With the loss to Buffalo on Tuesday the Rangers are now 13-10-2. They are a game over the half-way mark of the season. Many Rangers have played well this year and some Rangers have not. Here is how I graded all our Blueshirts this year in the first half.
Henrik Lundqvist (A)- I will start with the backbone of the team. He has been the best Ranger since he joined the club. Year in and year out he gives the team a chance to win every night even when they are not deserving of a win. Lundqvist got off to a rough start in the first few games but he has certainly found his game. His numbers may not be amazing like they were a year ago but do not let that deceive you of his performance. He has found his groove and has not had much defensive support around him. He has been left out to dry a lot this year, forcing him to make spectacular save after spectacular save. He has been brilliant again this season but if the team wants to make a deep playoff run he will have to be just as great as he has been night in and night out.
Ryan Callahan (A)- Ryan Callahan has developed into a 5 tool hockey player. The man can do it all. He can hit, block shots, play solid defense, is good on the attack and can score. There is nothing this player cannot do. He gives 110% every shift and emerges when the team is struggling in a certain area. He is an absolute stud and I am so happy to have him as captain. Since the game against Winnipeg I believe he has played his best hockey in his career. He will be vital for the Blueshirts in the long run and has been one of the team’s best players.
Rick Nash (A)- Even if the newest member of the Rangers had not been scoring as of late he still would of got an “A” in my book. Why? The man has been the best offensive talent the Rangers have seen since the mid 90′s. I don’t know what word to describe how good he is anymore. He is just a beast that shreds his competition. My friend and I agree that he is the best one-on-one player in the game. I can write forever how good the man is. I just keep saying to myself, “imagine if he was not snake-bitten to begin the year?’ But that does not matter now as he has been the most prolific player for the Rangers and the opportunities he creates are just fantastic. Mark my words, he will win an MVP as a Ranger one of these years and has impressed me so much this season. I never understood how good he was. I always knew he was great with Columbus, would see him constantly on the highlight reel, but never saw how good he was in a full 60 minute game. (Even when he would play the Rangers and dominate them) Rick Nash has been better than advertised in my opinion and will be vital to this offense going forward.
Carl Hagelin (A)- When Hagelin came onto the seen last year for the Rangers he was an immediate success. His speed stood out as he is the fastest player in the game and helped the Rangers a lot on their wonderful journey last year. This year he has been better. He continues to use his speed, is wonderful in the corners, and creates plays for all his teammates. He also is starting to put the puck in the net this year which is a great sign. Hagelin is a big threat on offense for the Rangers and will continue to be a factor for this team. It will be interesting to see how much money he gets in the off-season if he continues to play at such a high level. Right now he has been very consistent and one of the best players on offense for the Blueshirts.
Derek Stepan (A)- Fans will always get on certain players which is understandable some of the time. Case and point, Derek Stepan. Derek Stepan is one of those players who Ranger fans seem to get frustrated with often. In the beginning of the year Derek Stepan was the worst Ranger. He was slow and he did not do a thing. But since the middle of February, very quietly Derek Stepan has beginning to pick up his game. And now I believe he is one of the best forwards on the ice. In the first two years I could not figure out what Stepan’s game was. But it is evident now that he is a play-maker and a very important one. Derek Stepan is on fire right now. He is a plus 9 and is tied for second on the Rangers with 17 points. Now do not forget his horrible start as well. That should show you how well he is playing. It seems if any Ranger is struggling I think the solution is to just put them on a line with Stepan and he will set them up for a goal or two. Stepan is also starting to finish which is a very good sign.
J.T. Miller (A)- Now I would not give Miller an “A” if this was any other hockey player that has been around for a while. However, he is 19 and just remarkable for his age. J.T. Miller needs to learn more of the ropes as he grows up, but his style of play fits perfectly with Tort’s system. He hustles, can score (even though he has not been of late), and he is just a smart hockey player with great instincts. I feel comfortable with Miller on the ice and truly believe he will not make a mistake. This credit goes to the staff of the Connecticut Whale and the most important man in the Ranger organization, Gordie Clarke for finding him. This kid will be the real deal. He is contributing in a number of ways and is only 19. For that I give him a well deserving “A”.
