Halfway There: 2010-2011 Midterm Grades

NEW YORK NY - JANUARY 05: Mats Zuccarello #36 of the New York Rangers salutes the fans following his game winning overtime goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on January 5 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After 41 games, the Rangers have been a pleasant surprise. They currently sit at 23-15-3, good for third in the Atlantic and seventh in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers have been great on the road, with a 13-7-1 record, which is one of the best in the NHL. However, their 10-8-2 record at The Garden is what is preventing this team from being among the elite in the East. This Ranger club is different from the rest, as they have established an identity as a hard working team that doesn’t give up. They can score, play decent defense (+17 goal differential), and have great goaltending. Their first half was surprising, but fun to watch. Let’s get to those grades.

Forwards:

Brandon Dubinsky: If I told you at the beginning of the season that Brandon Dubinsky would be leading the team in goals (16), assists (18), points (34), powerplay goals (4), powerplay points (9), and shots on goal (106); then you would have told me to lay off the sauce. But after 41 games, Dubinsky leads the Rangers in all of those categories. Not bad for a 24 year old center playing on the wing this season. Oh, he is also one of the top penalty killers and face-off guys on the team. Suffice it to say, he’s had a good first half, and personifies this Rangers identity. Grade: A+

Ryan Callahan: Before breaking his hand last month, Callahan was right up there with Dubinsky in that surprise department. Callahan’s 10-13-23 in his first 32 games put him in second in scoring for the Rangers, in addition to five powerplay points, two shorthanded points, and 128 hits (averaging four per game). Callahan is the heart and soul of the Rangers, and has been for a year or two already. This year, he is finally starting to produce, making him an invaluable asset to the Rangers. Grade: A+

Derek Stepan: The Rangers rookie surprised everyone by making the roster out of training camp, and then by netting a hat trick in his first NHL game. However, after that hat trick, the rookie center went on a very long pointless streak, which was broken with a pair of streaks with 5+ games with a point. Stepan is very streaky, which is expected of rookies. He is currently third on the team in scoring (11-12-23), and is in the discussion for the Calder Trophy. Stepan really needs to work on face-offs, where he is downright terrible. Other than that, it’s tough to complain about what the kid has been doing. Side note: listen to him talk, he sounds like McLovin. Grade: A-

Marian Gaborik: Gaborik has been a bit of a mystery for the Rangers this season. He missed a good portion of the year with a separated shoulder, and missed some more time with a groin issue. Gaborik is still fourth on the team in points (11-11-22 in 27 games), but has been a non-factor in many games. Six of his goals came in the form of two hat tricks, which leaves five goals over the remaining 25 games. He also only has six powerplay points (three goals) in those 27 games. The raw stats are there for Gaborik, but he needs to be a game changer at even strength and on the powerplay for the Rangers to succeed long term. Grade: B

Brian Boyle: Raise your hand if you thought Boyle would be the Rangers second highest goal scorer (14) this far into the season. If your hand is still raised, you’re a liar. After working with skating coach Barbara Underhill in the offseason, Boyle’s production has skyrocketed. He matches his career high in goals in the first ten games of the year, and passed it on the 13th game. He has already tripled his career high in goals, and quadrupled his career high in points. He has become an integral part of the Rangers who contributes at even strength, on the powerplay, and short handed. Boyle is on pace for a 20 goal, 40 point season. Boyle is essentially last year’s Dubinsky in terms of production. Not bad for a guy playing at the league minimum. Boyle has earned the right to play as many minutes as he has been. Grade: A-

Artem Anisimov: Anisimov got off to an incredibly hot start playing with Dubinsky and Callahan (6-8-14 in 17 games), but cooled off considerably. After spending time on the fourth line in an attempt to find his game, Anisimov has come back with another six points in the past ten games. He is sixth in scoring on the team, and is showing that he can be another reliable center on a team that seems to have a lot of reliable centers. Anisimov is still very young, and has a lot to learn. His stint on the fourth line was well earned, and he seems to be turning his game around. Like most Rangers, his face-off skills need to drastically improve. He also needs to find his game on a more consistent basis. That consistency knocks him down a half grade. Grade: B-

