The 2015-2016 season was one to forget for Rangers players and fans alike. After a hot 14-2-2 start, the Blueshirts finished at a 91-point pace. A pace that, over a full season, would’ve missed the playoffs. Considering how the team limped into the first round just to get embarrassed by the eventual Cup champs, that might’ve been a good thing. That’s the past though. This off-season was an interesting one for Slats successor Jeff Gorton. With limited resources, he had to figure out a way to “rebuild” with the potential for immediate improvement. All things considered I think he did an excellent job. The potential to bounce back as an Eastern Conference powerhouse is there. Cup Ready? – thats TBD.
Brassard (29 – Ottawa), Stalberg (30 – Carolina), Moore (36 – Boston), E. Staal (32 – Minnesota), Glass (33 – AHL), Yandle (30 – Florida), Boyle (40 – retired)
Zibanejad (23), Vesey (23), Buchnevich (21), Grabner (29), Jooris (26), Pirri (25), Holden (29), Clendening (23)
There’s absolutely no denying the Rangers are significantly better up front simply by subtraction. Eric Staal & Glass are relatively useless. I love Dom Moore but the game looked to pass him by last season. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Stalberg return but he’s not exactly a linchpin guy. Brass was a fan-favorite, but moving him for a better two-way center that scores at a similar clip & has yet to hit his prime is the right decision. Gorton has retooled these forwards in a big way and its already starting to translate into success.
It’s only 6 games – two of which they lost – but this New York Rangers team looks infinitely more equipped to succeed playing the up-tempo game that’s sweeping the league. The speed & aggressiveness is obvious compared to last year’s passive squad & that’s in large part to Jeff Gorton’s off-season tinkering. Under-the-radar newcomers like Grabner, Pirri & Clendening have given the Blueshirts exactly what was expected so far. Nick Holden has soaked up 21 minutes a game & been solid. Jimmy Vesey has had his opportunities to score but appears a bit snakebitten. Buchnevich has shown a better two-way game than I expected & has been an asset despite a couple “rookie” plays. And anyone skeptical about the Brassard/Zibanejad swap has to have changed their mind.
A big part of Kreider’s early success (seven points in five games) can be attributed to Zibanejad doing a great job of opening up some space and moving the puck into soft areas so that the big American winger can play to his strengths. Zibanejad just seems to have eyes in the back of his head, one pass that displays all of his gifts came in the first game of the season against the Fishsticks when the centerman peels out of the corner and finds Brady Skjei at the point.
One of the best parts of Zibanejad’s game is his ability to move the puck to his linemates after drawing defenders to him. This is an important aspect of any center’s game, but Zibanejad does it with incredible grace and it’s allowed his linemates to play with more space in front of them.
Not only has Zib shown great chemistry with his linemates & as much offensive capabilities as Brass, but he’s dominating the dot & working his ass off in the defensive zone. This kid is going to be a star. Gorton should do everything he can to lock him up long-term before even risking him as an RFA before next season. #93 doesn’t turn 24 until the playoffs start & has apparently helped turn Chris Krieder into the monster we’ve been waiting for. Kreids was stellar all preseason & has followed that up with consecutive 1 G/1 A/7 SOG efforts in the games that count. He’s teased us before but this is a newfound confidence he’s skating with. This time, it feels so real.
The road ahead is not an easy one, but if the past few games are any indication of how the season will go, we’re in for a real treat. Big picture, the window is still wide open for the New York Rangers.