Here's a thought: Without Sauer, would the Rangers have traded Rozsival? (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
IF YA SMELLLLLLLLLLL…..
In a year where Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Artem Anisimov are dominating games, where Derek Stepan is the rookie making all the noise, and where highly touted Ryan McDonagh is playing solidly after his mid-season call up, Michael Sauer is often overlooked as one of the key cogs that makes this Rangers team go. I must admit I was wrong when I said (in the beginning of the year) that Sauer would likely just rotate with Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy as the sixth/seventh defenseman. Sauer’s strong play throughout the season has not only moved the rookie up from rotating spare part, but it has made him one of the Rangers top-four defensemen, and a main reason why the Rangers aren’t missing Marc Staal that much.
Sauer’s road to the Rangers was a rocky one. The young Minnesotan was drafted by the Rangers in 2005 (2nd round – 40th overall), and joined the Rangers organization for the 2007-2008 season. Injuries plagued him throughout his AHL career, and although many deemed him to be NHL ready, his injuries and the Rangers overpriced free agents crowded the blue line. Following the expulsion of Wade Redden to the AHL this past summer, a roster spot was ripe for the taking. Sauer beat out McDonagh for that final spot, and he has earned every minute of ice time following.
Sauer will never be an offensive force, but his 11 points this season is far more than anyone really expected of him. Also unexpected is his +18 rating, which is tops on the team, and a result of his tremendous defensive play that has catapulted him up the depth chart to top-four defenseman. In fact, his play has been so solid that it made Michal Rozsival expendable, and led to his trade to Phoenix. His 3.7 GVT slots him as third on the Rangers, behind Staal and Dan Girardi, consistent with his place on the depth chart. He does this all while being one of the intimidating forces on the Rangers, with six fighting majors while sticking up for his teammates.
Derek Stepan will steal the spotlight for Rangers rookie of the year because of his offensive numbers and the way he exploded on to the scene. However, Sauer’s game isn’t designed to be flashy. The best thing you can say about a stay-at-home defenseman like Sauer is that you didn’t even notice him. Defensive defensemen aren’t supposed to be noticed. They do their job, they kill penalties, they shut down the opposition, and they do it game-in and game-out. The Rangers, simply put, would not be where they are right now without the emergence of Michael Sauer.