'Hart Off The Ice'
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
It's hard to believe that Ryan Callahan still flies under the radar on a nationwide basis. His five goals in the past three games might finally be enough evidence to prove to fans outside New York that he's more than just a team-first, defensively responsible two-way forward.
After Sunday's 3-2 victory over the Capitals, I asked Rangers' head coach John Tortorella post-game if he feels that Callahan is capable of reaching a higher ceiling offensively.
Tortorella responded, "I think sometimes people think he's just a shot-blocker and a guy who can bang along the boards, forecheck and finish checks. This is his third season now with 20-plus goals. He can also play and make plays."
He continued, "I think 'Cally' has a little bit of a chip under his shoulder that everybody thinks he's a one-dimensional guy and he isn't. As he keeps on growing as a player, he's certainly showing that."
This season, Callahan is on pace for 33 goals and 61 points. His 10 powerplay goals are equal to Capitals' superstar Alexander Ovechkin. Both players are tied for fifth best in the NHL.
After Sunday's game, I chatted with Brandon Dubinsky about Callahan's breakthrough offensive season. Dubinsky has spent the past six seasons playing alongside Callahan from their days with the Hartford Wolf Pack to their current Presidents' Trophy contending campaign with the Rangers.
"He's definitely taken it to another level this year. He was always one of the best, if not the best defensive forwards on our team with all the little things that he does. His offensive game has really come to a completely new level," Dubinsky stated.
"Listen, the guy scored 50 at one point in his career. It wasn't in the NHL but when you're able to score that many at any level, I'm pretty confident you can put the puck in the net. He's shown some of that this year," he concluded.
The 50-goal season that Dubinsky was referring to was Callahan's 52-goal season in 2005-06 with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. A 50-goal year at the NHL level is a rarity for any player. Even sniper Marian Gaborik hasn't accomplished this feat in his career.
For Callahan, a 30-goal season would mark be a nice landmark and proof of his continued growth into a more complete NHL forward.
Last season, Callahan was on the verge of turning heads but was limited by two unfortunate injuries that derailed his season and that of the Rangers. Still, he was able to record 48 points in 60 games.
On December 15th, 2010, Callahan broke his hand while blocking a shot of Pittsburgh's Kris Letang. He would miss the next 19 games.
The second of which took place on the Rangers' 80th game of the 2010-11 season. Callahan stood near the point to block a one-timed blast from Zdeno Chara. He somehow hobbled back to the bench with a broken leg. The Bruins' captain felt remorseful about ending Callahan's season and told reporters:
"Callahan is a top-six guy yet he still plays with so much heart and grit. You don't see many guys that throw their bodies around to block shots like that. He plays the game so hard. You have to respect a guy like that. I heard after the game that he'd probably broken a bone, so I just hope that he's okay long term."
The Rangers could have desperately used Callahan's influence as they crashed out of the playoffs after only five games but this year is a completely different story. Callahan is fully healthy and producing the best play of his career.
By combining his increased offensive output with his usual trademarks of physical play, defensive aptitude, leadership and numerous intangible qualities, Callahan has made himself into one of the league's best multi-purpose players. Tortorella can confidently plug him into any situation.
He has logged the most time on the penalty kill among Rangers' forwards and is a big reason why New York ranks 5th in the NHL with a PK% of 87.2%. Overall, the Blueshirts have struggled on the powerplay but Callahan cannot be blamed. He has accounted for 10 of the Rangers' 27 powerplay goals.
Through 54 games, Callahan ranks 4th overall among NHL forwards with 60 blocked shots but is yet to miss a game. He's only four blocked shots behind Boyd Gordon of the Coyotes who leads all NHL forwards. Callahan is also ranks 4th in the entire NHL with 195 hits.
By season's end, he could conceivably finish with 30 goals, 30 assists, 60 points, 15 powerplay goals and 300 hits. All would easily eclipse his previous career bests.
Rangers fans, do you believe Callahan deserves more credit nationally? Is this his best season as a Ranger? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.
for more features.