With grit, and now depth, the Rangers bottom-six can fill its role better

Jared Wickerham

The Rangers' season is more than a quarter of the way done, so it's time to give out grades.

Last Tuesday night's loss versus Boston marked the Rangers 21st game of the season, giving us more than one reason to drink besides the '13-'14 campaign coming of age. Over 25 percent of the way through the season, the Rangers are below .500, where they've found themselves for the majority of the season. The pretty good news for the team? The new Metropolitan Division has underperformed as a whole, and if the playoffs started today, the Rangers would find themselves in them. Will that be the case if this keeps up for another 61 games?

In this final report card, we examine the Rangers bottom six forwards, who can provide both depth and grit when filling their role effectively. Keep in mind this report card is only grading player's performance through game number 21.

Carl Hagelin, B+

Hagelin missed the first ten games of the season recovering from his shoulder surgery, and when he made his return to the lineup the impact was noticeable. The Rangers had already been turning their season around at that point, but it was evident that the speedy winger was adding something that had been sorely missing. He came out flying and scored four goals and four assists for eight points through his first seven games while creating a lot of chances for his linemates, before cooling off and going scoreless through the next four. His notable ability to drive the play has been as good as ever, his +4.3 FF% rel. (the difference in the team’s 5v5 possession with and without the player on the ice) is second among the Ranger forwards behind Kreider. He is currently on pace for 26 goals and 52 points in 72 games, a pace he is unlikely to keep up if he doesn’t get PP time. But at least 40 points should be within reach, especially if he gets reunited with Rick Nash with whom he had great chemistry last season, and considering that 40 ES points tied you for 64th in that category in 2011-12 it is not something to scoff at.

Highlight of the season: Scoring the first two goals in the 5-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes. The second goal was arguably the more impressive one where he exited the penalty box, raced down for the cleared puck in the Carolina zone, took it to the net and slid it 5-hole on Peters to make it 2-0.

- Axel Fant-Eldh (Axel’s Grade, B+)

Derek Dorsett, B

Derek Dorsett does many good things that go unnoticed. The rugged, fourth line forward is a player Alain Vigneault has trusted in late-game situations while protecting a lead, and Dorsett has proven himself more than accountable in the defensive zone. It's easy to point out games like the one in St. Louis earlier this season, where Dorsett took two bad penalties, and compare him to a guy like Sean Avery. But what Dorsett does for the Rangers goes beyond the box score.

Dorsett is a player who is deceptively quick, and can get in on the forecheck and apply pressure. His line of Boyle and Dominic Moore do pretty much what you want out of a fourth line: defensive accountability, grit, and the ability to wear out the other team.

Highlight of the season: Tough to pick a highlight from the team's worst loss of the season, but Dorsett showed off some of his rarely seen skill on this dangle on a breakaway.

Dominic Moore, B

There probably isn't a player in the entire league, let alone the Rangers, that should be rooted for more than Dominic Moore. After taking off all of last season following the tragic death of his wife, Moore is back in the NHL with the Rangers, the team that drafted him in 2000.

With Moore, the Rangers get a defensively sound fourth-liner who can kill penalties, and is good cycling the puck on the boards. Moore battled an oblique injury that forced him to miss seven games, but he's back healthy now. Again, the Rangers aren't looking to Moore to be a top contributor on the scoresheet, but a goal here and an assist there would certainly boost his resume. In 81 games in '08-'09, Moore posted 45 points, a pace the Rangers would certainly take from their fourth line grinder.

Highlight of the season: From a bad angle on the rush, Moore takes an intelligent shot that creates a rebound. Later on the play, Zuccarello scores, tying up the game for the Rangers, and giving Moore his only point of the season.

Brian Boyle, C+

Brian Boyle has six points (one goal and five assists) through twenty-one games this season which is a pretty underwhelming number but let's forget that number for just one minute and take a look at the other things that the towering Boyle brings to this team. He is third on the team with hits, he's the best faceoff man on the team by a large margin (56.8%), he leads all Rangers forwards in SH TOI/G with 2:20, and he leads the team in DZSt% (Defensive Zone start percentage at even strength). Saying that Boyle plays tough minutes compared to other Rangers forwards would be an understatement, he plays nearly all of the tough minutes. He might not be scoring much but he's already eclipsed what he accomplished last season in points and is on pace to eclipse his shot total as well.

He will likely never repeat his twenty-one goal season in 2010-2011, scoring goals and picking up assists simply isn't where Boyle's value lies. His value lies in his ability to win important faceoffs, kill penalties, forecheck, and go head-to-head with skilled forwards on opposing teams. Boyle is grossly underappreciated and undervalued by Rangers fans. With all of that being said Boyle is absolutely snake-bitten. He is fourth on the team in shots with 46 and has just one goal. Just like so many other Rangers forwards he has to start finding ways to get the puck into the net but we shouldn't expect him to ever approach his totals in the 2010-2011 season.