Ruslan Fedotenko: Brought into camp on a professional tryout, Fedotenko outplayed the likes of Tim Kennedy, Todd White, Dane Byers, and others to earn his spot on the roster for this season. Fedotenko has 17 points (7-10-17) thus far this season, and has found a spot on a line with Boyle and Brandon Prust as the only line that doesn’t get broken up. He has shown that last year was a fluke, and has proven he still has a lot of game left in him. Fedotenko doesn’t get much powerplay time, but has still contributed offensively. There isn’t something in particular that stands out positively for Fedotenko, but there isn’t anything that stands out negatively either. He has been a solid addition. Grade: B

Alex Frolov: Frolov was brought on this season to be on Gaborik’s left side, and produce in a manner expected of someone playing with Gaborik. However, Frolov has failed to deliver in that aspect thus far. With just seven goals and 16 points, Frolov has been a relative disappointment thus far from an offensive standpoint. However, despite his offensive struggles, Frolov has been a solid player, and definitely hasn’t been a liability on the ice. It’s not what anyone expected, but considering the enormous amount of cap space the Rangers have (yes, they really have a lot of cap space), Frolov’s presence doesn’t hurt their ability to make moves at the deadline. Luckily for the Rangers, Frolov is on a one year deal. Grade: C-

Sean Avery: This is another classic Avery season. He plays hard, grinds it out, but has several disappearing acts, which limits his effectiveness. I have received countless emails and tweets about his playing time. Avery is a third/fourth liner who does not play the powerplay or the penalty kill. He has talent, but it only makes cameo appearances. In the end, he is another solid bottom-six guy, but one with a ton of assists (14) so far. Too bad he only has one goal to go with those 14 assists. Grade: C+

Erik Christensen: Christensen is another one of those guys with talent, but can’t showcase it on a consistent basis. If it weren’t for his shootout abilities, he would be completely useless on this team. There’s not much more to say on Christensen, he’s a guy with talent that underwhelms. The emergences of Mats Zuccarello-Aasen and Dale Weise have made Christensen obsolete. He is 3-for-3 on shootouts though. Grade: C-

Chris Drury: The captain missed a good portion of the season with a broken finger, but the team survived without him. Drury’s big scoring days are behind him, but he is still an incredibly important asset for this team. He plays great two-way hockey, he kills penalties, and he goes to the dirty areas on the ice. He is also the leader of this team. Contract aside, this team is better with Drury. If you expect solid defensively play from him (which is what most of us have come to expect), then it’s tough to be disappointed with his play. However, he has only played 10 games this season. There is still a lot of hockey left to properly evaluate him. Grade: INC

Derek Boogaard: The contract is ridiculous, but Boogaard hasn’t been the disaster everyone expected him to be. He holds his own, and isn’t a liability for those five minutes per game he plays. Bonus: he scored a goal this season. He gets a better than expected grade because he wasn’t the disaster everyone thought he would be. Grade: C-

Brandon Prust: In what probably symbolizes Prust’s contributions to the Rangers this season, I accidentally overlooked him when initially writing this post. Prust has flown under the radar for everyone that does not follow the Rangers, but he has been another heart and soul guy for the team. He plays significant minutes as a third liner and penalty killer, and he leads the Rangers and the league in short handed points. He skates, he scores, he fights, he grinds, and he does the little things right. I will take a shootout loss to miss the playoffs one year to have Prust on the Rangers for years to come. He is a part of the core, and he will be here for a while. Grade: A-

Todd White: Who is this guy? Did he every play? Grade: D+

Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, Dale Weise: Both were recent call ups, and both have been pretty good thus far. MZA’s first NHL goal was a beauty on Wednesday. It’s clear they are both ready for full time NHL duties. They still get incomplete grades though, as they have 10 games total between the two of them this season. Grade: INC

Evgeny Grachev: Clearly not ready for the NHL. Grade: INC

Jeremy Williams: Honestly forgot that he was called up early in the year. His one game left a lasting impression. Grade: INC

