Even with the New York Rangers thrilling victory over the Phoenix Coyotes last night, which has put them on a three-game winning streak, they still have concerns to deal with. The Rangers brass needs to figure out how to deal with losing Ryan Callahan -- who has been as important of a cog as anyone this season -- for the next six weeks.
Logic will dictate that Todd White will serve as temporary shot-term solution to the problem. White -- a veteran NHL presence -- obviously wouldn't be expected to play up to Callahan's level, but he would be a solid replacement as a defensive forward. He's also a nice presence to have in a big or important game, simply because of his "already been there" mentality.
The most glaring solution to the Callahan problem is guys already on the team stepping up. I have a feeling that the player who will grab the biggest benefits is Artem Anisimov, who now has an unimpeded path to the second line. Anisimov has two goals and an assist in his last two games, and has really found his game since his seven-game pointless streak.
I also have a feeling that guys like Sean Avery, Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko will also see increased time and roles as John Tortorella tries to find a happy medium for his team.
But what about actually replacing Callahan? Well, I have a few ideas on that, so join me after the jump.The most obviously thought process for replacing and injured player is looking to the system. And since Ranger fans love their kids, this will probably be the most popular option on the table.
Two days ago our friend Andrew Gross talked to Jim Schoenfeld about some of the Rangers prospects down in the Connecticut Whale. Here were some of the highlights that I found to be really interesting:
Schoenfeld repeated what coach John Tortorella had said previously about Zuccarello, that upon the Hobbit's exit interview after being re-assigned to the AHL, he told the coaching staff he knew he had a long way to go to adjust to the smaller North American rinks and the more physical style of play.
"He's made great strides," Schoenfeld said of Zuccarello, who has 12 goals and 10 assists in 29 games, including six goals in his last 11 games.
In his last two games, Zuccarello has two goals and two assists.as he plays on a line with Brodie Dupont (three goals, eight assists) and Kris Newbury (three goals, 24 assists).
"He's used to being in the bigger rink, it's a bit of a process for him," Schoenfeld said. "He's as creative a player as there is in that league, for sure. And more creative than many in this league."
Then Gross added:
And, of course, the Rangers would have to have a need and a spot for Zuccarello. Schoenfeld said, obviously, Zuccarello would be misplaced in a fourth-line, grinding, energy-type role.
Can you say "perfect timing"?
The feeling I got from Gross' article -- and again I have no inside knowledge or information -- is that the Rangers would like to take a good hard look at Zuccarello at an NHL level this season. Sure, the other quotes in the story suggest that Zuccarello needs a little more time in the AHL before he can make a significant impact, but with the injury to Callahan this is the perfect opportunity for Zuccarello to showcase his skills to the Rangers brass.
Zuccarello can play on the third-line with a bunch of different pairings. For those of you who are dreaming of a Zuccarello-Derek Stepan pairing, you can probably stop now. Both players are pass-first and playmakers. It does neither of them any good to be paired with each other at this point in their careers.
Maybe when both have some more NHL time under their belts, and they get accustomed to scoring a few more goals it might work. But for right now, I don't think it would be smart to move them out of their comfort zones to simply make a "kid line."
I do, however, love the idea of a Zuccarello-Boyle-Avery line. Boyle has shown this season that he knows how to get to the tough areas of the ice and create space for himself. So if Zuccarello is as good of a passer as everyone is saying he is, him and Boyle might be a match made in heaven. I also love the idea of Avery on this line, because Avery will take the others teams attention away from Zuccarello and give him some more space to work with. Avery also has a nice shot to boot.
For you Stepan lovers out there (I'm one too) don't worry. Whoever gets called up, if anyone gets called up, won't step on his ice time or positioning on the team. John Tortorella called Stepan the "best playmaker on the team" a few weeks ago and that hasn't changed.
Aside from the hobbit the Rangers might also look towards Evgeny Grachev or Jeremy Williams. Grachev has seen six games this season, compiling no points and posting a -2 in 7:30 of ice time a game. Williams saw only 3:43 minutes in his single game with the big club. I'm not too sure that I expect either guys up, but they are definitly being considered.
Also, for anyone who thinks that this would be the perfect time for Tim Kennedy to get called up, you're right. However, I doubt that he would pass through re-entry waivers (where any team who takes him get's him at half his $500K salary, with the Rangers on the hook for the other half) so he isn't really a viable option.
Anyone I missed? Anything I missed? The floor is yours guys.