Marc Staal (B)- First off, let’s wish Staal a get well soon from us fans and hope he comes back soon because the Rangers are going to desperately need him in the long haul. With that said I do not give Marc Staal an “A” for two reasons. One, he did not play at an extremely high level to begin the year as were no Rangers. Two, I refuse to give any Ranger defenseman an “A” until they play the man consistently and are tough in front of the net. Marc Staal has been the best Ranger D-man this year thus far and is the typical shutdown defenseman when playing against the other teams number one forward. Staal still has been sensational but must be more physical when he gets back to improve his game. Besides that he has been the Ranger’s best defenseman and he must get healthy soon if they want to win anything.
Michael Del Zotto (B)- Many fans will disagree with me on this. And yes I know in certain games this year Del Zotto has been horrible almost to the point where he looked drunk on the ice. But I don’t understand why fans get on this guy so much. He is 22, has the most offensive upside out of all the defensemen on the team and he has played solid defense thus far. I don’t see why fans get on him so much. I believe fans lose patience with Del Zotto because he has so much offensive talent that he has yet to use. Or his decision making which sometimes is awful. But other than that I think DZ has been very effective this year. I also believe he will only get better and flourish into a very talented offensive defenseman. The kid needs some time, his game will come. Besides some terrible games and a rough start as well, Del Zotto is worthy of this grade.
Darroll Powe (B)- Darroll Powe has been awesome from the Rangers. I think the guy is a great 3rd/4th line hockey player. He is awesome on the forecheck, hustles all over the ice, vital for their penalty kill, and he has been the only Ranger recently who I’ve seen move people out from in front of the net. The trade for Mike Rupp straight up was a great move by Sather as Powe fits perfectly into Tort’s system. The only thing that does not get him the (A) is his inability to score. I know it is not his job but the fact that he hasn’t scored yet for the Rangers does worry me a lot. Considering the fact that the team has not seen any goal scoring from their 3rd or 4th lines. Other that that Powe has been a great addition to this club.
Ryan Mcdonagh (B)- I always ask myself, “why on earth did Montreal trade this guy?” He was a thrown into a trade involving Chris Higgins and Scott Gomez. He was just seen as a spare part but the Rangers found themselves a gem. It is amazing what can happen in this league but the Rangers were very fortunate to land such an unbelievable defenseman. Early on in the year I thought “MacTruck” was the best defenseman on the team. That was until Staal took his game to new heights but Mcdonagh has struggled of late. In the first week of March he has not looked as sharp as we know he could be. I am not worried at all and I’m sure he will find his game in no time. He actually had a good game against Washington on Sunday in my opinion. Ryan Mcdonagh will have to be one of the best Ranger’s going forward but like the rest of the defense he must pick up his toughness on the ice. He must be meaner in front of the net and in general, as does all the Ranger defenseman. The lack of that toughness prevents him from getting a perfect score .
Martin Biron (B)- Marty Biron has been a great Ranger. He has accepted the role of backing up Lundqvist for his 3rd straight year. From seeing “Biron’s Journal” on blueshirtsunited.com, he looks like a great character guy teams need in their locker room. Not to mention he may be the best back-up goalie in the league. He can steal a game and give Lundqvist much needed rest come playoff time as he did last season. Two games that stood out to me from Biron was the win in Tampa, a game I thought the Rangers were definitely going to lose and the recent game against Washington. He was unbelievable and stood on his head. The only reason he does not get a perfect score is his inability to cover his five-hole in shootouts.
Marian Gaborik (C)- Marian Gaborik is the most mysterious NHL player in the game. I can never seem to figure the guy out. He has scored over 100 goals for the Rangers in three seasons and that is by all means terrific. He still is 2nd on the team in points with 17 and he can still score. I believe Gaborik is an effective hockey player but given the right circumstance. The negatives with Gaborik is that is way too streaky, when he is not scoring he does not really stand out and he isn’t exactly the most aggressive player on the ice. Gaborik’s game flourishes when there is space and time. For example, Gaborik is an Islander killer. He always dominates that team and a lot of it has to do with the poor play from the Islanders in the defensive zone. But most of the time (especially in the playoffs) there is not space and time so Gaborik just gets swallowed up along the boards. In a physical game Gaborik struggles a lot. I feel this year it easy to defend Gaborik if you are the opposing team. And how can I forget that his shot is not the same since his injury last playoffs. If Gaborik can get back to form like last year he will be amazing but if he just plays effectively only to when there is space, he will only be pedestrian for this team.