Highlight of the season: Boyle gets his first (and thus far only) goal of the season on Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury on the rush. He snipes it shortside on Fleury and you can see the relief in his face as he celebrates with his teammates. You can see how frustrated he is with his lack of scoring.

- Mike Murphy "Dig Deep" (Mike's Grade, B)

Derick Brassard, C

After joining the Rangers late last season via a trade with the Blue Jackets, Derek Brassard showed glimpses of what made his the sixth overall pick of the 2006 draft. In 13 games late last season for the Blueshirts, Brassard was nearly a point-a-game player, and showed definitive, offensive signs of life.

This season, things have taken a bit of a turn for Brassard. With the Rangers battling injuries, and juggling lines, Brassard was asked to take on a bit of a larger role. While he's appeared in all 21 of the Rangers' games this season, Brassard has posted a pedestrian line of 4-4=8. His reluctance to shoot the puck (a trend the team has asked him to buck) has inhibited him in the goal scoring department. But with the Rangers back with their full compliment of players, Brassard can now take on a more realistic role for the team. Centering the third line, and manning the half-wall on the team's second power play unit may fit Brassard far better than a more prominent role. With less pressure and spotlight, it will be interesting to see how Brassard performs.

Highlight of the season: In what would go down as Cam Talbot's first career win, Brassard finished off the Red Wings with this breakaway, overtime winner.

J.T. Miller, C

The best thing for the development of a young player is consistent minutes. Unfortunately, for J.T. Miller, the gameplan for the 20-year-old prospect has been "wait-and-see." Miller has appeared in 15 games this season, where his play has left a lot to be desired. The 2011 first round pick, selected 15th overall, could only muster a goal and an assist when he was able to crack the lineup. His play has seem uninspired, he's been easily moved off the puck by most NHL defenders, and his game has lacked an overall sense of creativity that has bolstered his play through the minor league and the World Juniors.

Miller made the decision much easier for the Rangers brass once the lineup became a numbers game. Remember, Miller got the call up from Hartford before Chris Kreider, and only one of those guys played their way into consistent starts. At this point, the best thing for Miller might be a reassignment to Hartford. When Miller is up in the NHL, the expectation is he'll be able to contribute offensively on a consistent basis. Finding his game in the AHL may serve him well.

Highlight of the season: The play itself may not have been the direct result of Miller's work, but he did a good job finding an open pocket of ice, and finished off the Rangers prettiest goal of the season, and Miller's lone tally.

Taylor Pyatt, D+

If Taylor Pyatt was remaining in Vigneault's good graces thanks to their time spent together in Vancouver, it will be interesting to see what happens when Pyatt returns from injury. The big forward is currently sidelined with a concussion, but wasn't doing much to solidify his lineup spot when he was healthy. Pyatt doesn't need to put up huge numbers to prove his worth, and he does many other things beyond goal scoring, but a -8 in 16 games certainly was below expectations. The Rangers current fourth line is currently clicking pretty well, and it might be hard justifying breaking up that trio.

The question then becomes can Pyatt work in on the third line. If Benoit Pouliot (who will get to momentarily) continues to look lost on the ice, Pyatt could get his crack there. But if that's the case, he'll need to look a little more like the forward who scored 23 goals in 2007 under Vigneault in Vancouver, and not the player he looked like pre-concussion.

Highlight of the season: We'll gave Taylor Pyatt the benefit of the doubt, and say this headman pass to Carl Hagelin, which set up this goal against the Hurricanes.

Benoit Pouliot, D

When the Rangers signed Benoit Pouliot this offseason, each side had a lot to gain from the transaction. Pouliot, who was taken fourth overall in the 2005, was given another chance to find his game, and resurrect an NHL career that has never quite lived up to expectation. For the Rangers, Pouliot could slot in on the third line, and provide depth to an offense looking to produce more. Pouliot also seemed like a good fit for Alain Vigneault's up-tempo system.

Instead, Pouliot has been an enigma, or even more so, a player who's rarely heard from. He's appeared in all 23 games of the Rangers season, while only recorded four points. He hasn't been aggressive in the offensive zone, and despite seeing occasional time on the second power play unit, hasn't taken advantage of any of those opportunities. When Rick Nash made his return to the lineup, there was some chatter on whether or not Pouliot would sit. He escaped losing his lineup spot on that occasion, but there might not be anyone else ahead of him at this point if the Rangers need to get a new forward into the fold.

Highlight of the season: Barring a postseason matchup, Benoit Pouliot will go down in the record books as scoring the last goal between the Rangers and Islanders in a game played in Nassau Coliseum, as he roofed the game-winner over the glove of Evgeni Nabakov.

Incomplete: Jesper Fast, Arron Asham, Brandon Mashinter

Read part 1 of the series: Per usual, the Rangers biggest strength has come between the pipes

Read part 2 of the series: Strong in their own end, the Rangers defensemen need to step up to Alain Vigneault's challenge

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