The Rangers announced this afternoon that they have signed free agent defenseman Anton Stralman to a contract. No terms were announced, but its widely understood to be a one year deal for under a million dollars.
Although there is much speculation as to what this means regarding the injury status of Marc Staal, it really may not have anything to do with that situation at all. Stralman is an experienced NHL defenseman, who can provide some offense and hopefully better defense than has been seen at times in Rangers’ blue this season. Although the Rangers may not have been as anxious to make this move had Staal been playing, its really the spot that the Blueshirts had hope that Tim Erixon would fill that Stralman will take on the roster.
A quick review of the defense indicates that this is true.
Currently, the Rangers have been using Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh as their top pairing, and they have played extremely well together. McDonagh’s progress has been nothing short of amazing, with the young two-way blueliner developing into a real top pairing player.
The second pairing has been the Mikes–Mike Sauer and Michael Del Zotto. Sauer has become just what he looked to promise last year, i.e., a quiet blueliner, who gets in the way of the opposition making plays. Whether its with his stick, his body, or just with good positioning, Sauer is there, steadily making the plays. It’s Del Zotto who has taken a leap forward this season. While the Rangers’ coaching staff were looking for Del Zotto to get his swagger back, what seemed to be the problem was that his focus was not always there. One good play would be followed by one that turned the puck over; consistent concentration did not seem to be in Del Zotto’s repertoire. So, he would make one incredible stretch pass to hit a man streaking in on the opposing goalie, and then pass across the ice in his own zone and have it intercepted. Or he would pass into his teammate’s skate.
Del Zotto’s defense was almost non-existent last year. But Del Zotto had both the creativity, vision and the shot to be one, so, it was hoped that he would grow into a third pairing power play specialist. It’s quite a pleasant surprise that he has become much more thus far this season. It’s not that he never makes poor plays, but they occur much less frequently, and when they do, they rarely are hurting the team very badly. And Del Zotto’s defense has improved enormously. No longer a liability defensively, the coaching staff can put him and Sauer out there at crucial times.
Had Staal been in uniform to start the season, Del Zotto would still be playing as a member of the third pairing. But he actually looks like he should be the number four guy on an NHL blueline. If there is a silver lining in Staal’s injury (which is hard to find, I know), its the development of Del Zotto under this pressure to become a second pairing blueliner.
It’s the bottom pairing that has been the problem for New York this season. Before the season, it was hoped that Erixon was ready for NHL play. In Traverse City, he looked ready and the Rangers were hopeful that he and Del Zotto would be their fifth and sixth blueliners. Steve Eminger was already signed as the seventh D-man, so it was thought that, if Erixon was ready, no further moves would need to be made.
As it turned out Erixon was not ready, but was thought to be close. Unfortunately, with Staal’s injury, Erixon was needed, and right after being sent to start the season with the AHL Connecticut Whale, he was recalled to take the trip to Europe. The first few weeks were difficult for the young Swede, and as it turns out, he really wasn’t close. He needs time to work on his game at the lower level; it does not, however, mean that he won’t be recalled later this season. It worked for McDonagh last season, and the Rangers hope the same will be true for Erixon.
What should have been one open position had Staal been playing was now two. The Rangers have used Eminger, Jeff Woywitka, and Brendan Bell as the fifth and sixth defensemen variously thus far this season. And although at times, either or both of Eminger and Woywitka have been adequate, if the Rangers want to get into the playoffs, this situation could not continue. So the question for weeks has been, who would be signed? Would it be a free agent or would there be a trade?
It’s early in the season for a big trade, so when rumors of an offer out to Stralman broke, it made sense. He could fill the role that Erixon was supposed to fill, and maybe ready to fill by mid-season. In the meantime, only one of Eminger and Woywitka will suit up each night. It’s a win-win situation, as long as Stralman plays as he did two seasons ago. It’s a risk, but right now the Rangers don’t have many options as they wait for Staal to return and Erixon to be NHL-ready.
