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New York Rangers: Key Players to watch for in the Playoffs

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers hi five line 2-4

The Rangers are a complete team from top to bottom, but who will stand out in the playoffs? Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

One of the Rangers’ strengths throughout the regular season was the fact that everyone on the roster was able to contribute or provide production in some way. Whether it was goal scoring, or defensive play, or penalty killing, each player brought something to the team that helped make the Rangers one of the best teams in the entire league.

Alain Vigneault has created a lineup with great chemistry, and one that has been very effective throughout the season. The Blueshirts have four quality forward lines with a great amount of depth, all able to chip in with offensive production to an extent, as well as playing a solid defensive game. After trading for Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes, the Rangers have one of the deepest defensive units in the NHL. And with Henrik Lundqvist healthy and performing well, he presents another threat to opposing teams.

Obviously, every player’s performance is important to coming away with a win on any given night, but throughout the playoffs, some players will stand out from the pack with their clutch performances on both sides of the puck.

This is who I think will be the key players for the Rangers in the playoffs.

Rick Nash – 42 G, 27 A, 69 PTS

rick nash profile 3-24

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

 

This is an obvious one. Rick Nash was the team MVP this season, leading the team in goals (42) and points (69). Nash is known for his goal scoring ability, but he is actually a fantastic three zone player, a facet of his game this is not discussed nearly enough.

Nash has really grown into a strong defensive player, pairing with Derek Stepan on the penalty kill. One thing that is very noticeable is his active stick, as he is always breaking up or intercepting passes, creating chances for himself. He’s a strong net-front presence, and can place his wrist shot with ease.

Last season, Nash was criticized for his playoff performance, scoring three goals in 25 playoff games, with all of them coming in the series against the Canadiens. Although he still did a lot of other things to help the team win, Nash needed to be that goal scorer.

I think this is the year that he comes alive in the playoffs, and does act as that scoring outlet the Rangers need him to be. I also think that a lot of last year’s issues had to do with his health, which isn’t a problem this year. Expect Nash to be a leader both on and off the ice, and I think we’ll see the offense come from him during the playoffs this year.

 

Derick Brassard – 19 G, 41 A, 60 PTS

derick brasard 4-6

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

Brassard has been really good, and pretty consistent, throughout the entire season. Setting career highs in goals (19), assists (41), and points (60), Brass was able to give the Rangers that true number one center they have been searching for. His passing ability seems to have gotten better, and alongside Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello, he’s got a lot of talent alongside him as well.

What’s special about him is the fact that his skill translates well from even strength to the power play. Brassard actually led all Rangers in power play points, totaling 18 points on the man advantage. He was first in assists (12) while up a man, and tied with Rick Nash for second in goals (6). He has a very underrated slap shot that he can utilize from the point, and can find the open man with ease.

The Rangers will need their centers to perform well if they plan on going far. Brass was solid in the playoffs last year (6-6-12), but he will play an even bigger role this time around.

Chris Kreider – 21 G, 25 A, 46 PTS

chris kreider goal celebration 1-20

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

Under Alain Vigneault, Chris Kreider has continued to blossom into one of the premier power forwards in the league. The combination of his size and blazing speed, coupled with great hands and a nose for the net, makes him a particularly dangerous player whenever he is on the ice.

Kreider was yet another player who set career highs in offensive categories, setting new personal bests in goals (21), assists (25), and points, as well as leading the Rangers in power play goals (7). He has been fantastic since the All Star Break, skating on a dynamic line alongside Derek Stepan and JT Miller. His size makes him tough to move off of the puck, and he is very strong along the boards.

After his growth throughout this regular season, I think he will continue to play well in the postseason. The Rangers speed as a team always poses a threat, but Kreider’s individual speed will certainly be a weapon. It seems like he has a breakaway almost every game. After a 13 point performance in last year’s postseason, I think he will expand on that performance, and will be one of the more effective players on the Rangers.

Kevin Hayes – 17 G, 28 A, 45 PTS

Kevin Hayes 10-19

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

Following a spectacular rookie season, Kevin Hayes enters his first ever NHL postseason with an important role. Coming into the season, many people expected the Rangers to be thin at center, and that the loss of Brad Richards, who had his contract bought out, would prove very costly.

But most people did not expect Hayes to play as well as he did. Hayes admitted that for the first couple of months, he was cautious, trying not to make any mistakes. That explains why the point production wasn’t there yet.

But since the All Star Break, Hayes has actually led all Rangers scorers in points, with 29 points (11-18-29) to close out the season, giving him 45 points (17-28-45) in his first ever NHL season. Drawing comparisons to Joe Thornton for his puck possession ability, and showcasing impressive skills with the puck, now is the time for Hayes to make a name for himself.

The line of Carl Hagelin on the left wing, Kevin Hayes at center, and Martin St. Louis on the right wing has been so good, Vigneault kept them together when Rick Nash missed a few games. St. Louis’ experience and Hagelin’s speed complement him well, and this could wind up being one of the best lines for the Rangers.

Now is the time for Kevin Hayes to make a name for himself. And I think he will do just that.

Dan Boyle – 9 G, 11 A, 20 PTS

dan boyle 3-2

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

Dan Boyle’s season got off to a rocky start, after breaking his hand in the first game, but after some time in the system, he has been playing much better. Actually, Boyle has been the best defenseman on the Rangers when it comes to possession numbers.

Boyle’s production decreased from last season, finishing the year with 20 points (9-11-20) in 65 games played. While the points were down, his overall play was solid. He was certainly an above average defenseman, and his puck moving skills are still top notch.

But he has really shined in the postseason throughout his 17-season career. In 107 career playoff games, Boyle has tallied 70 points (14-56-70). He’s been instrumental in some of the San Jose Sharks’ playoff runs, and had 10 points (2-8-10) in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2003-04 Stanley Cup winning season.

He’s a playoff performer, and with his career coming to a close soon, I think he will be extremely motivated to try and win another cup.

Henrik Lundqvist – 30-13-3, 2.25 GAA, .922 SV%

henrik lundqvist 4-2

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

 

You aren’t going to win a Cup without goaltending, and Lundqvist is one of the best in the business.

After coming back from a vascular injury, Lundqvist performed very well, posting a 5-1-0 record along with a 1.99 GAA and a .933 save percentage. He looked extremely sharp, and appeared to be back in game shape in a very short time.

A healthy, rested Henrik Lundqvist going into the playoffs has got to intimidate some teams. He was phenomenal during the playoffs last season, and coming within three wins of the Stanley Cup has him hungry to claim it for himself this year.

Lundqvist is rested, playing great, and extremely motivated to win it all this season. With the Rangers having home ice throughout the playoffs, and Lundqvist’s success during elimination games at MSG, it’s potentially a recipe for success.

 

Who do you think will have an impact in the playoffs? Leave your choices in the comment section below, or tell me on Twitter @The_RangerZone.

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Posted on April 15, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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