Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rangers Home Opener October 27 Against Toronto

Tomorrow at 2pm the full schedule for the New York Rangers 2011-12 season will come out.  In the meantime the schedule is leaking out one game at a time.  Already knowing the season will open in Sweden against the Los Angeles Kings on October 7 and San Jose on October 8along with the Winter Classic on January 2nd.

Today the New York Rangers announced that for the second straight season the home opener will be against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Does that guarantee that Brad Richards will be in attendance either way?

2011 Draft: Tyler Biggs Has The Size But Does He Have The Upside To Right For Rangers?

The 2011 draft is only two days away, and the Rangers scouting and front office staff is looking through many prospects to see who they want to select with the 15th overall selection.  With the current state of the Rangers defense both at the NHL and prospect level one would expect that New York will look for offense in the first round of the draft hoping to find an impact scorer.  There are a number of offensive prospects that could be available at 15.  We have already looked at Mark Scheifele, Mark McNeill, Zack Phillips, Joel Armia, Sven Bartschi, Ty Rattie, Matt Peumpel, Vladislav Namestnikov and Rocco Grimaldi for their potential fits for the Rangers.
One name that has been connected to the New York Rangers quite a bit recently is Tyler Biggs of the US National Development Team.  Being 6’2” and 210 pounds there is a natural reason to connect him to the Rangers as they need size in the organization and a power forward for the future.  He has shown a willingness to play in the dirty areas and uses his size in front.
Beyond his sheer size, Biggs is most known for his leadership abilities and willingness to stand up for his teammates.  Those are both excellent qualities to have in a young player, but they don’t necessarily make a player worthy of the #15 pick in the draft.  There are concerns about his hands and ability to score which have some questioning what the upside is for him offensively.
Jess Rubenstein of The Prospect Park thinks that Biggs is the perfect complement to a line with Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan down the line.  I have great respect for Jess and the work he does in understanding so many prospects in the organization and the draft process, but I think it is a little early to start drafting for the possibility of pairing Biggs with Kreider and Stepan.  If he is the best player on the board, then take him and hope for the combination to develop down the road, but you cannot start taking for need and hoping the player develops into what you think he can become.
Scouts Take:
Biggs certainly merits consideration as a prospect due to his size, physical play, skating ability and determination. It’s difficult though to see him as a first rounder since he does not possess the offensive skills that would be worthy of such a high pick. Biggs may only top out as a 15-20 goal guy who can provide some grit and nastiness which fits nicely on some clubs but the ceiling doesn’t seem high enough to justify anything other than the second round.
25. Tyler Biggs, RW U.S. NTDP (USHL) 6-2, 210 04/30/1993
Victimized by unrealistic expectations, Biggs could end up proving a lot of the critics wrong. We don't buy into the belief that he killed his stock at the World Under-18 tourney- we just don't feel that it was as high with the NHL teams out there as Central scouting led everyone to believe when they ranked him fifth overall among North American skaters on their midterm list. He lives up to his last name- a powerful skater and battering ram who plays the game like a legitimate power forward. When Biggs is on top of his game, he bulls his way to the net, spins and cycles effortlessly while protecting the puck from defenders powerless to separate him from it, and unleashes a rocket shot that is heavy and hurts. Unfortunately, scouts are unsure of his hockey sense and ability to create for himself. That's one of those aspects of hockey that is extremely tough to project and Biggs could very well end up being a legitimate top-six forward someday- he can skate, hit and fight. But there are enough concerns about his upside that keep him from being a top-20 guy in our view. However, he is extremely close- the margin between his not making the cut is razor-thin as any one of the players ahead of him at 21-24 could all make the case to be inside the top-20. He's a good player, but how good is the big question on draft day.
The Rangers do need size in their lineup and a big bodied power forward is something the organization has been looking to find for a long time now, which makes Biggs an intriguing possibility, but just not the right choice at #15.  When picking #15 there should be more upside to a player than there is with Biggs.  It is certainly possible that like with most bigger players it will take him longer to put the total package together and going to the University of Miami is an excellent move for him, but there should be players on the board with more to get than him in that spot.  If the Rangers can move down a little in the first and gain something for it, then taking Biggs would not seem like the stretch it feels like in this spot.
Biggs was the instant selection when I asked The Prospect Park’s Jess Rubenstein about his thoughts on the draft a couple of days ago, citing Biggs’ ability to come up big in key games as one particular reason for his choice. It’s hard to argue either; Biggs has competed in two Under-18 World Championships, winning gold in 2010 and ’11, scoring a crucial overtime winner, his second of the night, against Canada in the semi-finals this year.
I love the leadership aspect of Biggs’ game, but I’d personally like to see the Rangers go with a higher offensive ceiling when picking amongst the likes of Armia, Baertschi, McNeill and Scheifele. The Rangers have grinders, guys that lay it all on the line for the cause, and though you can never have enough of a good thing it’s hard to pass on more talented guys should they be available.