The Connecticut Whale’s 6-3 loss last night to the St. John’s IceCaps was the first loss at home in regulation this season. The Rangers’ AHL affiliate is having an outstanding beginning of the 2011-12 season, and, until last night, the team had not played a game since the first week of the season in which they had not gotten at least one point (in four games in eight nights, they have recorded five points).
After Connecticut jumping out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by John Mitchell (on an amazing pass by Mats Zuccarello), St. John’s tied the score and then jumped out to a lead on a power play goal with less than a minute left in the first period. The Whale scored twice in the last minute of the second period, including the first goal of Ryan Bourque’s professional career, to take a 3-2 lead into the final 20 minutes.
Although the Whale had not gotten many shots on goal in the game, they looked to be coming on in the second period. But the third period was all St. John’s, as they posted three even-strength and one empty-net goals without any response from the Whale. Although Connecticut was never out of the game, the team appeared to lose their hunger as the night went on. And, Chad Johnson was just not able to make the big stops for the Whale last night.
Johnson, who this week was named the AHL goaltender of the month for October, was not on his game last night. He was often out of position and, at times, handled the puck poorly. But he did not have much help from his defensemen, who struggled with keeping the crease clear enough so that Johnson could see opposition shots.
One defenseman who played well last night was Pavel Valentenko. Back only a week from a groin injury, Valentenko is playing a better game than he did during training camp in New York. If he continues to play at this level, he should get another look in New York before the New Year.
Tim Erixon, who started the season with the Rangers, has some excellent skills, but it definitely was the right move to send him to Connecticut to hone them. Erixon has very good instincts on the power play, a deadly shot, and uses his stick well, but his positioning needs some work. It is very possible that he will be ready for NHL play by mid-season, but right now, he is in the right place.
Carl Hagelin is maturing with each contest. He is adjusting well to the professional game, with NHL speed and outstanding hockey smarts. Not expected to be an offensive force at the next level, Hagelin is a very effective top six forward in the AHL. Working on a line with Kris Newbury and Andreas Thuresson last night, Hagelin knew his role and executed extremely well.
Two players on AHL contracts are worthy of mention for their recent play. Kelsey Tessier, a second year AHLer who is reliable in all situations, does not always put up the points, but is an an excellent face off man in both ends. Tessier is small, but strong on the puck and able to fight through checks. The issue in terms of becoming an NHLer is his skating, but Tessier has proven his mettle at this level.
Jon Audy-Marchessault has been posting points regularly in the last six games. The rookie, who is even smaller than the diminutive Tessier, is an exciting offensive player. He is not strong enough physically to play at the next level right now, but he has brought a level of excitement and effort to the Connecticut game that was missing last season.
What I have not seen over the last few games needs to be mentioned too. First, although Mats Zuccarello had a beautiful assist last night, he has not been dominating the four games this week. His first two games back in the AHL had everyone scratching their heads as to why he was re-assigned. But in the last four, Zuccarello does not look out of place in Connecticut. And he should. Maybe its just a temporary lull, but, with his skill level, Zuc should be standing out in the AHL pretty much every night.
And Blake Parlett has not continued his eye-opening play of last Spring. After signing an ELC this summer, the young defenseman looked very good in Traverse City (before sustaining a knee injury). But, Parlett has not looked the same since, and it remains to be seen whether he can regain his previous form and become another solid Rangers’ blueline find.
The Whale play their next game in Albany tonight at 7 pm.
On paper, the Rangers looked like a rejuvenated team on Saturday afternoon, scoring four unanswered goals against the Ottawa Senators, taking advantage of all the breaks they were given in the second and third periods of the game, before giving up three straight in ten minutes and losing to the Sens 5-4 in a shootout.
