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2013 Rangers Preview: The King's Last Stand?

Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford

A freelance writer of all things but mostly sports, music and politics, Brian Rutherford was raised on Long Island, NY and currently resides in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. His favorite teams are the New York Rangers, Texas Rangers, New York Giants and New York Knicks. "So the difference I think, boils down to this: you can either impose yourself on reality and then write about it, or you can impose yourself on reality by writing it." -Hunter S. Thompson "The Proud Highway"

Outside of adding Rick Nash, the 2012-13 Rangers had made very few changes to a team that was just two wins shy of their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1994. Going into the lockout shortened season, the Rangers were a trendy pick to be not only the best show on Broadway, but a lock for the Eastern Conference finals. By the trade deadline, it was obvious head coach John Tortorella was not going to be able to get a slumping Marian Gaborik sparked. After dealing Gaborik to Columbus for John Moore, Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett the Rangers sputtering offense seemed energized. Weeks later, it became clear the energy was merely temporary and the Rangers stumbled into the playoffs. Though they extended their recent playoff success over the Capitals with a second consecutive seven-game series win, the eventual Eastern Conference champion Bruins quieted the offense once again, winning four of five and ending the Rangers' season much earlier than most expected.

Not long after another season of unfulfilled expectations and awkward dealings with the media about his players, Rangers general manager Glen Sather decided to end Tortorella's tenure as head coach. Having grown tired of Torts' defense-first style, Sather elected to go with Alain Vigneault's experience of molding an offensive-minded style of play. The organization may as well have traded Torts (named Canucks head coach days later) to Vancouver in exchange for Vigneault who was recently dismissed by the Canucks for similar unfulfilled expectations. Due to salary cap constraints, only a few depth signings this summer such as the homecoming of center Dominic Moore as well as defensemen Justin Falk and Aaron Johnson, along with winger Benoit Pouliot. Subtract the newly acquired Ryane Clowe who left for greener pastures in New Jersey. Minimal losses, such as the likes of Roman Hamrlik, Matt Gilroy, Steve Eminger, Brandon Segal and Mike Sauer who left as UFA's, as well as Kris Newbury and Christian Thomas who were dealt for Danny Syvret and Danny Kristo, respectively. In addition to re-signing forwards Mats Zuccarello and Carl Hagelin as well as a long-term extension for defenseman Ryan McDonagh, the organization is currently engaged in negotiations to extend the contracts of Derek Stepan and Henrik Lundqvist.

Lingering on the outset of a dynasty since the days Rangers'brass made their majority focus on developing hard-nosed, offensive minded blueliners, they've managed to sustain a true competitive core. Almost like pasta in a pouch, just add water, the Rangers' one constant has been just add ‘King'. Henrik Lundqvist has been arguably the most reliable goalie in the NHL over the past five years. However, with Lundqvist in the last year of his contract, their other ingredients will need a little spice or their ever-developing dynasty could crumble away. After a breakout season by Derek Stepan last year, the hope is that budding forwards like J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider have the pedigree to do the same. However, if Vigneault is unable to loosen up the offense and the Rangers have another mediocre end result, its likely Lundqvist will test the free agent market, making the future of the team a house of cards. At least, one more time, the Rangers will lean on their man between the pipes and hope this is the season their mix of home grown talent and/or contracted forwards become a recipe for Stanley Cup championship success.

The Big Guns

Henrik Lundqvist (G): Season after season, Lundqvist solidifies his place with some of the best goalies in NHL history, much less Rangers history. In fact, on April 3 of last season, he surpassed Eddie Giacomin and statistically became the second best goalie in Rangers history with 268 wins. Overall, King Henrik collected another terrific season last campaign, posting a 2.05 GAA and 24-16-3 record in the regular season, placing him in the middle of talks for a Vezina -- yet again. So complete was his season that he was even named to Vanity Fair's Best Dressed list. While his record in the post season (5-7) was nothing to write home about, a glance at his 2.14 GAA suggests the guys in front of him need to step it up offensively. At 31-years-old, Lundqvist doesn't appear to have lost a step and in the final year of his contract, he is likely to go into overdrive. BUY, BUY, BUY in any and ALL FORMATS.

Rick Nash (LW): For all intents and purposes, the Rangers' most prized signing last winter had a productive (21 goals, 21 assists) first season on Broadway, finishing second in team scoring. Nash, who went pointless in more than three consecutive games just once last season, set a new career high with a 10-game point streak. More comfortable with his surroundings, Nash and the rest of his teammates are now set to learn a new system under head coach Alain Vigneault. Since the team announced Vigneault would be at the helm, consensus comparisons to the Sedin twins have been aplenty, suggesting Nash could flourish under the new system. Conservatively speaking, Nash remains a top winger option and will likely get taken within the first two or three rounds of your draft.