Taylor Pyatt (C)- Pyatt came over from Phoenix in the off-season and all I heard was good things about him. I fell in love with the guy to begin the year as he scored multiple goals in the early part of the season. Ever since than Pyatt has been quiet on the score sheet. Now this may seem like a low grade for the players so let me point out that Pyatt has been a good addition to the club. He did score to begin the year, he is very good down low in the offensive zone and possesses a good sense of the game particularly in front of the net. But I give Pyatt a (C) for two reasons. One, he should have more goals. Now I know he is not a sniper or goal scorer but he should be going to the net even harder and crashing it like a bat out of hell. That’s what his game needs to be and even if he has shown glimpses of it he must go to the net even more. The second reason is that he is soft. The guy doesn’t have a mean bone in his body which is great if you are a priest, not a hockey player. The guy has to get so much meaner and more physical given his size. He can add that dimension to the Rangers that they are lacking with the toughness up front. He has to use his body more and be much more of a physical presence for this team.
Brad Richards (C)- Brad Richards was worth all 12 million dollars last year. The guy set up unbelievable plays, he brought experience to the team, and literally EVERY goal he scored was so clutch. All his game winning goals from the Winter Classic to the miraculous Game 5 against Washington. He was a money player. This year not so much. The lockout destroyed his level of play and he hasn’t seem to rebound from it. Brad Richards was dreadful in the beginning of the year and looked like an old man on the ice. He suffered the incredibly dirty hit from Kaleta and missed two games. However since he came back he has scored in consecutive games and has looked tremendously better on the power play. It is only two games but that gives him the jump up to a (C) from a (D). Unfortunately for Richards, I do not see how the Rangers are going to keep him this off-season given his contract. With the cap going down 6 million dollars and the Rangers having to pay 3 key players, Richards might be bought out. But that is for later down the road. For now though Richards must elevate his game to where he was last season.
Dan Girardi (C)- Last year I feel Girardi emerged as the Ranger’s best defenseman. He was solid the entire year, never gave up much, and was the most consistent defensively out of the bunch. This year I feel Girardi has fallen off a great deal. He has shown shades of brilliance to the Dan we all know and love, but his game is no where near where it was a year ago. As my dad and I watch every game on the couch we see a golden opportunity for the other team every night and usually Girardi is the culprit. He has made several bad plays this year which have led to the opposition either scoring or creating a great chance. He gave up a breakaway to Bergeron in Boston in the game where the Rangers blew a three goal lead and was caught out of position twice on two Flyer goals when the Rangers won at the Garden 4-2. There are plenty more plays where Girardi has been burnt or made a terrible play. I am nit-picking and he has had some great games this year but the consistency is not there by any means. I give him a (C) because he needs to be the Girardi of last year if the Rangers want to win the Cup. It starts with not giving up chances or making fatal mistakes that he has done plenty of this year.
Jeff Halpern (C)- Halpern was another addition from this very busy off-season the Rangers had. Halpern is another good grinder for the Blueshirts. He also is excellent on the penalty kill but again no scoring from this second tier player. This will ultimately be the Ranger’s downfall as of now if they cannot go all the way this year. The scoring from their third and fourth line guys have been non-existent. Literally. Along with Powe, Halpern has not registered a goal this season. He needs to provide just a little bit of offensive production to help this team going forward.
Anton Stralman (C)- I think Stralman is very underrated. He has impressed me this year at times with the way he can handle the puck, carry it into the zone, and poise at the blue line. He has a nice shot as well and even though the points are not there I believe he has made the most of his time on the power play. He is a very underrated offensive threat that the Rangers have. It is the defense which brings him down a lot. He has been mediocre defensively at best for the Blueshirts. He needs to be tougher, take the man more when one on one, and be more physical. Stralman must get better as a defenseman this second half.
Steve Eminger (C)- Eminger has had it tough this season where constantly he would be in and out of the lineup. It must be very hard for a player not knowing the morning of a game whether or not you are going to play. Eminger has handled it well and I give him a lot of props. His play this year has been OK to say the least but he had his best game against Washington this past Sunday. He was physical, had some huge hits and did not give up much the whole day. If he can continue to play like he did against the Capitals he will give the Rangers much needed defensive depth and he would be playing a lot more than he was to begin the year.
