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?