The good news is that both Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards really looked like they played inspired hockey. And Wojtek Wolski appeared to be completely back from his injury, and playing hard on every shift. And Mike Sauer did so many little things right, its hard to put into words his quiet value to this team. His stickwork and positioning are superb, as is his steady control of the puck when its on his stick.
That is the good news; at least there is some. The bad news is that the Rangers have continued to put very few shots on net, and they had not been watching Ottawa’s last few games–where the Sens beat teams in the very last minutes–and seemed unprepared for the onslaught that was to face them in the later stages of the game. The Senators had surprised Columbus just a week before, tying the game at just over a half minute left in the contest and then winning with just 4 seconds in regulation. Or when three days later, after losing the lead, the Sens came roaring back to win 4-3 in a shootout. Or finally, on Thursday, when Ottawa scored the game winner with just a little over 2 seconds left to wipe out the Florida Panthers.
So when, the Rangers took a 4-1 lead at 8:05 in the third period, New York should have been aware that the Sens were going to come after them. Instead, the Blueshirts let up–and let in three goals in a little over eight minutes. After Ottawa tied the game, it went into overtime, which then led to a shootout. Milan Michalek was the only shooter to score in the SO, so the Rangers lost the game and any momentum they gained by their four straight goals.
After the game, management understandably decided to shake things up. Kris Newbury, who had been completely ineffective since being called up from the AHL affiliate, was reassigned back to Connecticut. Given Mike Rupp’s knee injury, the Rangers called up the combo tough guy/offensive producer Andre Deveaux, who has posted six points in nine games with the Whale this season, including a team-high four goals. Deveaux can be a good player, but he must play a consistently smart game to be effective. He has the tools to throw his weight around on the ice and contribute offensively in a bottom six role, but only if he does not take foolish penalties. It remains to be seen which Deveaux shows up tonight.
On defense, the Rangers reassigned Tim Erixon to Hartford. Erixon had been pressed into NHL service before he was ready, due to the injuries to Marc Staal and Sauer, but he really needs time in the AHL to develop. The Rangers were hoping that it would not hurt him to develop at the highest level, but Erixon is clearly not ready, and keeping him in the NHL could have long term negative effects on a prospect who is expected to become a major contributor in the future. The question is, who will take his place? Rumors abound of a trade or a UFA signing. Clearly a second to third pairing blueliner is needed, but when this transaction will be concluded is anybody’s guess.
The rumor mill also has Sean Avery returning to the NHL team after spending more than a week with the AHL Whale. Avery would have to clear re-entry waivers, so he would not be available for tonight’s game, but it does appear that he will rejoin the Rangers this week. While in Connecticut, Avery appeared in two games and scored an empty netter against Adirondack on Friday night (and then added a fight) and then had a shootout goal against Worcester on Saturday. Otherwise, he did not record any other points during his AHL tenure.
The Rangers meet San Jose tonight, and will get the opportunity to play against a team that is expected to go far in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Over the last two weeks, the Sharks have scored at least three goals in every game that they have played, which should prove a test for the Rangers’ blueline. There was a spark offensively for the Rangers on Saturday, which very well may carry over to this game, so don’t count them out tonight. It should be a very interesting evening.
After a very long season-opening road trip, the Rangers came home last night to a partially renovated Madison Square Garden and a very excited fan base. By the time the players were introduced, John Amirante sang the national anthems, and the puck was dropped, everything was at a fevered pitch. But by the third period, MSG was pretty quiet (except for the calls for the return of Sean Avery), as the Rangers were felled by the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 4-2.
Avery would not have helped last night though. True, the Leafs are no longer the pushovers that they had been for the past few years. But the Rangers had their chances, and Toronto’s number one netminder, James Reimer, was not playing. The Rangers had been able to get to the less steady backup (Jonas Gustavsson) last season, and got to him early last night. But the Rangers only really were in the game for 20 minutes last night, and, by early in the second period, it was clear that Henrik Lundqvist was not going to be making acrobatic saves on this night.
