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2012 Rangers Preview: Rangers Aim To Take The Next Step

Nick Raducanu

Nick Raducanu

Nick Raducanu writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Like any team that plays in the Big Apple, the Rangers have some big names on their roster. However, the heart and soul of this team is its defensive play and its goaltending and that's something everyone needs to be aware of heading into your draft.

The Rangers made the biggest (cannonball-sized) splash in trading for Rick Nash in the offseason and they have one of this year's hottest rookies in Chris Kreider, but you shouldn't focus your gaze on the shiniest objects in the room.

The biggest fantasy star on the Blueshirts' roster in 2011-12 was the same Vezina Trophy-winning tour de force that carried them to within one point of the President's Cup and within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals: Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has some of the league's best defensive support playing in front of him, and should be able to continue his roll from last season.

Last year's big free agent acquisition, Brad Richards, and currently-injured sniper, Marion Gaborik, are some other high-profile players that will go early in drafts, but up-and-comers like Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin could very well be the players that lead you to the promised land.

As I said, there are some shiny objects on this Rangers squad that can easily distract you (and don't get me wrong, they can certainly help you), but just make sure you don't look past the grinders that can provide some of the best (late-round) value to your squad.


THE BIG GUNS


Henrik Lundqvist (G): There aren't enough superlatives in the dictionary to throw at King Henrik as he comes off arguably his best season ever in 2011-12. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner and Hart Trophy finalist posted career-bests in wins (39), save percentage (.930), and goals against average (1.97) last year and shouldn't see much of a dropoff in 2012-13 with one of the league's top defenses in front of him. It will likely require a first-round pick for fantasy owners to enlist Lundqvist's services for this year, but it will be a pick well-spent as he's all but guaranteed to finish the season as one of the league's top netminders.

Marion Gaborik (RW): After posting a solid season of 41 goals and 35 assists, Gaborik underwent offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder and could be out until early December. The 30-year-old former first-round pick is a great offensive anchor for any roster with his point-per-game production, but the uncertainty surrounding his shoulder will drag his value down a bit in the 2012-13 season. If he does fall in drafts, fantasy owners would be wise to snag the sniper with a mid-round pick and stash him on the IR until he's ready to contribute with early-round production. Gaborik is one of the NHL's elite offensive talents, but his name has always been adorned with the dreaded "when healthy" caveat.

Brad Richards (C): Last season's huge free-agent acquisition had an up-and-down first year in New York, but he managed to piece together a solid season with 25 goals and 41 assists. The 32-year-old shoud feel more comfortable as he enters his second year with the Rangers and will likely improve upon last season's totals as he likely will center a line with newcomer, Rick Nash. Richards was probably taken a little too high in fantasy drafts last year, but savvy owners should be able to parlay his shaky 2011-12 season into solid value in their 2012-13 drafts.


ON THE RISE


Chris Kreider (LW): Kreider was a breath of fresh air for the Rangers in this past Spring's playoffs, as he matched a record for rookies that began their careers in the postseason with five goals, turning many heads in the process. As such, the former Boston College star will enter the 2012-13 campaign with extremely high expecations but owners shoud be careful not to overreach for the 21-year-old winger. That's not to say that he won't be a fantasy asset this season, but he'll likely be confined to the Blueshirts' third line, so his output may not match his draft position. Temper your expectations, but the potential certainly is there for Kreider to produce; those in keeper leagues will have to pull the trigger on him early if they want his services.

Derek Stepan (LW): Stepan stepped up his play during his sophomore season in 2011-12, finishing the year with 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) to go along with a healthy plus-14 rating and 16 points on the power play. The 22-year-old winger should see plenty of time on the Blueshirts' second line and will have every opportunity to take his game to the next level with Marian Gaborik likely missing the first two months of the season. Stepan is gaining attention from fantasy leaguers, and may very well represent one of the best sleeper values among forwards in 2012-13. Be prepared to draft him earlier than usual in keeper leagues if he's available; Stepan is one of the Rangers' top young talents.

