period, with the game well in hand, Anisimov came down the right side on a 2-on-1 with Brandon Dubinsky and instead of deferring and looking for the pass he drove the net looking for his own offense.  Those are the kind of developmental things that need to be seen from Anisimov in order to continue believing not only that the potential exists, but that he will get there. 

He has not shown enough of that offensive aggressiveness this season, at least on a consistent basis, in part because he seems so focused on being defensively responsible.  His attention to the other side of the ice is admirable in a player of his age and at this stage of development, and one he is not given enough credit for by the fans.  That focus does remove aggressiveness from looking for his offense and then it snowballs back to his confidence level.  The Rangers already do this, but mostly when players are injured, but with a player like Anisimov, who has admitted to confidence issues in the past, maybe using him more frequently on the penalty kill would help in terms of both confidence and focus.  This is one approach that seems to have helped without young players around the league in keeping them engaged in the game and keeping an aggressive mentality.

There are obviously things that Anisimov must work on his game, most notably his strength, faceoff ability and consistency on the offensive side of the ice.  The strides he has made from year one to this season give strong hope for what the future holds for Artem and his work ethic makes me believe that he will get there.  The consistency with offense is something he has to learn and before he gets written off, let us remember that Brandon Dubinsky, the team’s leading scorer this season put up nearly identical numbers point totals to those that Anisimov is on pace for, though with less goal scoring touch (13-28-41).  Anisimov is clearly a work in progress and it will take time and patience for him to reach that ultimate level, but I believe it will be worth the wait when he puts it altogether and starts playing consistently how he can in spurts right now.

Tell me what you think: Is it worth the wait?

Rangers Have Taken Back Control Of Own Playoff Destiny

When the New York Rangers lost their third straight at home earlier this week not only had they lost a chance at points once again, but they had lost all control over their playoff destiny.  With their wins against Ottawa and Philadelphia the past few days the team has taken destiny back in its own hands to a large extent.  In these final fourteen games the only team currently outside the playoffs that can beat out the Rangers if they take care of their own business is the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Canes currently sit three points behind New York with two games in hand.  Here is a breakdown of the schedules of the top five contenders for the last two spots in the East.

Current Points
Games Remaining
Vs. Current Playoff Teams
New York
New Jersey

New York obviously has the fewest amount of games of any these teams remaining, but then again they have the most points and points in the bank are always better than just having extra games.  On paper Buffalo appears to have the easiest schedule playing only seven opponents currently in the playoffs and the most games. Toronto appears to have the toughest road with points to make up, a tough schedule and few home games. As I said though, these last fourteen games are not about any other team, they are about the Rangers handling their own business. If New York plays with the same mindset they have in these last two they will do that despite a pretty tough schedule.

The Rangers schedule feature seven games against playoff teams with San Jose, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Boston twice, Buffalo and rematch with Flyers. Beyond those games they play the red-hot Devils, two games against the improving Islanders and their next bout comes against a very good Anaheim team who is their own playoff battle.  There really are only three games the team should lock in and likely count if they show up that night: Ottawa, Florida and Atlanta, then again the Rangers have shown there is no such thing as a lock of a win.  If the team handles their business in those three, they likely have to find five more wins in those other 11 games to get to 90 points.  The task is no slam dunk and the playoffs are not guaranteed, but with the huge confidence boost of not only beating the Flyers, but the way they did, destiny is back under their control.