Uncharacteristically, Lundqvist let in two softies last night–the first on Matthew Lombardi’s early second period shot from outside, which was not an easy shot but Lundqvist makes the save 95 out of 100 times, and then in the third period, when Mike Brown put the puck past the Rangers’ netminder when it looked like he was not ready.
Frankly, Lundqvist can’t be keeping New York in the game every night. Occasionally, the skaters have to help him out. But last night, they left him flat, not being able to offensively produce when he needed them. During the first period, they took everything to the net, which caused the first goal, and had two others called off (Ryan Callahan was all over Gustavsson both times). Gustavsson looked rattled but the Rangers were never able to take advantage of it.
The Rangers coach talked after the game about the team being lethargic, but if I dare, I will disagree. What happened last night was that Toronto changed their play after the first period to stand the Rangers up through the middle of the ice. But the Rangers did not adjust. They never changed their strategy to match the Leafs’, and therefore when they tried what worked in the first period, they just kept turning the puck over.
After hearing the coach’s remarks, I thought I missed something, so I watched the replay video. Maybe I am the only one, but lethargy is not what I saw. What I saw was a team that did not respond to a change in strategy of their opponent and just kept trying the same thing over and over. In essence, the Rangers could not win the game. While this sounds like a simplistic explanation, try watching the replay yourself and watch the changes in the way Leafs’ played after the first period. Tell me what you see, and, if you see what I see, then tell me who is to blame for it.
Last night, the Rangers defeated the Winnipeg Jets (still getting used to saying that) by the score of 2-1. After a scoreless first period and an exchange of goals in the second (Ruslan Fedotenko and Nik Antropov), it was Ryan Callahan who got the game winner on a power play deflection at 8:41 of the third period. Callahan was on the rush and put the puck on net, when it went in off Winnipeg’s defenseman Eric Bogosian and right into the Jets’ net. You could say that this goal was a flukey, lucky break, but Callahan did exactly what the Rangers have had so much trouble doing this season–shoot the puck and put it on goal. (EDIT: As a reader has pointed out, its not clear that Callahan actually was shooting on goal, but there is no question that Callahan sent the puck toward the goal, and it went in off the opposing player).
In fact, the Rangers did several things right last night. First, the goaltending continues to be excellent, even when its been backup Marty Biron between the pipes. The defense also played better in front of Biron, and the offense converted on two of the four power plays. Plus, and this could be the most important thing, the Blueshirts stayed out of the penalty box.
But questions remain. If not for the great netminding, the Rangers would not be headed home with three wins on this Western Canada trip. They have 14 goals in seven games, with 14 goals against. What that says is the team is very weak offensively and has tremendous goaltending. It also says that the D is not doing that badly. While everyone has been focusing on who on the blueline is missing (i.e., Marc Staal and Mike Sauer), and how to get an acceptable sixth defenseman on this team, generally the defense’s results have been okay. Now don’t believe for a minute that I think that Jeff Woywitka or Brendan Bell can do the job for an entire season (or even for a month), and this last week both of them made significant blunders that caused both of them to be benched at different times, but it has not hurt the Rangers that much so far.
What has hurt New York, and will set them back even more as better teams come into Madison Square Garden, is their lack of offense. If you don’t shoot at the net, and get the puck on net when you take the shot, you can’t score goals. It is that simple, and once again last night, the Rangers were held to 17 shots. Its hard to win on shots numbering in the teens, which has been a regularity on this trip.
As better teams come to New York to play over the coming weeks, the Rangers will only be able to avoid a sea change in results if they focus on taking the puck in on net.
The first home game of the season is on Thursday when the Toronto Maple Leafs faceoff against the Blueshirts. With Phil Kessel on a tear, and Toronto’s run and gun offense, the Leafs are no longer pushovers. It will be the first real test against a very offensively potent team. New York may get lucky and face Jonas Gustavsson, who has not been as effective in goal as James Reimer, but the Rangers will have to score some goals and keep up their D to beat the Leafs this week.
