By Brian Monzo
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This really is the best time of the year. It's getting a little colder outside, NFL Sundays are in their prime and the NHL season is getting ready to kickoff. There is nothing more comforting to me.
It was a long offseason for the New York Rangers and their fans. Coming off a final day of the regular season and losing in a shootout to the Flyers, ending the season, all on the stick of Olli Jokinen. It was a sad sight. Clearly, the fans and organization were not happy.
They needed to do something to give fans some excitement. They started the offseason with a curveball. They drafted Dylan McIlrath with the 10th overall pick in the draft. That really lead to a lot of Ranger fans, and top analysts scratching their heads. What we knew immediately was McIlrath was a big, tough defenseman. But why draft him at 10? Turns out, the teams drafting behind the Rangers (Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks) were hot on McIlrath's tracks. So, a Jeff Beukeboom-like defenseman. Not so bad, after all.
Next came free agency, which is similar to Christmas Day to hockey fans. The immediate need was a backup goalie and some goal scoring. Marty Biron was locked up early as their backup goalie. It took some time, but Alex Frolov was signed from the Kings to help up front. Also, Derek Boogaard, who has 544 penalty minutes in 255 games was signed to add some grit. In another move, they embarrassed the Thrashers by acquiring center Todd White for Donald Brashear and Patrick Rissmiller, ridding themselves of bad contracts and bodies.
They easily let Jokinen walk on July 1st and Glen Sather finally waived Wade Redden and his $6.5 million salary, assigning him to Hartford to play with the Rangers AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale.
With a mix of young players and core of veterans, Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik remain the Rangers top players and keys to the season. Ranger fans have two players that unless there is some sort of devastating injury, will be their keys for years to come. Another big part of the team is their captain, Chris Drury. Drury will start the season on the IR with a broken finger he suffered in camp. He should be ready two weeks into the season.
Lundqvist said on Boomer and Carton a few weeks back that he was guaranteeing the playoffs for the Rangers. With a little more goal scoring and consistency, they should be able to do that.
The Rangers defense is very young, which is a good thing. For a few years the Rangers drafted defense, defense, defense. The result has lead to Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto. Staal is the Rangers best defenseman. He continues to improve offensively, and is a force in his own end. Del Zotto scored 37 points in his rookie season, and will take more responsibility on the power-play. Dan Girardi, Staal's partner, signed a multi-year deal in the offseason and hasn't missed a game in the last three seasons.
Veteran Michal Rozsival, who has been with the team since the lockout, will continue to get the nod as Mr. Do-it-All defenseman. Matt Gilroy will be hoping for a better sophomore season then rookie year, as he become a healthy scratch as the season wound down. Gilroy will need to improve his physical play and utilize his offensive skills more. Veteran Steve Eminger was acquired in exchange for Aaron Voros and will add depth to the blueline.
Rookie defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko were among the final cuts and both proved they have futures with the team. Both will start in the AHL and could be called up when needed.
The Rangers offense was based around one player last season. Gaborik scored 42 goals and was the Rangers top threat. He finally gets some help with the addition of Frolov. The talented, yet inconsistent forward will be leaned upon for secondary goal scoring. In seven NHL seasons, Frolov has scored 30 goals or more twice and 20 goals or more five times. Together, they have combined for 429 goals.
From there, the Rangers have players who can put up decent point numbers.
Youngsters Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan are both 20 goals scorers. Dubinsky scored 20 last season and Callahan scored 19.
After scoring 58 points, veteran Vinny Prospal was re-signed on July 1st for an extra year. Prospal scored 20 goals last season, but that feat will be unlikely with the news of his lingering knee issues. Without a doubt Prospal will miss the first two weeks of the season and if there is no improvement, he could be in line for surgery and perhaps missing the season. The only thing good about that is the fact that younger players will be given a bigger roles.
Center Erik Christensen is streaky but can score 30+ points. Second year center Artem Anisimov will be looking to build on his 12 goals and 16 assists from his rookie year. Center Todd White was acquired from Atlanta in the offseason and has put up decent numbers in his career. After training camp, he was put on waivers but not claimed. He will start the season with the big squad but when Chris Drury returns, he will likely be playing in the AHL.
Winger Tim Kennedy was signed from Buffalo, and as a rookie last season, put up 26 points. Veteran Ruslan Fedotenko was given a tryout in the preseason, and scored seven points, earning himself a one year contract. The two-time Stanley Cup winner (including 2003-2004 with Tampa Bay, along with Head Coach John Tortorella) has scored 150 career goals.
Fan favorite Sean Avery will continue his role as the leagues best agitator, and is also good for 30+ points. Tough guys Brandon Prust and the 6'8, 257 lb Derek Boogaard will have the responsibility of holding down the physical end of the Rangers game.
Rookie Derek Stepan looked very comfortable in the preseason (3 goals, 2 assists in five games), and looks to have a shot to center Avery and Fedotenko on the third line, with Chris Drury out with a broken finger. The Prospal injury, also helps his cause.
That brings us to the aforementioned captain, Drury. Coming off career lows in goals and assists, Drury will be looking for a rebound season, offensively. We all know the attributes he brings to the ice. He blocks shots, wins face-offs and is a presence in the locker room. Many people are down on Drury. What fans need to remember is that Drury is the glue that keeps this team together. Players like Callahan, Dubinsky, Del Zotto and Stepan are being brought along by the ultimate team player in Drury.
I think this team is a playoff team. They addressed the positions they needed to improve on in the offseason. With a combination of young and old as well as tough and finesse, the Rangers are poised to be a fun team to watch.
Predicted record: 44-30-8
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