Rangers Analysis: Erik Christensen's Value to the Rangers

Erik Christensen: sometimes you see him, sometimes you don't. Since acquiring the 27-year-old forward on waivers last December, the New York Rangers have used Christensen in many different roles. He has centered Marian Gaborik on the first line, he has centered Derek Boogaard on the fourth. His career has been a series of ups and down, and we have seen why during his time in New York. But this season he has spent most of his time playing top offensive minutes, so it is hard to judge his actual value to this hockey team. What I am trying to get to here is this: Is Erik a key part of the Rangers, or is he just an "accessory" that they don't have much use for?

In 34 games played this season, Christensen has recorded six goals and eight assists for a total of 14 points. That puts him at twelfth on the team in scoring, which in other words means middle of the pack. However, five of those fourteen points have come in his last 9 games. When you think about it, he has upped the ante as of late and has been coming through at clutch times for the club. For example, he netted the tying goal in the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins last Tuesday. That tally sparked the Blueshirts' magical rally that resulted in a 4-1 win. Goals like those get the attention of the coaching staff, and that is why he was boosted to the first line after that game. This would be considered a "high".

As I mentioned above, there are many "lows" for the Edmonton native as well. Christensen has had multiple five-game slumps where he has gone without a single point. In addition to that, he went through an eight game stretch in the month of November not scoring a goal. This is when we saw him demoted to the third and fourth lines, after spending a lot of time between Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov on the first line prior to November. At the time, things were not going well for Christensen both on and off the ice.

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He made one of the biggest mistakes of his career by opening his mouth after a game between the Rangers and Oilers in which

Sean Avery

was accused of "sucker punching"

Ladislav Smid

. Shockingly, Christensen agreed with the accusations and threw his teammate under the bus in the media. The fan base jumped all over him for that and made him regret it. The very next game, in his pregame conference with the media, Christensen mad sure to compliment Avery's game multiple times. Head coach John Tortorella also confirmed that things between Erik and Sean were dealt with internally.
This is a mark on his record that a large number of fans will not ignore to this day. Personally, I have moved on since it was settled and Avery seemed to have no problem with it, but that isn't the case for most of the other fans. I've seen him been called all sorts of nicknames ranging from "backstabber" to "softie" to "selfish *explicit*". But I think this whole ordeal and the fans' take on it has skewed their overall opinion of Christensen, preventing them from actually admitting that the guy has some skill.
I think of Christensen's value to the team in the following way. How many players have been able to play with Marian Gaborik and have actually succeeded there? Not many, but Christensen is in the minority, which in this case is a good thing. He has showed some chemistry with Gabby in the past and that started last season back in 2009. Tortorella wasted no time pairing those two on offense and right off the bat they clicked. Since then, Christensen has been bounced around the lineup, but he always ultimately ends up back on that first line with Marian.
That alone, in my opinion, makes him valuable to the New York Rangers. He is a big-time player, one that emerges when the team needs a key goal. I guess you can compare him to captain

Chris Drury

in some ways, but Drury has a lot of other intangibles that he brings to the ice. Christensen, for the most part, is one dimensional. If he is not scoring then he is not effective. He contributes defensively once in a while, but the effort there is not consistent. In fact, the effort on both sides of the puck is not always there. So obviously Christensen's major problem (consistency) is no secret.
In the end, I believe the argument can go either way. There is evidence to back up an opinion stating that he is valuable to the Rangers, but there is also evidence to back up an opinion stating the Blueshirts would be just fine without him. So, I will leave it up for you to decide.
Is Erik a key part of the Rangers, or is he just an "accessory" that they don't have much use for?