Even before last night’s 2-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, there were questions about the Rangers’ identity. Temporarily sidetracked by two wins this week, the question reared its ugly head again last night, as New York looked pretty lost on the ice against Edmonton. If not for Henrik Lundqvist, who in my mind is the best goaltender in the NHL right now, the Rangers would surely be 0-6, and off to the worst start in recent history.
But Lundqvist is between the pipes, doing acrobatics to keep the Blueshirts in the game. Everything starts and ends with him, and although, there was a scare last night, when he had to leave the game because of foot pain, it appears that this is nothing serious and Lundqvist will be back either tomorrow or for the home opener against Toronto on Thursday.
Although netminding is the starting point for any contending team, and the Rangers duo might be the best in hockey, it does not define the identity of the team. Last season, the Rangers were a grinding team, hard to play against, in your face, very good defensively, but a little short on talent.
Shots on goal and actual goals were an issue, so General Manager Glen Sather went out and got a number one center, Brad Richards, to cure the most obvious glaring deficiency. The addition of Richards was not supposed to change the identity of the team, just give it more offensive production. The hope was also to be able to pick up a first line winger, but Sather was unable to do so without giving up a key young defensemen or a prized forward prospect.
Also a problem was the salary cap, to which the Rangers were coming dangerously close. Unless, of course, they waived Sean Avery, sent Mats Zuccarello down to the AHL and bought out Wojtek Wolski. There was only a short window for doing this over the summer, and for reasons that seemed good at the time, all three players were on the active roster for the pre-season. All of them had offensive ability (or in Avery’s case, once did) and a good shot at staying with the NHL team. As we all know, what has happened now is that both Avery and Zuccarello have been banished to the AHL, while Wolski has been out injured.
Whatever you may think of Wolski’s work ethic or consistency issues, the young man has amazing offensive talent. It was there in junior and it was there in Colorado–he can be very effective. But he has to be managed and the question that is whether that can be done here. Zuccarello is also very talented, tends to be more of a one-way player, but as yet unproven in North America. Frankly, I don’t buy that Zuccarello can’t play in a top six role in the NHL, but I am not sure that either Wolski or Zuccarello can be successful on this team.
Because this team is basically still a grind em out, 2-1 win, and if it goes to OT, no-problem, team. Neither Wolski nor Zuccarello are those kinds of players. And that kind of team needs a very powerful defense. With the ongoing injuries to Marc Staal and Mike Sauer, its very hard to make it work.
At this point, the team just doesn’t have enough to win consistently. But the least the management and fans could do is to be honest and say, this is who we are, and unfortunately right now we can’t win with what we have on any consistent basis. Management can then admit to themselves that they made a mistake signing Zuccarello and not buying out Wolski, because neither player fits the identity of the team, and make other arrangements to strengthen the team without causing distress.
Everyone in the organization needs to be on the same page, from the players, to the head coach, to the Director of Player Personnel (who does the drafting), to the General Manager as to what the identity of the team is going forward. It may not be the exciting, offensive hockey that everyone was hoping for, but it can win. And in the end, that’s what the fans will be happy with and will make the team the most money.
The Connecticut Whale were heavily outshot tonight by the Springfield Falcons, and for about 70 minutes all the play was pretty much in the Whale zone, but at the final buzzer the score was 2-1 Whale, so the ride home tonight is a happy one for the Connecticut team.
There were many mistakes, particularly by the defense, but Connecticut just coming after Springfield, and every time the Falcons shot the puck, Cam Talbot was there to stop it. Talbot was excellent tonight, challenging the shooters, showing good lateral movement and staying up long enough to block some shots and get some others with his glove. Talbot is looking better and better, and should be considered the number one netminder, at least for the time being. Expect Chad Johnson to play tomorrow, in third game of the three in three, but Talbot has been much better overall, and he should get the quality starts while he’s hot.
