Rangers Player Grades: Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello
When looking at every NHL team, each one features their top line, meant to contain the most skilled, best scoring forwards on the team that also play well together. Every line has its role, but the first line is where a lot of the scoring comes from.
Due to injury at the start of the season, and some new faces, Alain Vigneault struggled to find chemistry amongst the top three forwards. Rick Nash was always a top line staple, but Martin St. Louis started as the center in the first game of the season, because Derek Stepan was injured. Stepan was expected to be the team’s first center, but injury changed those plans.
At some point during the season, he decided to promote Derick Brassard to the top line, and soon after that, Mats Zuccarello on the right wing, due to how well him and Brass played last year. This line meshed perfectly together, and soon became the Rangers’ most productive line.
Nash, Brassard and Zuccarello could do it all. They play solid defense, maintain the majority of possession, and most importantly, score goals.
Regular Season: 79 GP, 42 G, 27 A, 69 PTS, +29
Playoffs: 19 GP, 5 G, 9 A, 14 PTS, +8
Rick Nash came into this past season following a scoreless Stanley Cup Finals and an overall disappointing playoffs for him. Per usual in the New York market, Nash received a lot of criticism, with some calling for a trade or a buyout.
However, Nash was also coming off of a season where he sustained a bad concussion, which affected his play, and his willingness to drive to the net. This may have been minor, but he played most of the season on the right wing, which was never his natural position.
This year, Nash came into training camp in phenomenal shape, determined to help out his team in a more impactful way. And he certainly delivered, having one of the best seasons of his NHL career.
Last season, Nash got off to a slow start, and was hampered by the concussion. This year was completely different, with the now 31 year old power forward getting off to a blazing start. In the first game of the season, Nash had two goals and an assist, setting the tone for the rest of the season.
He had six goals through the first four games of the season, and nine goals in the first nine games. He would keep up that blistering pace for a large portion of the season, consistently scoring goals and adding some assists through the month of February. He was regularly challenging guys like Alex Ovechkin and Tyler Seguin for the most goals in the league.
What was really special about the season for him was how he was scoring the goals, and how consistently he was scoring goals.
Ever since coming to New York, Nash has really grown as an effective two-way player. His big frame allows him to push opponents off of the puck, as well as keeping them away from the puck when he is on offense. He has a very active stick, and often intercepts passes and loose pucks. These characteristics are great on defense, but it leads to offensive chances as well.
A lot of times, Nash or one of his teammates would make a great play to steal the puck, and hit him flying down the wing for a breakaway. For a while it seemed like if he had any open space, the puck was going back in the net, practically automatically. But he was also scoring with well-placed wrist shots, off of feeds from his teammates, and off of deflections and rebounds in front of the net. The goal scoring was coming from all over the ice, and it seemed as if there was no stopping him.
Not only was he scoring a ton of goals, he was spreading out his production evenly, impacting nearly every game that he played in. Nash wasn’t scoring two or three goals every couple of games, it felt like he was scoring a goal almost every night. And they were usually important goals, either tying the game or giving the Rangers the win. Nash led the team in game winning goals with eight.
Despite what people may say, Nash was definitely more effective in the playoffs for this run than he was last year. His 14 points were good enough for second on the team in scoring, behind only Brassard, and he was still an exceptional three zone player, as well as driving possession on the top line.
It amazes me that people were unhappy with a 42 goal regular season, and 14 points in 19 playoff games, including seven points in the Eastern Conference Finals. He set career highs in goals and plus/minus, leading the team in both categories, and had the best playoffs of his career. It’s unrealistic to expect a goal a game in the playoffs, which is what people seem to think he should be doing. Nash is the team’s only true elite scorer, which means that almost all of the time, he will be shadowed by other team’s top defensemen.
If there is one gripe I have with his performance, it does come in the playoffs. Nash didn’t seem to go to the front of the net as often as he was during the regular season. But then again, this was a problem with a lot of players, like Kreider, Hayes, and the fourth liners. This could be a combination of unwillingness, but also less room on the ice.
In conclusion, it was an exceptional season from Nash. His blistering pace through the first five months of the season did slow down a bit, but he played well enough in the playoffs to give his team a chance at returning to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Rick Nash Final Grade: A+
Regular Season: 80 GP, 19 G, 41 A, 60 PTS, +9
Playoffs: 19 GP, 9 G, 7 A, 16 PTS, +9
In the Rangers run to the finals last season, Derick Brassard had a breakout season on the dynamic third line alongside Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello. Glen Sather quickly re-signed him to a five year, $25 million deal. At first, many people thought that the deal was a bit too expensive. But Brassard quickly proved his doubters wrong, and made Sather look like a genius for locking up the 27 year old for a while.
