Seems like each year we have this conversation about who should be the Rangers first line center or IF we even have someone capable of being a number 1 center on the roster. This year is no different as all the talk has surrounded a 20 year old Derek Stepan trying to make the jump from playing at the College and World Junior level to centering a number 1 line on Broadway. The other guy getting all the attention in this "battle" to at least start the year with Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov on their wings is Erik Christensen who in some respects at this point has become a journeyman center in the NHL.
In looking at these two I see strengths in both that make me understand why they are under consideration for the job. Everyone in here knows how much I love Stepan's game and I was talking about him being our future number 1 guy long before even last year started when all the hype was on Grachev as the future star. The vision, hockey sense and leadership he plays the game with is well beyond the 20 years on his birth certificate and only seek to enhance the tremendous skill he plays the game with. The only knock I have had on his game to this point is his faceoffs and obviously with his work ethic I expect him to get better at them. I also wonder about the transition from college hockey both in the length of the season and the physicality wearing him down because he is not built like Kreider is and/or will be when he comes out in a year. In watching the preseason games I have also noticed that when Stepan is not with Gabby and Frolov he doesnt have the same chemistry with the other forwards that have been in his games. It makes me wonder if he is in a situation where it is first line or the minors. I know i certainly dont want him to be playing 3rd line minutes here if he can be playing top line minutes in hartford, getting stronger and having the confidence that comes with being very successful down there. I believe he has the talent to be here, but wonder if some time down there might not benefit him down the line.
Where EC is concerned he has shown flashes of great play with some unbelievable skill level both with the puck and vision to pass the puck. He showed chemistry with Gaborik last year which is what is undoubtedly giving him all these chances in camp to play with him again. Erik is also solid on the defensive side, good on faceoffs which can help if Torts is going top line vs top line this year, but I have yet to see enough consistent performance and even in this camp consistent effort worthy of him getting the number 1 line job. Yesterday was obviously his best game but even within that there were huge swings in his perfromance.
Now that we have gone through the two guys who are getting all the talk we also have to mention the possibility that if either or both get their shot and struggle that Torts probably goes back to a safety net in Vinny Prospal. Having said that I come to my real reason for writing this today, Artem Anisimov who for some unexplainable to me reason has gotten no opportunities to win it himself. Artie finished the year on for some inexplicable reason the best line of him Shelley and Prust to the tune of 7 points in his last 10 games and having a dominant presence in the game every night.
This season AA looks bigger, stronger, faster, more physical and much more aware of the ice (skating with his head up) yet many of us are just hopeful that he gets a shot to play on the 2nd line with Dubi and Cally as an example. The other night in NJ he was mostly invisible for the first 2 periods playing with Grachev and Byers, but then in the 3rd he was moved to play with Cally and Fedetenko and it energized him and his game to the point where he was one of the best forwards in the 3rd and a big part of that comeback win. The reward for showing that was pairing him with Prust and Boyle with not even a thought to trying him with Gaborik and Frolov. Obviously the goal that AA scored shorthanded from Frolov any one of us could have made the finish, but he was with him stride for stride and when Frolov had the whole building thinking he was going to shoot, AA never stopped driving the net to be in position to get that pass. Maybe I am the only one who like to see him get a shot at centering those two and if I am that is fine by me, but I am just wondering why we consistently place inferior talent around AA. If he is relegated to playing 3rd or even 4th line minutes again this year then we are now starting to stunt his growth as a player, imo.