It was Wade MacLeod who scored first, for the Falcons, at 5:49 of the second period. It was an excellent shot that went through Talbot. Jonathan Audy-Marchessault answered in the third period, posting his first professional goal at 2:41. The Whale tried to come back, but Springfield had possession for most of the period. It was only near the end of the third period, with 4:53 left in the game, did Mats Zuccarello make an amazing play. He actually was below the goal line and put the puck toward the net. It banked off the Springfield netminder and went in.
Mats Zuccarello led the charge for the Connecticut Whale tonight, scoring 2 goals and one assist in the Whale’s 5-0 win over the Manchester Monarchs. Zuccarello, playing on the top line with Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell, was all over the ice, showing speed, excellent instincts, and great passing ability.
Every Connecticut player benefited from Zuccarello’s play, but none more than Cam Talbot, who was between the pipes for the shutout tonight. Talbot faced and stopped 23 shots, including one magnificent save he made in the last minutes of the third period. There were not many other good scoring chances for Manchester, but Talbot looked better tonight than Johnson did last weekend.
Rookie Carl Hagelin keeps developing every game. Tonight, Hagelin had an outstanding short-handed breakaway, where he barely missed getting the puck past Monarch netminder, Martin Jones. Hagelin’s timing, thinking and anticipating the play are improving each week. He should be ready for NHL play before the end of the season.
Other bright spots were the play of Andre Deveaux and Andreas Thuresson, both of whom had excellent games. They and Mitchell, who has been promoted to the top line, have shown the ability to contribute to the offense of this team. Deveaux appears to have thought the game better tonight, and Thuresson went to net regularly, where he was very effective. Mitchell had a goal and two assists, and was named the game’s second star. He had not really been much of a factor before tonight, but Mitchell and Zuccarello had some excellent chemistry on the ice.
On the opposite end of play was Stu Bickel, whose play tonight was absolutely horrible. In addition to taking two selfish penalties early in the game, he lost the puck and just plain gave it away more times than I could count. It was an awful display out there, and I believe that if Connecticut had any extra healthy players, Bickel would be sitting for quite awhile.
The Whale continue to have to work on shortening their shifts, but things looked much better overall tonight. A lot of that was about Zuccarello’s incredible play, which could be very temporary, so the Whale need to continue working hard.
The Whale’s next game is on Sunday in Hartford.
The Rangers have turned things around on their Western Canada swing. Before this week’s games in Vancouver and Calgary, New York was 0-1-2, and not looking very good on the ice. If not for Henrik Lundqvist’s sparkling play during the first three games, the Rangers would have had no points going into the Western Canada trip.
Lundqvist has also been instrumental this week, but he has finally gotten help from the skaters in front of him. The Rangers defeated the Canucks by the score of 4-0 on Tuesday evening. The goaltender kept the Blueshirts in the game, stopping 28 shots in the first two periods, when the Rangers only managed nine SOG. In fact, New York only put 19 shots on goal in the entire game (while the Canucks posted 40 shots on Lundqvist). But in the third period, the Rangers finally broke out, scoring four even strength goals on Roberto Luongo. It certainly was not Luongo at his best, but the flurry of 4 third-period goals really helped the team’s confidence, which carried over into last night’s game. It also gave the defense some credibility. Despite some questionable play, the blueline played well enough to allow the offense to win the game for the team.
Last night, the Blueshirts won again–this time the team jumped out to 1-0 lead less than five minutes into the game on the Rangers’ first power play goal of the season. All of the regulation scoring occurred in the first period, including the aforementioned PP goal by Marian Gaborik, the tying goal by Jarome Iginla on a wrister a minute later, the beautiful short-handed goal at 13:42 of the period by Brandon Prust, and the tying goal from Calgary’s Mark Giordano at 15:51. The score remained 2-2 for more than two periods, as New York participated in their third overtime game in the regular season. It looked like another shootout when with just 1.5 seconds left in OT Ryan McDonagh pinched in and put the puck past the Flames netminder Henrik Karlsson to end the game.