Brassard was expected to take over the second line center role for the departed Brad Richards, but he wound up taking on an even bigger role. Martin St. Louis, who never really played center in his career, was shifted back to the wing position, with Brassard taking over as the first line center. He took the increased responsibilities in stride and never looked back.
Brass quickly built chemistry with Rick Nash, and eventually had Mats Zuccarello bumped up to play on his right. That line quickly became the Rangers best, and we started to see exactly just what he was capable of.
Like Zuccarello, Brassard sees the ice very well. He’s an excellent passer, whether it’s connecting with an open player, or distributing the puck across the ice. Brassard and Nash combined to score goals very often, whether it was Brass feeding Nash, or vice-versa.
He was also very effective on the power play, often playing the point or staying above the faceoff circle. There he is able to utilize his passing abilities to full effect, cycling the puck beautifully. He has an underrated slap shot, which he utilizes when positioned at the point. Brassard led the team in power play points with 18 (6-12-18).
Year after year, Brassard continues to deliver in the playoffs. He led all skaters with 16 points (9-7-16) in the 19 playoff games, bringing an intensity and passion to the ice unparalleled by any other player. Since joining the Rangers, Brass has 40 points (17-23-40) in 54 playoff games.
Anze Kopitar, regarded as one of the league’s top centers, finished this past season with 64 points. Brassard was just four points behind him. He really grew as a player this season, with career highs on goals, assists and points, including his first career hat trick in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It will be exciting to see him continue to grow and improve as a player.
Derick Brassard Final Grade: A+
Regular Season: 78 GP, 15 G, 34 A, 49 PTS, +17
Playoffs: 5 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, +1
Mats Zuccarello had a career year in 2013-14, leading the team in scoring with 59 points, with 19 goals and 40 assists in the regular season. His efforts earned him the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, and a one year contract.
Zuccarello started the season on the third line, but was quickly bumped up to the top line with Brassard and Nash, a line that clicked, as previously stated throughout the article.
Zuccarello actually had a slow start to the season, hesitating to shoot the puck and not tallying points as consistently as last year. Some of it may have had to do with the fact that he was looking for a multi-year deal, and both sides were not able to agree to a price. That obviously made Zuccarello nervous, and affected his teammates as well, and started the trade rumors. Zuccarello is a very important part of the team, and a good friend of everyone in the locker room.
Zuccarello wound up taking a discount to stay with the Rangers, accepting a four year, $18 million deal, averaging $4.5 million a year. He could have easily fetched $5.5 million or more on the open market. But he wanted to stay on the team and with his friends, so he took a deal that worked for both sides. That is what you look for in a player, and everyone had a collective sigh of relief once he was locked up.
Immediately after he signed, he began playing better, recording multiple point streaks, scoring more often, and continuing to be that sparkplug presence on the ice. It seems like he is always all over the place, either going after the puck on defense, or driving possession on offense. He is another player that is so good on both sides of the puck, and he is probably the best possession player on the team.
Unfortunately, we really didn’t get to see what Zuccarello could do in the playoffs. Early in Game 5 against the Penguins, he was hit in the head by a Ryan McDonagh shot, and left the ice immediately. He wound up having a small skull fracture, some bleeding on the braid, and a brain contusion, or bruise. Thankfully, he is okay now, and will be ready for the start of next season.
The uncertainty of his future led to Zuccarello’s slow start, but once he knew that he was going to be a Ranger for the foreseeable future, he immediately began playing better and more comfortably. A devastating head injury cut his playoffs short, and dampened the Rangers playoff hopes. They would have been a better team if he was on the ice, but unfortunately we will never know how far they would have gone if he was healthy.
Mats Zuccarello Final Grade: B+
Posted on June 21, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged Brass, Brassard, Derick Brassard, Madison Square Garden, Mats Zuccarello, MSG, Nash Trade, Nashty, New York Rangers, NY Rangers, NYR, Rangers, Rangers Nation, Rangers Player Grades, Rangerstown, Rick Nash, Rick Nash Blues, Ryan McDonagh, The Garden, TJ Oshie Rangers, Zuccarello, Zuccarello brain injury, Zuccarello injury. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.