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Ranking the Rangers—The Top 12

John Dundon

This is the final part of a three-article series ranking the best performers on the Rangers this season. If you want to read the earlier parts of the series, click here for part one, and click here for part two.

Without further ado, let’s get to the top 12.

BONUS: The Fans

MSG celebrates a goal 1-5

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

The Blueshirt faithful.

Although the crowds at Madison Square Garden lacked the volume they’ve displayed in the past, the Rangers had the second highest winning percentage on home ice this season. They came in behind the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals—an accomplishment that we, the fans, should take solace in.

Despite sky-high ticket prices, MSG was full to capacity night after night. Say what you want about the team’s play on the ice, but the fans showed up ready to go all season long. Claps for us!

12: Jesper Fast

Jesper Fast full body with numbers 10-18

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Jesper Fast comes in at #12.

You could argue I placed Fast a little too high on this list. What he brings though in terms of effort level and smarts, combined with his cap hit ($950K next season) creates for a cheap, efficient player. The value Fast brings to the Rangers, and brought this season, is a positive contribution to the team. A positive contribution that’s not taking up a large percentage of the cap is a good thing. The increased offensive production combined with his always solid defensive play makes him a very important depth forward for the Rangers down the line.

11: Antti Raanta

Antti Raanta side profile great picture 3-8

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Antti Raanta will place #11 here.

The Finnish born goaltender made 18 starts in 2015-16 backing up Henrik Lundqvist. That’s a number you’d like to see get closer to the 20-25 game range for sure.

But in his first season as the King’s backup, Raanta was solid. He posted a .927 save percentage at even strength and a .848 save percentage on high-danger shots, right on par with Lundqvist’s high danger save percentage.

He started the season hot, going 4-0, giving up only five goals in those four starts combined. Then he hit a slump.

The turning point of Raanta’s season was the start he made at home against the LA Kings in which he gave up a bunch of shoddy goals. Postgame, Raanta said he knew he needed to be better going forward—and he was. Raanta went 7-1 in his eight starts after that loss, making his record in games he started 12-4-2. That’ll do, Antti.

Raanta’s solid stint earned him a two-year extension to remain Hank’s backup for the foreseeable future.

10: Kevin Klein

kevin klein goal celebration 10-25

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

After a solid all around season, Kevin Klein breaks my top 10.

Klein played in 69 games in 2015-16 posting 9-17—26. He missed a chunk of games due to a thumb injury.

Klein is a dependable bottom four defenseman who comes with a cheap contract, is a right handed shot and possesses probably the best shot of all Rangers’ blue liners. He’ll be an important part of the team’s retooling process. When Klein is on his game he is a good defender in front of his own net. He usually makes a good first pass out of the zone and rarely makes eye-popping errors.

9: Rick Nash

rick nash first star 12-15

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

After a disappointing season by Nash’s standards, he’ll come in at number nine on the list—an under achievement considering the talent level.

Ugh. What to say about Rick Nash?

He’s easily the Rangers’ best forward. He’s on the top five goals scored list across the entire NHL since the trade that brought him to Broadway. His possession numbers are among the best of any Rangers’ forward and his two-way game makes him nearly irreplaceable on the PK and when defending a third period lead.

And yet… Rangers fans can’t wait to ship this guy off to the highest bidder.

Well maybe it’s his playoff performances, which have been… what? You mean he’s been good in the playoffs recently?

Nash posted four points in the team’s five playoff games vs. Pittsburgh. Last season, Nash ranked second on the team with 14 points in 19 games. That’s 18 points in his last 24 playoff games if you’re keeping score at home. This, coming off of a 42 goal season in 2014-15.

Did Nash have a good regular season this year? Not by his standards, no. Should he be jettisoned as the scapegoat to a letdown ’15-’16? Absolutely not.

Of course, the salary cap means that sometimes deals like a potential Nash trade are the only option. If this is the avenue the NYR take though, they will struggle to replace his production and presence. Bank on it.

8: Chris Kreider

chris kreider full body 12-15.jpg

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Number 20 is number eight today.

Another player in which this all too common theme will be featured: Kreider’s 2015-16 didn’t live up to expectations.

They were lofty expectations for sure. After Kreider professed in the offseason that he was doing everything he could to take a step towards being an elite forward, we were expecting the moon.

What we got—21 goals and 22 assists for 43 points in 79 games—wasn’t the step forward we hoped to see. Given his size, strength, speed and shot, Kreider figures to be a player capable of consistently finishing around the 30 goal mark—that is if he puts it all together.

So while Kreider is a valuable top six forward with scoring punch and a physical edge (when he wants to play that way), he is physically capable of being much, much more. Whether or not he hits his ceiling remains to be seen.

7: Ryan McDonagh

ryan mcdonagh full body good pic 12-15

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Mac truck comes in at #7 after a season that was good, but not good enough.

To be fair to the cap’n, he was forced to play significant minutes with Dan Girardi throughout the season. This has absolutely had an effect on Mac’s possession numbers and overall effectiveness. You can’t strut your stuff as a top pair defenseman if you’re defending 60% of the time you’re on the ice. That’s the result of being paired with Girardi.