Dan Girardi (D): Girardi had an extremely successful 2011-12 campaign as he fell two points short of his career-high 29 from last season, finishing fourth among all players in average time-on-ice. The 28-year-old will again anchor the Blueshirts' top defensive pairing in 2012-13 with Ryan McDonagh and should be able to maintain his spot among the league's ice-time leaders. Girardi's assists and plus-minus rating have been on the rise over the last two seasons, and he should provide an excellent return for fantasy owners that are willing to spend a mid-to-late round pick on him. Those in leagues that reward secondary categories such as hits and blocked shots will want to target Girardi earlier than usual, as, like his teammate Ryan Callahan, Girardi will be among the league leaders in those categories.


TWO TO WATCH


Ryan Callahan (RW): Callahan is a player whose fantasy prospects are on the rise after setting a career-high in goals (29) and matching a career-high in assists (25) last season. The Blueshirts' captain is still only 27-years old and will see plenty of time on the power play in 2012-13 as he serves on the second line with Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin. Callahan should provide great mid-round value as he has a very real shot at topping the 30-goal plateau with Hagelin and Stepan continuing to mature their games. In leagues that reward secondary statistics such as blocked shots, plus-minus and hits, Callahan will reward owners handsomely, as he produces across the board in those categories.

Carl Hagelin (LW): Hagelin posted a very strong rookie season as he tallied 14 goals and 24 assists in only 64 regular-season games to go with a plus-21 rating and two shorthanded tallies. Hagelin is an excellent skater, but it remains to be seen how the Rick Nash acquisition will impact Hagelin, who displayed great chemistry with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, but he will almost certainly be a fixture on one of the Blueshirts' top two lines. The 23-year old Swede likely won't be on as many fantasy owners' radars as he should be, and could represent great sleeper value in the mid-to-late rounds of drafts.


DON'T OVERRATE


Rick Nash (LW): Nash was by far the biggest name to change teams this offseason, and will likely be overvalued by fantasy owners who gravitate towards name-brands. Nash is a supremely talented player, but he also benefits from his reputation a bit more than he should as he's never posted more than 79 points in a single season (and that was four years ago). While the 28-year-old will benefit from a superior cast of supporting players in New York, the Rangers are also a defensive-minded club and Nash will more than likely be overvalued headed into drafts.

Michael Del Zotto (D): Del Zotto had a major breakout season in 2011-12 in posting career-highs of 10 goals and 31 assists to go along with a fantastic plus-20 rating. The 22-year-old blueliner also increased his average time on ice, 22:26, by a full three minutes above his previous career numbers skating alongside Anton Stralman. Del Zotto has been labeled as an inconsistent player in his three-year career, but he won't be the value this season that he was last year. His poor plus-minus rating and inconsistencies scared owners away, but those looking to get Del Zotto this season will have to be prepared to spend a higher round pick on him, especially in keeper leagues.

HOT (OR NOT?) PROSPECTS

J.T. Miller (LW): The 19-year-old winger spent most of last season with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL before a brief stint with the AHL's Connecticut Whale; he definitely possesses offensive upside. In the OHL, Miller posted 62 points in 61 games before being added to the Rangers' playoff roster. While he'll likely spend most of the season in the AHL, Miller's worth a look if he opens the year with the Blueshirts. Remember his name in keeper leagues.

Boo Nieves (C): The Rangers' second-round pick in the 2012 entry draft has decided to play his 2012-13 season the University of Michigan. The 18-year-old most likely won't see the NHL for a few years, but he's a talented player that dynasty owners would do well to keep an eye on.

Andrew Yogan (C): Drafted as a fourth-round pick in 2010, Yogan signed a two-way, three-year deal with the Rangers in March of 2012 and is considered a very underrated prospect in the organization. Yoban may start the season with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL, but he's a player to keep an eye on if he's called-up; he recorded 41 goals and 78 points in 66 games with the Peterbourgh Petes of the Ontario Hockey League last season.

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