The New York Rangers first scoring line from last season, consisting of Derek Stepan centering Rick Nash and Chris Kreider, will most likely remain unchanged by the start of the regular season, which is now only one month away. However, all three of those players should not be left to feel comfortable in their first line roles because of their highly inconsistent years, just one season ago.
Rick Nash, the man that is expected to be the team’s leading scorer every season, played in just 65 games, tallying only 26 goals and 13 assists. Nash’s lack of production was not all his fault since he missed time with concussion problems, and had some lingering effects plague him for a while after returning to the lineup. That being said, his playoff performance last season was inexcusable. He may have done all of the little things right but he is payed to do the big things, like score goals, and in the Rangers 25 playoff games in 2014, Nash scored just 3 times and added 7 assists.
Nash may not be the same player he once was with the Columbus Blue Jackets but he still should be doing more. Instead he is just failing to come up big in the clutch.
Derek Stepan held out of training camp last season due to contract disagreements, which is the last thing you want to have happen when you get a brand new coaching staff. Stepan’s overall stubbornness cost him dearly, as he was practically invisible for the entire first half of the season and did not start finding his game towards the end of the regular season/start of the postseason.
Stepan finished the year as the 2nd highest scorer on the team with 57 points. While impressive because of how he started last season, if Stepan truly wants to be a #1 center, his point production has to increase to near the 70 point range.
Chris Kreider started the season in the AHL but quickly tightened up his game and made an immediate impact upon recall to the Rangers. However, as the season pressed on, Kreider showed alot of inconsistencies. One game he would be highly noticeable, winning races to lose pucks, and driving the other teams crazy with his speed, then the next game he would become invisible by losing aggressiveness and failing to utilize his speed.
Now Kreider is still young, only 23 years old, so he should only keep getting bigger and stronger, and in doing so could hopefully turn out to be the power forward the Rangers desperately need. That will take some more time, but for this season Kreider needs to show more consistency to his game for the Rangers first line to thrive.
So why am I stressing so much that Nash, Stepan, and Kreider all have to be better this season?
Well throughout last season the Rangers had the luxury of having one of the best bottom six’s in the league. The third and fourth lines contributed so much on a consistent basis that the 1st two lines did not have to be necessarily great to win games. However, players from that bottom six like Dan Carcillo, Brian Boyle, and Benoit Pouliot who came up big last year, especially in the postseason, are no longer on the team due to unrestricted free agency. While they have been replaced by Lee Stempniak, Tanner Glass, and possibly highly touted prospect Kevin Hayes, no one knows for sure yet how well they can fill the skates left behind by Carcillo, Boyle, and Pouliot.
It is time for the first line to finally earn their paychecks and produce more in 2014-15. Not only to take the pressure off of the revamped bottom six but also to make the Rangers a better and more dangerous team.