Were Del Zotto Struggles Key Component of Gaborik Down Season?

In a season of pleasant surprises for the New York Rangers, Michael Del Zotto and Marian Gaborik stand out as the two most disappointing players from the 2010-11 season.  Maybe then it should come as no surprise that Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark draws a link between the struggles of one and the down season for the other.  According to Andrew Gross over at Ranger Rants that is exactly what Clark did in previewing the upcoming NHL draft.
“I clearly think it hurt Gaborik. This was the guy hitting him for a lot of those breakaway passes. Gabby never got into tip-top shape. And when he came back, Michael was not into the groove of his game.”
The idea of Del Zotto not being able to connect with and spring Gaborik for breakaways is something that cannot be discounted in the struggles of the Rangers sniper.  There were certainly issues with the way Gaborik skated last season in allowing himself to be checked easier by staying to the outside, but this has merit as well.  The reason for the merit is not just the potential goals that Gaborik could have gotten from the passes if they connected, but the confidence that comes with putting the puck in the net more consistently.  For Gaborik the lack of results became a confidence problem and only furthered the lack of results in terms of goal scoring.  It became a cycle within itself and had a large impact on why he had a disappointing second season on Broadway.  This view from Clark is yet another reason it is too early to throw in the towel on Del Zotto because of how important a skilled puck-moving defender can be everyone around him.

In terms of Del Zotto himself, Clark was optimistic in how he will respond to the struggles of his second season with the Rangers.
“It seems he got in a little bit of a rut,” Clark said. “Going to the minors is never a bad idea. I know players don’t like it. He clearly would have been back up (to the NHL) but, two or three games in (the second time Del Zotto was sent to Connecticut), he breaks his thumb. The games he did play down there, he was a dominant player in the AHL. He’ll come back. He’s a competitive kid. When you can find a guy who can move a puck like that, there’s always a job in the NHL.”
That is great to hear especially with the rumors and questions about Del Zotto’s conditioning and work ethic that have swirled around.  The competitive nature of a person is tested most in the struggles and if Del Zotto uses the struggles of his second season as motivation to prove all the doubters wrong, then the Rangers are going to get a heck of a turnaround year from an immensely talented defender.  The person who might benefit most from that is Marian Gaborik.

Be sure to check out Ranger Rants to see what Gordie Clark had to say in previewing this year's draft.Del Zotto 

Rangers Need To Avoid Reverting To Obsession With Big Names

After missing the playoffs in 2009-10 season and looking at a summer where there was little to no money under the cap the expectations for New York Rangers fans were minimal in what the team would do.  The 2010-11 season saw the Rangers have career seasons from half the roster and incorporate numerous rookies into the NHL. The combination of hope that gave the fans about their individual futures and the fact the Rangers now have money has had the mentality of going after whatever big name is available return to the conversation this summer.
There is no doubt that the time will come where the Rangers will have to bring in pieces, through free agency and/or trade, in order to get over the hump and win a championship.  Despite the best efforts of many to convince otherwise, this is not that time.  New York is not one player away from winning a title next season, especially if bringing in that player slows the development of other pieces that the Rangers need to grow to be legitimate contenders. 
As fans there is the natural overvaluing and over-attachment to the players that are on your team.  There is also the overvaluing and assumption of what a player from outside can do for your team.  Brad Richards, Paul Stastny, Jason Spezza are all elite talents that can help a team be better, but the cost for each is high in different ways. 
For Richards the concern is not about the money, but the number of years you are paying that kind of salary to him.  With Stastny it is a combination of the cost and paying it off a down season to have another player making an elite salary who while an All-Star is not a star caliber player.  On Spezza you get an elite talent, but asset cost would like you end up with the Rangers having to cut deep into the depth they have built to make the deal.  If you could get Richards for three or four seasons, then you make the deal.  If Stastny or Spezza came at salary dump prices, then you are having different discussions.  The problem is none of those are going to happen.
The Rangers can make any of these moves and likely be a better team today, but the point of the rebuilding process was to have sustainable long-term success and not sacrifice it all for one shot.  We all want another Stanley Cup title in New York, but there is this urge to hit the panic button and go back to the old ways of chasing the biggest name at all costs instead of sticking with the system that has given the fans more reason to hope than in many years.
There is no reason that another year of development to see what the team really has in Anisimov, Stepan, Kreider, and Thomas, then make the decision as to where the holes are to be filled as you continue to have the reinforcements added from within.  It will take a combination of your own talent and outside pieces to win a championship so there is nothing that says this summer has to be the moment the Rangers look to buy the big name when the rest aren’t ready for prime time yet.  Trust the process and don’t look for the shortcut.  The quick fix is what got the Rangers into this mess over a decade and it will take time to be really ready to be out of it.  No reason to jump right back in with huge contracts in the hopes that they bring a title.