It does seem, though, that since being named captain before last season, McDonagh hasn’t hit the elite level of play that we saw in 2013-14 and before that. His scoring numbers have been decent, he finished this season with nine goals and 35 points in 73 games played. He missed time at the end of the season due to a finger fracture. He played in the postseason but was ineffective. It was noticeable.

This is the second straight postseason in which McDonagh has dealt with a significant injury. Maybe it’s bad timing, or maybe it’s a scary trend. In any case, McDonagh hasn’t played a full 82-game season without missing action due to injury since 2011-12. That is concerning.

McDonagh turns 27 in June. His time with the Rangers has been both eventful and disappointing in that they haven’t yet reached the peak. For them to reach that peak, McDonagh will need to be at his best. The Rangers MUST prioritize finding a legit right-side defenseman to pair with the team captain. His job will be made easier as a result.

6: Derek Stepan

derek stepan hi-five line 10-18

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

The good Minnesota boy Derek Stepan places sixth for me.

Step finished with 22 goals and 31 assists in 72 games played. The 25-year-old centermen notched 2.5 P/60 (points per sixty minutes played), matching his career high set last season.

Stepan is as solid as they come without the puck. He led Rangers’ forwards in takeaways and posted a 49.5 CF%–pretty good considering the Rangers are a possession nightmare.

He just signed a 6-year contract extension, and according to Larry Brooks, he’s been linked by trade rumors to the Minnesota Wild. This would be a bad move for the Rangers to make in any capacity. Stepan is a top line center whose best day’s production wise are still ahead of him. His passing ability is second to none. Trading him would be foolish.

5: JT Miller

JT Miller profile 1-5

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

JT Miller will get the #5 spot, coming off of a breakout year that the Rangers desperately needed him to have.

It seems like every one of Miller’s goals came at an important time. I oftentimes found myself asking where this team would be if not for JT Miller’s scoring prowess on the road, where the Rangers stunk in ’15-’16. He’s one of several RFA’s due for raises this coming offseason. It figures that Miller will get a bridge contract, given the team’s salary cap issues.

Miller’s 22 goal, 21 assist breakout season comes after a series of healthy scratches the year prior. It’s good to see that this didn’t stint his development. The 23-year-old Pittsburgh native’s combination of battle level and skill will see him have success on Broadway for years to come.

4: Matts Zuccarello

mats zuccarello passing 2-12

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

ZUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUC

Matts had another great season in Rangers’ blue. He led the team with 61 points (26G, 35A). His chemistry with Derrick Brassard on and off the ice is one of the best things the Rangers have going for them currently.

The tiny Norwegian has hit his stride at the NHL level after first coming over from Europe in the 2010-11 campaign. Hard to believe it’s been six years already. God I’m getting old.

Zucc’s passion and drive are only matched by his all-world skill level. Watching him is a lot of fun. Hopefully this isn’t his ceiling—I doubt that it is.

3: Derrick Brassard

derick brassard celebrating 11-3

Brassard’s emergence as a top line center is a huge asset for the Rangers. He was two points off his career high in points and set a new career high for goals scored, leading the team with 27.

Along with Zuccarello, Brassard has helped to give the Rangers a scoring tandem that is difficult to defend against. They churn out high-danger scoring opportunities at rates as high as any tandem in the league.

This season, it seemed like Brassard starting using his very underrated shot as an asset, and it showed. Like Zucc, Brassard’s skill level with the puck on his stick leads me to believe that this is not as high as his game can go. We’ll see.

2: Keith Yandle

keith yandle profile good pic 1-5

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Coming in for me at number two: Keith Yandle… *cries*

Yandle finished the season with the team lead in assists—42 in 82 games played. Yes, you read that right, offensive specialist Keith Yandle played in all 82 games this season. In fact, Yandle’s consecutive games played streak is second highest among active players, upwards of 520 games.

It’s looking more and more likely that the Rangers will not be retaining Keith Yandle. To make matters worse, well, they will be losing Keith Yandle.

There is no way to paint this in a positive way. The Rangers most valuable asset right now (that isn’t a 20-year-old Russian) is about to walk out of town. This would be devastating for the team moving forward.

Not only is Yandle the organization’s best offensive-defenseman since Brian Leetch, his presence in the top four will be difficult to replace given the lack of depth on defense once Brady Skjei and Dylan Mcilrath also assume full time roles.

He is a bright spot possession wise on what was a dark and ugly possession team this past season. He was the team’s MVP not named Henrik Lundqvist. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Yands on Broadway. *sobs uncontrollably*

1: Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist save great pic 2-23

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Henrik is number one. Duh.

He kept the team afloat when things were going really badly. To start the season, Henrik lead the team to a hot start despite being shelled literally every game. His playoff series against the Penguins wasn’t good, but it was about as good as it could have been given the circumstances. The team in front of him was just not good enough.

Everything that can be said about Henrik has already been said. The fact of the matter is that this guy needs help. He has been the team MVP in every season in which he’s played on the team. He deserves a Cup, plain and simple.

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Posted on May 27, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Kevin Klein didn’t miss a “chunk” of games due to a thumb injury. The other injury, “lower body”, was what kept him out a “chunk” of games, I believe.

    Like

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