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The New York Rangers have been very fortunate this season with the play of their rookies as they boast four that are critical to the stretch run for the playoffs. As important as Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh will be down the stretch clearly Derek Stepan and Michael Sauer have been the best Rangers rookies for the length of the season. Much praise has been levied on Derek Stepan for his work this year and this team has needed all 18 of his goals and 39 of his points with their struggles to find offense, but Michael Sauer is the Rangers’ rookie of the year.
What differentiates Sauer from Stepan is the consistency for me. Stepan has had some great games, some huge goals, but his game has seen huge peaks and valleys while Sauer has been there each game and doing nothing but elevating his game as the season has gone along. Rising from a question mark to even make the squad to a top four defender capable of playing against the top players on any team and in any situation. Where would this team be without his ability to step into a top four role and be the steady force he has been all season? I cannot answer that definitively but I would garner to guess they would not be in the playoff position they are right now and they would not have been able to pull the trigger on the trade to acquire Wolski because the would have been Rozsival too much.
The 23-year-old defenseman is not the flashiest player by any means, and his offensive numbers will not win him any accolades around the league or even buzz for the Calder, but watch him every night and you will appreciate just how special he has been this year. The numbers themselves are: two goals, eight assists and a plus 15 in 17:04 of ice time per game. I would argue that he has been the Rangers most consistent player game in and game out at any position.
From the opening game of the season Sauer has given the Rangers tremendous defensive awareness, positioning and attention to the basics. Along with those things he has given the team a defender that loves to hit, clears the crease and fights to defend himself and his teammates, which is all you can ask for in a shutdown defender.
Not only Sauer been consistent from game to game but with each passing game there is added confidence and skill on the ice. Last night was a perfect example of how his game has evolved over the course of the season and how the confidence has only increased his value to the Rangers. On both goals it was Sauer adding to his offense which created them. On the first goal he pinched down the wall and kept the play alive and on the second he pinched down into the slot and was there ready to shoot the puck. If Sauer can continue to grow the offensive side of the game, not just in terms of points but how brilliantly he is reading the play and deciding when to pinch his value to this club will only grow.