Derek Stepan (C): It's fair to say Stepan's stock not only increased in the lockout shortened campaign, but his fantasy expectations this season will be at a fevered pace. Stepan led the Rangers in points (18 goals, 26 assists) last season, and added four goals, one assist for a plus-4 in 12 playoff games last spring. More importantly to the Rangers is the 23-year-old's durability, having played in 212 consecutive regular season games since putting on Rangers jersey in 2010-11. Although the Rangers have yet to agree to terms on a contract extension with the restricted free-agent, there's little chance it should affect his draft status.

On The Rise

Derick Brassard (C): If there is a forward on the New York Rangers roster poised to have a break-out season, it's Brassard. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound center was acquired with Derek Dorsett and John Moore in exchange for Marian Gaborik at last season's trading deadline. The former first-round pick (6th overall, 2006) registered a plus-4 with seven goals, 16 assists in just 25 games with the Rangers last season. Brassard's role will depend on how Brad Richards performs out of the gate. He could either receive ice time with top-6 forwards or center for the third line. If Richards falters as he did down the stretch last season, Brassard could clean up nicely in a top-6 slot, positioning himself to break career records. Depending on the depth of your league, this type of scenario could pay large dividends.

John Moore (D): When the 23-year-old Moore was acquired with Derek Dorsett and Derick Brassard in exchange for Marian Gaborik at the 2013 trading deadline, not much was expected of the former first round (2009) pick. Since making his NHL debut with Columbus in the 2011-12 campaign, Moore (minus-28) had collected just two goals and six assists in 84 games. However, after arriving on Broadway, the 6'3, nearly 200-pound blue liner not only played well defensively (36 blocked shots), but earned praise as a power-play specialist and almost doubled his career totals with a goal and six assists through 25 games in New York. Despite a very crowded defensive core headed to camp, Moore is nearly a lock to make the team. If the third-year Illinois native makes the leap, keep an eye on him closely as this sharp-minded defenseman could very well be developing before our eyes.

Players to Watch

Taylor Pyatt (LW): While playing mostly third line minutes under former head coach John Tortorella, the 12-year veteran registered 11 points and a plus-5 rating in 48 games for the Blueshirts last season. Pyatt, who enters the second half of his two year deal with New York, may benefit the most from the Rangers' hiring of Alain Vigneault. Having played under Vigneault for three seasons in Vancouver, Pyatt had back-to-back 37 point seasons, establishing and matching a career-high in the first two campaigns. While ordinarily we would suggest you leave Pyatt off your radar, he did spend minimal time paired with the likes of Brad Richards and Derek Stepan at times last season. Although he's unlikely to display a phenomenal scoring pace, he could end up becoming the constant Vigneault uses to find chemistry with unfamiliar players. Stay diligent with this wildcard. He could end up your FA pickup of the year.

Brian Boyle (RW): Boyle was listed as a healthy scratch for numerous games last season by former head coach John Tortorella. Between the hiring of new head coach Alain Vigneault and the signing of experienced center Dominic Moore, Boyle will reportedly see more ice time as a winger. It is believed that the 6'7 forward could bounce back from a silent (five points in 38 games) campaign last season in the wing slot. Depending on the depth and format of your league, Boyle may not get drafted. Look for early signs of life, if he gets playing time he could have value in Vigneault's offense, so keep him on your watch list.

Marc Staal (D): For the first time since being drafted 12th overall in 2005, the 6'4 defensemen's impact fantasy value is simply unknown. Not long after starting last season on fire (11 points in first 20 games), Staal took a puck to the eye on March 5 against the Flyers, requiring surgery to repair the damage. Despite successfully returning to the lineup in a 4-3 win over Washington in game 3 of the opening round in the playoffs, the Rangers' leader on the blue line was clearly still fighting bouts with vision and balance. Staal was not a factor (minus-1, 17 TOI) and did not feel comfortable to dress for the remainder of the playoffs. While there's good reason to question his value heading into the new season, it will be important to monitor training camp reports on him, before penciling him into your draft plan.

Brad Richards (C): Forgetting the media frenzy around the 33-year-old's disappointing season, the veteran center still mustered 11 goals (34 points) and a plus-8 in 46 regular season games, good for third in team scoring. Nonetheless, having spent most of the lockout shortened season in John Tortorella's doghouse, no one is happier to see new head coach Alain Vigneault than Brad Richards. Richards' new personal trainer, the highly regarded Ben Prentiss (who also trains Martin St. Louis, Max Pacioretty and Jonathon Quick) sees reason for optimism. Prentiss was quoted as saying, 'Richards has changed his diet and has been highly motivated this summer. The Rangers were wise not to buy him out because he expects Richards to have a big season.' Due to his pedestrian production last season, it's entirely possible Richards will slip into the middle rounds of your draft. If so, he could provide you with tier 1 scoring at a tier 2 draft slot. Although, most owners are expecting a low-risk, high reward circumstance, so the draft results are likely to vary depending on your format.

