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What to expect: Projecting the Rangers scoring for 2015-16

rangers celebrate a goal (good pic) 5-10

The Rangers were a strong offensive team last year. Can they score at the same pace in 2015-16? Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Bobby Bevilacqua

Last season, the Rangers were one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL, scoring a total of 248 goals, behind only the Dallas Stars (257) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (259). Carried by a prolific top line and some strong depth forwards, Alain Vigneault created a potent offensive team.

But like every other season, there is always change, this year coming mostly among the depth forwards Martin St. Louis, Carl Hagelin, James Sheppard and others. With all of the new faces coming into the lineup, that brings uncertainty.

It’s fair to expect that the remaining members of last year’s top six (Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan) will post similar numbers. Players like Kreider and Stepan may even see some improvement.

The uncertainty comes with the bottom six, where the Rangers seem to have a lot of fresh faces coming in. Viktor Stalberg, Emerson Etem and Jarret Stoll are all new to New York, and prospects like Oscar Lindberg have a chance to break into the NHL.

On top of that, Vigneault has a lot of second year players who have question marks, such as JT Miller, Jesper Fast and Kevin Hayes. Kevin Hayes and Miller both performed well offensively, especially Hayes, but they could be afflicted by the “Sophomore Slump.”

kevin hayes 12-13

Kevin Hayes enjoyed a marvelous rookie season, and he will play an even bigger role in his sophomore year in the NHL. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Nash, Brassard, Zuccarello, Kreider and Stepan combined for 113 of the team’s 248 goals, with the now-retired Martin St. Louis providing an additional 21. While it’s fair to expect some drop off from Nash’s 42 goal season, it’s also safe to say that Chris Kreider is poised for a breakout season. If Stepan stays healthy, then he can add a few more goals, and Zuccarello will likely have a few more than 15.

It’s still unclear who will assume the second line right wing role for the majority of the season, but it will probably come down to Kevin Hayes or JT Miller. While Hayes can certainly develop into a strong center, I feel like the organization aims to move him back to the wing, starting with this season.

Last year, Hayes impressed everyone with his 17 goal, 28 assist rookie season, putting him fifth amongst all NHL rookies, and tied with Joe Thornton and Tyler Seguin for the most primary assists (21) in the ENTIRE LEAGUE. Needless to say, he was really good.

A little while back, I wrote a piece about Kevin Hayes and the sophomore slump. Last year, he proved that he was no ordinary first year player. He demonstrated some incredible poise, an amazing skillset when it comes to handling the puck and passing, and he was the Rangers best offensive player after Christmas.

Last season, Hayes tallied 45 points with a constantly rotating cast of wingers. Assuming that he gets bumped up to the right wing position on the second line, he should play almost the entire season alongside Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan.

Hayes and Kreider played together at Boston College for a year, winning the national championship. On top of that, Kreider and Stepan are both entering a year that has “breakout” written all over it. Combine Hayes with those two, creating a line that has size, speed and skill, and the rookie standout could definitely have a big second year. Don’t be surprised if Hayes tops 20 goals and nears 55 or 60 points. He can do it.

chris kreider and derek stepan celebrate 2-16

Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider are both primed for breakout seasons. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The third line will probably look completely different from last year, and even more so if Hayes is moved to a top six role. The Rangers traded away Carl Hagelin to the Anaheim Ducks and got a promising young player in Emerson Etem, a former 60 goal scorer with the Medicine Hat Tigers and a point-per-game player with the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL.

As of right now, I don’t see anybody else but him getting the right wing spot on the second line. In Anaheim, Etem practically rotted away on the fourth line with the Ducks, playing with less skill players. Jeff Gorton has already come out and said that he will be given every opportunity to assume a top-nine role, and he deserves the chance to prove that he is capable.

Either Jarret Stoll or Oscar Lindberg will take the center role on the third line. Stoll is the veteran presence, a good forechecker, great on faceoffs and a solid defensive player. Oscar Lindberg is also a good faceoff man and a strong defensive player, but his offensive upside is much better. Last season, he scored 28 goals and 28 assists during the regular season with Hartford.

With the right teammates, Etem could really thrive with more playing time and being paired with skilled players. His stats are similar to Miller’s coming into this past season, and I think he will perform like he did, with a 25-30 point season. I see Miller as a Brandon Dubinsky type of player, and a future 40-50 point player. Putting Lindberg in between them means at least 22 points, with a good shot at going above that.

Emerson-Etem

After trading Carl Hagelin, the Rangers will be looking for Emerson Etem to thrive in a top nine role and chip in offensively. Photo courtesy of Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports.

With all of these new players, there really is no way that Tanner Glass should have a spot in the lineup. Vigneault is smart, and I have faith in him to make the right call. Removing Glass alone improves the offensive production of the Rangers fourth line, as well as their possession and defensive coverage.

Dominic Moore will be returning to the Rangers following a very successful regular season. Moore finished with 10 goals and 27 assists, putting him 10th on the team in scoring. It was really a nice season for him, and impressive when you consider the fact that he didn’t have much help on the wings.

This season, it looks as if he will have two Swedes by his side; Jesper Fast and Viktor Stalberg. Fast tallied 14 points (6-8-14) in the regular season, but he really impressed in the playoffs. Vigneault bumped him up to the second line during the series against the Capitals, and Fast responded with three goals and three assists in 19 playoff games.

Viktor Stalberg is a former Stanley Cup Champion from his playing days in Chicago, and he will be playing with the Rangers after a failed stint in Nashville. He dealt with injuries last year, and only played 40 games in the NHL. However, he’s a former 20 goal scorer, an excellent defensive forward, and surprisingly quick.

Stalberg, Moore and Fast gives the Rangers a fourth line that could be as good as the one the Rangers had during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, consisting of Derek Dorsett, Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle; a line that can handle tough defensive minutes, pin opposition back in their own zone, and score every once in a while.

Even if the forwards slack off a bit, I think that the defenders will be able to pick up the slack. I expect a rejuvenated Ryan McDonagh during this season, with performances similar to his spectacular 2013-14 season. And Keith Yandle is an excellent offensive defenseman, easily capable of putting up 50 points.

No matter which way you look at it, it seems like the Rangers have the makings of a team that could be even better offensively than the team from this past year. Even if you see slight production dips from Rick Nash, Derick Brassard or players like that, the Rangers have four strong lines that are all capable of scoring.

Factor all of that in with a potentially full, healthy season from Ryan McDonagh, and 82 games with Keith Yandle, the Rangers are set to be one of the top offensive leagues in the NHL yet again.

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Posted on August 31, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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