Jan 20, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers right wing Jesper Fast (19) congratulates right wing Kevin Hayes (13) for scoring a goal against the Ottawa Senators during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
1. Young Guns
If depth was a question, then the Rangers answered it.
With the loss of players in the offseason, auditions were being held for their positions. Alain Vigneault’s “clean slate” approach went back into effect. It was an opportunity for others to step up and prove they belonged.
What do you do?
Look within, of course. In the past, this approach has given young players such as Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky opportunities to play and stand out. This season’s crop of young talent hasn’t disappointed.
One of those prospects, who looks to be a star for the Rangers, was Kevin Hayes. Originally a number pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Hayes was signed as a free agent before the start of this season. He was asked to fill in the third–line center position and has raised the eyebrows of many. In his first season, he registered 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists). His playmaking and patience with the puck (which can be maddening at times) combined with his big frame gave the Rangers security at the third line to build around. And, the great thing is, he is only 22 years old. He could be described as mix between Rick Nash and Marc Staal, in my opinion. Hayes has the long reach of a defenseman, with offensive flair, with a power forward frame.
Another surprise this season has been the presence of Jesper Fast in the lineup. The Swedish born forward was in the same class as Hayes in 2010. Just 23 years old, he was not flashy in the offensive category. For the season, Fast registered 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 58 games. His role has been mostly seen on the fourth line, as well as the third and second lines when filling in for injuries. With the lack of offensive contributions when in the lineup, he made up for with intangibles: hustle, defensive pressure, and ‘never quit’ attitude.
Mar 28, 2014; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; New York Rangers center J.T. Miller (10) skates with the puck during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Perhaps, the best field-good story was that of J.T. Miller. It is good to have seen Miller break through this season. The yo-yo toy of Vigneault and former head coach John Tortorella the past three seasons, it seems he finally found his way. His troubled NHL career came to a head last season, when Vigneault called into question his work ethic. However, it appears Miller has turned the corner and found a place with the team. For the season, he registered 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) and a +5, while serving on the second line with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. Also, he has seen time on the power play, which tells you that Vigneault’s confidence in the 22-year old is growing.
Next: 2. Ryan Mcdonagh's Watch