Don't Overrate

Mats Zuccarrello (RW): After playing most of the season with Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the KHL, Zuccarello returned to the Rangers late in the 2012-13 season and had three goals and eight points in 15 regular-season games. He also contributed a goal and seven assists in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Through parts of three seasons as a Ranger, the speedy winger 11 goals and 34 points in 67 games. He could end up as a late-round draft on deeper leagues, but is very streaky. Buyer beware.

Benoit Pouliot (LW): The relationship between Pouliot and the Rangers is a mutual agreement of low-risk, high reward. The Rangers, who had very little wiggle room this past off-season took out a flier on Minnesota's fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft. If it fails, the soon-to-be 27-year-old only costs them $1.3 million and would not be shy about releasing him. Although Pouliot has never eclipsed the 35-point mark and battled a shoulder injury in March, he still managed eight goals and 12 assists through 34 games last season. Should he make the team out of camp, it's a fair assumption Pouliot would likely see third and fourth line minutes at best. Now on his fifth team in seven seasons, whether you're in an annual redraft or a dynasty league, Pouliot is merely worth a spot on your watch list.

J.T. Miller (LW): After crashing the scene with a two-goal effort against the rival Islanders in just his second NHL game, the youngster spent most of the season battling a nagging wrist injury. Once he was healthy enough to get back in the Rangers' lineup, Miller was held quiet, totaling just two goals and two assists in 26 games last season. Nonetheless, it's noteworthy the 20-year-old Miller managed eight goals, 15 assists and 29 penalty minutes in 42 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack last season as well. His willingness to get involved in scrappy play leaves a good taste within the organizational brass, so the question begs, can new head coach Alain Vigneault's style of play make him not only the wild card in a core of Rangers' forwards who didn't hit their offensive upside, but possibly a sleeper in waiting at an FA pool near you?

Top Prospects

Chris Kreider (LW): What a difference a year can make for the Rangers' budding forward. Having made a splash during his NHL debut in the 2011-12 playoffs, Kreider spent most of the lock-out shortened season up and down in between producing consistently with the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL) and in third and fourth line situations with the big club. Despite logging just two goals, one assist and 19 shots on goal in 22 games played at the NHL level, sky's the limit still for the Rangers' 19th overall (2009) pick out of Boston College. Additionally, the 6'3, 230-pound Kreider could be eligible at two (center/left wing) positions sometime this coming season. Both keeper and redraft owners should consider using a mid-to-late round pick on the 22-year-old.

Danny Kristo (RW): Originally drafted in the second round (56th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the 21-year-old Minnesota native collected 68 goals and 93 assists for 161 points, along with 83 penalty minutes and a plus-49 rating over four seasons with North Dakota, Cristo made his professional debut in 2012-13 with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Acquired this offseason from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Christian Thomas, the 6-foot, 190-pound right-winger is technically familiar with the organization. Cristo, having helped (five goals, three assists) the United States to a gold medal at the 2010 WJC championships, has played with current Rangers like Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque. While it's not out of the question he would get a callup to Broadway this season, he's more of a target for keeper league owners than annual re-draft teams.

Michael St. Croix (RW): One of the most talked about prospects in the Rangers pipeline is their fourth pick from the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the 5'11, 180-pound center St. Croix. After compiling 121 points over the previous two seasons with Edmonton of the WHL, the Manitoba native exploded for 45 goals (including 18 power play goals), 60 assists in 72 games last campaign, ending the season with an unreal plus-40 rating. The sky is the limit, but as most fantasy owners would like to see, the Rangers want to see him repeat the efforts at the AHL level before the 20-year-old becomes fantasy applicable. While annual re-drafter's won't need to keep an eye on him, obviously this is one skater keeper league owners will want to monitor.

Ryan Bourque (C): Since being drafted 80th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, things have pretty much gone as expected for the son of the legendary Ray Bourque. Having completed two seasons (53 goals, 75 assists in 121 games) with Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, Bourque has totaled 14 goals and 15 assists with a plus-29 rating through 122 games in the AHL. While it's very likely for Bourque to get a call-up at some point this season, he won't receive enough playing time to help out you annual re-draft folks. For keeper league owners, we would highly suggest following his progress.