Matt Gilroy (C)- Matt Gilroy has had an odd experience with the Rangers. Leaving the team to play in Tampa Bay and Ottawa he returned this year and started out playing well in Connecticut. Matt Gilroy was called up not to long after the season started and looked decent. His play is steady and he can also give the Rangers much needed depth. Another guy who does not know when his number will be called but has dealt with the situation very well. He has been steady but nothing absolutely stellar to report from Mr. Gilroy. He is young though and his game is only going to get better.
Michael Haley (C)- Haley got his first action with the Blueshirts only very recently after playing a lot with the Whale. Ever since Haley has come up I thought he has been pretty good. Why the low grade? He needs to prove he can be consistent but he is a fighter that can actually fight. He is good on the forecheck and can bring life to this Ranger team. If he continues to play how he has in his first couple of games he will be huge for the Rangers down the stretch as their main enforcer.
Roman Hamrlik (C)- The Rangers claimed Roman Hamrlik off waivers only a few days ago. He can bring more depth to this defense as they face the absence of Marc Staal. He brings good poise and experience to the Ranger locker room. He has actually been doing OK with only having those two things because he is so out of shape. If he maintains Stability he will be having a lot more playing time as well for the Blueshirts but overall this was a good pick-up by the Rangers as it gives them more to work with down the stretch.
Brian Boyle (D)- I did not like Boyle in the 2009-2010 season when he was on the Rangers. I simply did not think the guy contributed in any way. After that season the Rangers and Boyle worked with a power skating coach to help Brian develop his stride. He took off at that point the next season. He scored 21 goals and a career high 35 points. He followed up by scoring 11 goals last year and was dominating against Ottawa in the playoffs until Chris Neil took him out. This year Boyle has struggled. He is not using his body, has not been any type of presence and has not not scored. It got so bad that Tortorella had to scratch him for a few games. Although since that, Boyle has stepped up his game somewhat. He has been getting chances, better on the attack and finally netted his first goal this weekend against Washington. I felt happy for him as he deserved that goal. Let’s hope Boyle can really elevate his game to where it has been in the past. Hopefully that goal will also put an end to the disastrous first start Boyle has encountered.
Chris Kreider (D)- It must be a very odd experience for Chris Kreider this season. As he was ending his Boston College career literally an exact year ago, the Rangers needed a scorer so Kreider makes the jump from college to the NHL. Not to mention his first action was playoff hockey at a crazy Madison Square Garden last spring. The atmosphere for the kid must have been in-KREIDABLE and he became an immediate hit on Broadway. The lockout occurs so he has to play for the Whale, does not produce a whole lot but does not get valuable minutes in anyway shape or form. He comes to the Rangers only to be a victim of Tort’s defensive game plan. Kreider struggled with the Blueshirts to begin the year, so after constant bus rides from Hartford to Manhattan it looks as if Kreider has found a home for the rest of the year in Hartford. And that is fine. Let him develop more and he has been outstanding since he got back to the Whale. I have had the privilege to see the kid play four times in person so far. (Two playoff games, Opening Night this year, and against Bridgeport in November) Let me tell you this, he is the real deal. He is big, fast as hell, has a shot that is spectacular and his stride is so beautiful to watch. He is the best Ranger prospect the team has had in decades in my opinion. He will be amazing. Give it time. He is in a bad spot now but one day 10 years from now he will be in serious MVP conversations and the best player on the Blueshirts.
Stu Bickel (D)- Poor Bickel. When he came up for the Rangers last year he was effective for the team and served as a solid 6th D-man. Now he has struggled this year. His defense has been sub-par and he seems to always make a mistake where he cannot escape Tortorella’s doghouse. He has been in and out of the line-up a lot this year leading to no consistency. It will be interesting to see the player Bickel turns into but his fortunes have not been great this season.
Aaron Asham (D)- I think Asham has been a disappointment. If not for a few fights and a goal against Tampa Bay he has not done much else. Too top it off he has been hurt. Something he cannot control but at the same time his age is showing. Asham has been a big drop off from Prust as every Ranger fan knows. Hopefully Asham can get back in the line-up soon and remain healthy.