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2015 Report Cards: Rick Nash Unleashed

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The playoffs were a different story but in the regular season Rick Nash was the offensive dynamo the Rangers needed him to be.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

We all know what happened with Rick Nash in the 2015 NHL Playoffs and just how frustrating it was for the Rangers and their fans, however if you hear or read someone incessantly diminishing what Nash did during the regular season for the Blueshirts because of his notorious scoring woes in the postseason you should stop listening to them or click the little white "x" in the little red box on your browser. Nash was a monster for the Rangers last season and he did a hell of a lot more than just score more goals than anyone else on the club by a 21 goal margin, but let's go ahead and take a look at the goals first.

In 79 games last season Rick Nash scored 42 goals and 27 assists. Nash's 42 goals, nearly twice the amount of his team-leading 26 goals that he scored in 2013-14, was the most goals scored by a New York Ranger since Marian Gaborik scored 42 in the 2009-10 season. The last time someone eclipsed the 42 goal mark with the Blueshirts was back in 2005-06 when Jaromir Jagr terrorized goaltenders around the league with 54 goals while skating with Michael Nylander and Martin Straka. The only players in the NHL that scored more goals last season were Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos of the Bolts who scored just a single goal more than Nash did after 82 games.

Have 30 minutes? Here are all of Nash's goals from last season.

It goes without saying that Rick Nash's role is to create offense and score goals and that is just what he did for New York last season. In addition to his offensive rampage, Nash was also the 4th most frequently used forward on an exceptional Rangers' penalty kill. Although Nash scored just 6 power play goals (he has never been a very productive player on the power play), he did find the net 4 times while shorthanded. We hear and use this phrase a lot when we talk about hockey, but its hard to think of a better way to describe Nash than by saying he was a "complete" forward for the Blueshirts. I'm not sure there are many Rangers' forwards that were better backcheckers for the club or so quickly turned strong defensive plays into dangerous offensive assaults. When Nash was on the ice good things happened for the Rangers and this was true all season long whether or not he was scoring.

Rick Nash hex

Nash's average shot was taken from 40 feet away from the net.

In the past we have seen Nash avoid attacking the net and going to the dangerous areas of the ice presumably because of his injury history, but what we saw in 2014-15 was a confident Nash who regularly attacked the net and looked faster and stronger than he did in 2013-14. Very rarely did we see him squander zone entries or scoring chances and he made sure to get the puck on net where it belonged. Only Ovechkin put more rubber on net than Rick Nash did with his 304 shots last season. When Nash was on the ice at even strength for the Rangers outscored their opponents by 24 goals and he was tied with Zuccarello for being on the ice for the most Rangers' even strength goals.

Damn, this line was fun to watch.

Nash played almost exclusively with center Derick Brassard and playmaking winger Mats Zuccarello last season and the three of them proved to be one of the most potent lines in hockey. The chemistry between Nash and Derek Stepan was potent in the abbreviated 2012-13 season but Nash looked as if he was a man reborn skating with Brassard and Zuccarello. As Kevin Power touched on in an earlier report card, Brassard had a career year skating alongside Nash in the regular season and getting him the puck. When the Rangers' top line was on the attack, especially on the rush, it was a sight to behold and Nash was an outstanding triggerman. The creativity and vision of the unselfish Brassard and Zuccarello with the unleashed Rick Nash was a potent recipe that helped the Rangers be one of the most offensively dangerous teams during the regular season.

From March 11th to the 26th Nash had an 8 game scoring slump that allowed Stamkos to overtake him by season's end and Ovechkin to really pull away. While in that slump Nash put 3.8 shots on net per game which turned out to be his season average shots per game rate. During that slump it was hard to criticize his game because of his production and what he did all season long when he didn't have the puck. Whether or not the puck was going in for Nash he was always a force to be reckoned with when he took the ice and an outstanding and often under-appreciated player when the puck was not on his stick.

Grade: A+

Adorable.

I can't imagine what Nash's production would look like if he was more dangerous on the power play, but when you consider that he had just 6 power play goals to Ovechkin's 25 and Stamkos' 13 last season it would probably mean he'd be consistently talked about as one of the best goal scorers in recent NHL history. As it turns out, that is already the case. Nash is 4th in the league in goals since 2008-09 behind only Ovi, Stamkos, and Corey Perry. The fact that he does the vast majority of his damage at evens should paint a very clear picture about just how complete his game is and how he scores his goals.

I know that there will be plenty of comments about Nash not scoring in the "games that matter" in the postseason and criticisms about me giving him the grade that I gave him, but I have to stress that we are only taking into account his performance in the regular season. Nash's cap hit of $7.8 million made him the highest paid Rangers' forward by a wide margin and he is and was depended on and expected to score goals for the team. In 2014-15 he did just that for the Blueshirts and then some. The frustration of the 2015 Playoffs notwithstanding, Nash had an amazing year. In my opinion he met and exceeded all expectations in regards to his play in the regular season and was everything that the Rangers needed him to be and more, which is why he earned an "A+" from me.

As always, thank you for reading and let's go Rangers.

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How would you grade Rick Nash's 2014-15 regular season? What do you project Nash's production will be like next season? Why do you think Nash is ineffective on the power play? Should the Rangers continue to use him shorthanded or make sure he gets more ice time at evens and on the man advantage to maximize his chances to find the back of the net? Let me know what you think in the comments section.

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