Defense:

Dan Girardi: Girardi has been arguably the Rangers best defenseman this season. He is putting a lackluster previous season behind him, and has really elevated his game this season. He leads the defense in scoring (3-17-20), and as almost twice as many blocked shots (118) as the guy below him (Steve Eminger – 66). Girardi has really been a stabilizing force on a very young blue line. He will continue to be an anchor as he plays out his new contract. Grade: A-

Marc Staal: Staal is what everyone expects him to be. He is still prone to the epic turnover, but that’s a part of the growing pains for a 24 year old defenseman (will turn 24 in a week). Staal gets consistent minutes against the opposition’s top talent, and takes it all in stride. He is slowly working offense into his game (six powerplay points), which was highlighted by a four game point streak last month. Staal is the Rangers most important piece on the blue line. He is currently one of the best shut down defensemen in the game, and his offensive contributions will continue to grow. As for this year, Marc Staal has been Marc Staal, which is always a good thing. Grade: B+

Michal Rozsival: Grading Rozsival is tough. He plays big time minutes for the Rangers, and it is clear that he is an important piece on the blue line. There aren’t many others on this team that can play his 20 minutes per game. That said, Rozsival is clearly the third best defenseman on this roster. He is prone to mistakes, but is also one of the more reliable defenders on the blue line. If he ever gets his confidence back, which includes shooting on the powerplay, those irrational boo-birds will be quieted. That’s a big IF though. Regardless, he’s still an important piece for this season. Grade: B-

Steve Eminger: After a very weak preseason where he was hampered by a groin issue, Eminger really became reliable for the early part of the season. When Rozsival went down with his injury, Eminger filled his role admirably. That said, Eminger should not be a top-four defender on any club. He takes himself out of position way too often. At least he didn’t cost much. Grade: C

Michael Sauer: The last remaining piece in the Brian Leetch trade, Sauer had been NHL ready for a full season before finally earning his spot on the roster this season. Sauer has been nothing short of magnificent. He plays hard, hits hard, and doesn’t back down from a fight. He’s never going to be a Marc Staal or a Chris Pronger, but he is a solid third pairing guy who has the potential to play as a top-four defender. The best thing you can say about a defenseman like him is that you don’t notice him, which is a testament to his ability to play solid defense. His type of defensemen only get noticed when making mistakes, something he has limited. Oh, he also leads the team in +/- with a +11. Grade: B

Michael Del Zotto: Oh boy, what a rough season for this kid. After bursting on to the scene last year, MDZ’s game fell off the face of the Earth. He played better defense, improving on that -20 rating last season, but the offense hasn’t come in any form of consistency. He was yanked off the point on the powerplay, and then was demoted to the CT Whale last week. It’s clear he has some issues with his game. The kid is 20, so patience is key. That booing doesn’t help either genius. Grade: C-

Matt Gilroy: It took a while, but Gilroy finally found a way to crack the roster with MDZ’s struggles. In fact, Gilroy’s solid play was the main driver in the decision to send MDZ down to CT. Gilroy has been great in his limited time, and is tied for the lead in goals amongst defenseman with three. Consistency is always the key though. With MDZ down, Gilroy will need to continue to be solid to keep his spot. Grade: B-

Goalies

Henrik Lundqvist: There’s really not much to say about Lundqvist. He’s one of the best goalies in the world, and gives the Rangers a chance to win everyday. Without him, the Rangers are terrible. With him, they stand a fighting chance. Those weak goals need to stop though. Seriously. The first was kind of funny, the second was a disappointment, and each successive one makes me die a little on the inside. Cut that out already. Grade: B+

Martin Biron: Nothing like having a backup goalie that can put up numbers comparable to your all-world starter. Biron has been excellent in his 11 appearances, except for those clunkers against Atlanta and the Islanders. Biron gives the Rangers flexibility in net, and a chance to rest Lundqvist. For some reason, playing 82 games a year makes a goalie tired for the playoffs. Who knew? Grade: B+

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