Saturday, December 18, 2010

Which New York Rangers Make Up The Core?

The New York Rangers seem to have different buzz words every year and one for this year appears to be “core.”  I hear the term core so much watching and listening to Rangers games that I feel like the 2009 playoffs and I am waiting for Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, and Posada to come out.  For the most part the use of the core terminology has been used to refer to the Ranger home grown and specifically younger players.  I am not going to stick to those guidelines, but I am going to pick the guys I believe will make up the core of the Rangers not just this year, but going forward.  There are players I will leave off the list who will likely be here for a while, but to me these are the guys that right now have to be a part of this team and I am going to cap it at eight guys though there are three others I think right on the verge of being there.  To be crystal clear I am going to put them in my order of selection starting with the first guy I take.

Henrik Lundqvist: Though teams have proven over the last few seasons that you can win it all without a great goaltender, Henrik is the backbone of this team and they only go as far as he takes them.  Lundqvist is still only 28 years old and will almost certainly be a top 5 goalie in the league through the rest of his contract.

Marc Staal: I believe in building the team from the back end out so I take Staal as my second selection because at 23 he is a top shutdown defender and is ever increasing his offensive role and skills.  The only thing for me you take over a number 1 defender is the elite goalie or a number 1 center and since the Rangers do not have a number 1 center you take a guy who can be a Norris candidate a few years down the road.

Brandon Dubinsky: Tough call between Dubinsky and Callahan, but I take Dubi because there is more offensive upside and pure skill in his game than Callahan.  Dubinsky has really matured this year into a more consistent player and the next step will be for him to be more selfish on the ice because that is when I see his game going to another level.  When he gets more of a selfish nature he will use his shot more and it will really show in terms of what he can do with the man advantage.  For me Dubinsky is on a Patrick Sharp type trajectory and if he turns into that kind of player all Rangers fans will be very happy.

Ryan Callahan: Callahan will be the captain of this club and does everything you can ask for on and off the ice, and has improved his offensive production this season.  The question with Cally is how sustainable that production is in terms of his place as a second or third line forward on a championship caliber team.

Derek Stepan: Stepan has shown in his rookie year a great amount of maturity and poise taking on all different assignments that the coaching staff has put on his plate.  Stepan will never be a premium goal scorer but can be an excellent playmaker using his vision and passing abilities to a very good assist man.  Also bring leadership qualities to the table that makes him a candidate for wearing a letter and maybe even one day the ‘C’.

Dan Girardi: For my money Girardi has been the Rangers best defender over the course of the season and has played at a near all-star level.  Never going to be a flashy guy, but hits, blocked shots and now adding offense to go with his ability to eat minutes makes him a sure fire top 4 defender and combines with Staal to be one of the best combinations in the league.

Artem Anisimov: Artie is one of the guys who for some reason each time he has a bad game or two suddenly for a lot of people he becomes expendable in trade.  Personally I do not understand that because of all the young forwards on the Rangers currently I think he has the most offensive upside.  He is young and will have some ups and downs, but his potential is clearly there just watch him go end to end and rip shots by goalies as he done in two of the last three games.  His improvements from last year to this year in terms of strength, play on the puck, excellent defensive play bode very well for his future he just needs to be more confident in his offensive skill.  Honestly for me Artie is very similar case to Dubinsky where when he gets more selfish and aggressive with his own offense he will be better for it.  To speak to that let’s just look at his shot totals for in the first 17 games when he was going well he had 0 or 1 shot on goal 3 times.  In the 17 games since he has done it 12 times.

Brandon Prust: As I wrote yesterday if I rewrote my piece on the most irreplaceable Rangers I would have to include Prust on the list and while it might seem somewhat strange to include a guy who is never going to be a huge offensive contributor in the core of your club I think Torts is exactly right that he is part of it because he of all he brings to this team and the way the team is trying to define itself. 

The three that I most strongly considered but left off were Michael Del Zotto, Brian Boyle and Michael Sauer. 

Michael Del Zotto: MDZ should be part of the core of this team as he has the potential to be a lethal offensive weapon from defense and tremendous power play QB, but he has not played well enough this season to force his way on the list.  I have been as critical of MDZ and his defense as anyone but if he does not let himself attack offensively over fear of defensive issues then he is not helping anyone.  If Staal can jump in the rush as much as he has there is no reason that MDZ cannot along with rushing the puck.

Brian Boyle: Boyle has been the Rangers most improved and maybe the NHL’s most improved player this year and I want to keep him around, but I also want to see him prove it for longer before I make him crucial.  Boyle has been excellent at even strength and on the penalty kill while scoring more than I ever expected, sticking up for his teammates and putting in the work to continually get better.  I would like to see him utilized on the power play as the goal mouth guy as I think that would increase his value further.

Michael Sauer:  Sauer might be the most surprising off all my choices, but I think even in his short time in the NHL that he belongs here and like a Prust he has shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to help this team.  Sauer is the Rangers most physical defender in front of his own net, has been excellent in his own end and shows no hesitation dropping the glove when necessary even if not a very good fighter.  The Rangers could certainly use more of that mentality back there.  The only reason I did not include him is his injury history so he has to stay healthy to be crucial.

I am sure by now everyone has noticed I just named 11 Rangers players as part of or on the cusp of being core members from this year’s club for the future and none of them was offensive superstar Marian Gaborik.  That is not to say I do not think Gaborik is a great offensive talent because I do, but I do not believe he is the kind of player you can build a championship team around.  Maybe I am being too hard on Gabby for his seeming invisibility too often this year but recent discussions have only furthered my already existing belief that he is not a guy who can carry a team.  Yes it is unfair to say that about Gaborik and have anyone other than Henrik on the list because he is the only one that can consistently carry this team, but I believe the best move with Gaborik might be to deal him and use the money to sustain the core and bring in pieces that can truly carry a team instead of just be paid like they can.

So, there is my core, who is in yours?