It was an exciting finish, and several things have emerged from the Western swing thus far. First, the Rangers appear to have found a left wing that works for now on the team’s top line. Derek Stepan has looked better than Brandon Dubinsky beside Brad Richards and Gaborik. Stepan does not fit the crash the net mold that ideally suits the line, and it would be wise to try Wojtek Wolski again when he is healthy, but Stepan does an adequate job for now.
As for the offense, no, New York’s 29 shots on goal last night was not high, but it was better than the night before, and is enough to give the Rangers a chance against the best teams when the defense is working properly.
The defense remains shaky without Marc Staal and Mike Sauer, and Jeff Woywitka is just not the answer to the number six guy. Woywitka made some bad errors last night, not the least of which put the Rangers down a man with less than 3 minutes left in the game. The score was tied at 2 goals a piece, Woywitka gets the puck behind the end line, has time and just puts it right over the glass–a critical error that could have caused the Rangers the game. It did not, but if this team will be a contender at the end of the year, it must make a change within another 5-10 games.
I say this because, even more than in the past, it looks like there will be very stiff competition for the 4-8th places in the conference. It sounds crazy, but losing games at this time of year could be fatal to playoff hopes or high placement. With Lundqvist looking extremely focused and at the top of his game, and Ryan McDonagh and Tim Erixon coming along game by game, the need for a reasonably priced veteran defensive blueliner is critical to giving Lundqvist a chance to make saves every game.
To be honest, Calgary is not the barometer for where the Rangers are and neither are Edmonton and Winnipeg. Let’s see what happens when the team gets home and plays the likes of San Jose and Anaheim. Hopefully, Sauer will be back by then, but even if he is, a trade for a blueliner should be on the front burner for Gordie Clark and crew. You can never have enough on D, and its not realistic to think that the rest of the defensive corps will all remain healthy for long.
The Rangers next game is tomorrow night in Edmonton at 10 pm EDT. But the AHL Connecticut Whale have a game at 7 pm tonight against Manchester. If you can’t get to Hartford to see the game in person, you can watch it live on AHL Live at www.theahl.com.
Late Saturday night, Kris Newbury was called up to the Rangers and Mats Zuccarello was reassigned to the Connecticut Whale. According to the Rangers, the reason for Zucarello’s demotion was to get him playing time, as he was averaging only 8:25 per game in New York’s three contests, and Newbury certainly earned the promotion, but one has to wonder where the Rangers can make the best use of Zuccarello’s skill set at the NHL level given their current roster.
If Zuccarello is to play in the NHL, it must be in a top six role. He is not a checker with a scoring touch, nor will he be most effective on the fourth line getting fourth line minutes, especially when the head coach does not roll four lines consistently.
So, hypothetically, where can the Rangers play him to get him the minutes he needs to be effective? If Brandon Dubinsky worked as a top line winger with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, then there might have been room for Zuccarello on the left wing of the second line. But as it happens, the coaching staff looks like it wants to keep the “Pack line” of Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Callahan together as the second line. Because the top line needs a go to the net, hang around the crease winger, which Zucarello is not (even assuming he has the skills to be on the top line), it has effectively has left Zuccarello on the fourth line, a place where Newbury, or another player with his skill set, will be more effective than Zuccarello.
So where? Frankly, at this point, I don’t see a place for Zuccarello on the Rangers. To me, it seems that it would be best for both Zuccarello and for the Rangers to make a trade with Zuccarello going the other way. I believe that he can play at the NHL level, but the Rangers are just not a good fit for him. With New York’s obvious need for a solid two-way experienced defenseman, and their slow start, a trade should be in the works to send Zuc somewhere where he can contribute and for New York to get the piece that they need.