As Ranger fans agonize over what might have been, we are not going to dwell on the reasons why the Rangers lost but instead will send people off on a hopefully more positive note. We are very sure that we are going to hear that we are Ranger apologists but what we would like to see changed is for tomorrow.
Today is about what we liked about this season and when you break things down there is a lot to be happy about.
We have to start with the play of Brandon Dubinsky who took our once upon a time prediction of becoming a 2nd line center and exceeding it. Now we freely admit our own bias about Brandon because of what he has done for us and our own fondness of Clan Dubinsky but we never expected what we got from Brandon this season.
Regular season 14-26-40 is far more than one can expect from a rookie. That Jagr took Dubinsky under his wing and made him his center says volumes about the way Dubinsky played as a rookie.
In the playoffs, Dubinsky took his game up a level as he was 4-4-8 in the 10 playoff games but what was hardly mentioned was how well Dubinsky played under pressure. Even we were shocked that Dubinsky was used as a penalty killer in the playoffs, defense was never Brandon's forte.
His Homework: We want to see Brandon increase his upper body strength as we feel it is his weakest area. IF Dubinsky is going to drop the gloves we want to see a stronger Dubinsky and we will even ask him to take some boxing lessons (in other word Stop leading with his jaw)
Marc Staal was not much of a surprise for us as we predicted last year that he would make the direct jump from the OHL to the NHL. Staal did not let us down as we got to see the traits that will turn this rookie into what we believe is a future Ranger captain.
Yes Staal had his own share of rookie moments but they were few and far in between as the young defenseman made a statement with his play that he will be the backbone of the Ranger blueline.
The only area where we were really disappointed in was his offense as we expected more from him but that is OK since Staal's most important role was to be a defenseman.
His Homework: We want Staal to hit the weight room during this off-season as we did not like that Staal was easy to body off the puck at times. We also want Staal to become the leader of the Ranger defense and not defer to anyone.
Nigel Dawes gave Ranger fans plenty of arguing material during this season as Dawes during the first half of the season as Dawes was riding the bus back and forth between Hartford and NYC.
Once Dawes rejoined the Rangers in January for good; Dawes showed why he was worth arguing over as Dawes finished the season as the Ranger leader in plus/minus as a +11.
For all the concern about Dawe's size those concerns were answered very well by Dawe's play during the season. If we had concerns then it would be that we are concerned about Dawe's lack of consistency.
His Homework: Dawes needs to improve his consistency as despite his 14 goals there were 7 different stretches where Dawes went 7 games or more without a goal. Sorry but as much as we want to see Dawes make it then we want to see either more goals or more assists.
Do not get us wrong we are huge Ryan Callahan fans but Ryan Callahan was Tom Renney's biggest mistake this season. What we mean is that the player we got to see at the end of the season and in the playoffs could have been playing like he did had Renney sent Callahan to Hartford like he first planned on doing.
In our eyes, had Renney sent Callahan down even for a conditioning stint would have done Callahan a world of good. Whether it was his injury or his confidence upon his return to the Ranger lineup, Callahan was a different player.
While Callahan was with the Guelph Storm he was mainly just a scorer but since joining the Rangers, Callahan has blossomed as an excellent forechecker.
His Homework: Callahan finished 8-5-13 and if he wants to remain a Ranger then he needs to find his niche as a Ranger. We think Callahan needs to work more on his own consistency as we want to pencil Callahan in for 20 goals next season.
As with Dubinsky we want to see him improve his upper body as Callahan showed several signs of becoming a pest but we are concerned that his skinny frame will not handle the every game beating that the style of play that Callahan likes to play. We think Callahan can push Prucha out the door if he improves his body.
Challenging for jobs next season
We have to start with the nice surprise the Rangers got out of Lauri Korpikoski in Game 5 against the Penguins. Someone forgot to tell the rookie that he was supposed to play like a rookie instead of showing us a player with poise.
This season, Korpikoski broke out for the Wolfpack having a 23-27-50 season and now that "He gets it" then we expect Korpikoski to push for a job at the next training camp. Ideally we are going to pencil Korpikoski to start as a 3rd liner and move up as the season progresses.
Greg Moore spend so much time on the Hartford/New York highway that we expected them to name the route after him. Moore did not play badly in his cameo appearances with the Rangers and coming off a 26 goal season with Hartford then it is time for Moore to take the next step. Moore can play both center and right wing which will increase his value.
Dane Byers is another one we expect to see challenge for a job as we believe Byers can replace Ryan Hollweg on the 4th line next season. Byers is bigger than Hollweg by 2 inches but more importantly does not suffer from the brain cramps that have plagued Hollweg over the last 2 seasons.
The other reason why we are pushing for Byers is that he will offer more offense on the 4th line with both Betts and Sjostorm.
On defense, we wonder if Ivan Baranka has fallen out of favor with the Rangers because they did not choose him as part of the taxi squad when Hartford finished their season. We hope we are wrong as Baranka we think if he returns then finally Baranka will earn his roster spot as a Ranger.
Baranka we believe can replace Malik or Strudwick while offering improved play at both ends of the ice. Had Baranka been healthy the last couple of seasons then he would have already made the Ranger roster.
Artem Anisimov we like but we want to see him spend more time in Hartford (at least another half season) as we think Anisimov (who's play improved in the second half) would benefit from playing 15-20 in Hartford instead of 8-10 minutes with the Rangers. We do however expect Anisimov to be NHL ready by mid-season though.
Others to watch:
Hugh Jessiman: Made strides this season but needs more consistency and his own role
Corey Potter: Has improved his play and could surprise people because with Sauer suffering a torn ACL the door is open for him to steal a roster spot.
Bobby Sanguinetti: We know him quite well but think the Rangers are going to not force feed him to the Rangers. We expect him to have a strong camp but unless a super camp happens then he will spend time in Hartford.
Tomorrow we will start breaking down our own views on what happened this season with the Rangers
(All pictures courtesy of the New York Rangers and the NHL Media department)
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