Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who Is On First?

Anyone who wants to see the New York Rangers sign Brad Richards seems to have a one track mind. The Rangers do not have a first line center anywhere in their system but sorry that is wrong.

Brandon Dubinsky has shown improvement every year he has been with the Rangers. His numbers have risen as he has developed his NHL game and he is only 25.

Yet despite being the one Ranger player is a true blue Ranger fan, he just does not seem to have the confidence of the Ranger fans. It is kind of a head scratcher why nobody is even willing to give him a shot it.

Friendly advice though, if you run into Dubinsky please tell him that you think he is not good enough to be a first liner. Dubinsky has made a career of proving people wrong (ask the person who yanked his chain about being the 4th best NYR prospect in 2006)

Then we have Derek Stepan who is a week away from his 21st birthday and while Stepan has gotten some consideration as a future first liner; it gets dismissed because he is too young, too inexperienced and terrible on face offs.

Trust me knowing Derek Stepan he is busting his butt trying to get better at everything for next season. Stepan has his own master plan for his career and I seriously doubt being 2nd best at anything is on that list of his.

But I think what gets me the most is this idea that your first line center must be a first round pick. If there was ever a huge misconception then it is that rather mistaken belieft.

If you are using that logic then you do not want Brad Richards as under the "first round pick" theory Richards does not qualify. Richards was a 1998 3rd round pick but somehow he has been able to become a first line center in the NHL.

Oh and next time you are at MSG please look up to the rafters and check out that #11 hanging there. Yes Mark Messier who is considered the greatest leader in Ranger's history was also a 3rd round pick way back in 1979.

Even the player that Ranger fans want to see the team trade for Paul Stasny was a second round pick. And whatever you do please do not tell the Detroit Red Wings about the "first round" rule as Landon Ferraro has been the only center they have taken in the first round since they took Keith Primeau in 1990.

In other words it is not imperative that the Rangers use the number 15 pick on a center as draft status has nothing to do with how one becomes a first line center. What does matter is doing the right things, giving them the right tools and having the patience to allow whoever the Rangers use as their first line center to make the job his.

There is no reason why Derek Stepan for his 21st birthday learned how to get better on his face offs. There is no reason why Brandon Dubinsky can not continue to get better and make the 1st line center job his.

If anything I think Derek Stepan has what you want from a first line center; he is a good two-way player, confident boarding on the verge of cocky and a willingness to be a team leader despite barely being 21. Nothing against Dubinsky but in my book Stepan is the one I would give the job too.

Back in 2008 while other prospects were telling me how they stayed in touched with their Traverse City roommates, there was Stepan telling me about how his draft class was doing. He was already friends with Ryan McDonagh, Chris Krieder and Ryan Bourque but telling me about how a Ethan Werek or Scott Stajcer were doing and asking about other Ranger prospects was impressive.

I really like Stepan and really if there was ever was a hockey version of "Revenge of the Nerds" then Derek Stepan would be the leader of the hockey nerds. And remember at the end of each of those "Nerd" movies they were the ones who got the last laugh on the "jocks."

Give Stepan the job and tell him it is his to lose while at the same time telling Dubinsky to beat Stepan out for it. But if you are going to spend more on free agents then use the money wisely not pissed away on one big name free agent.

While so many are thinking that Brad Richards is going to be the one who everyone targets that is not the case. The most sought after free agent this year is going to be Brooks Laich. Only 27 who made 2 million last season, Laich is the perfect player for the Rangers to go after.

For starters besides his age, Laich can play all 3 forward positions; you can use him on the power play as well as the penalty kill. Even better is when you add Laich to your locker room you are getting a guy who will lead and add good character to your team.

And what is better is that in talking to several friends who are scouts it is Laich who each says can become a regular 25-30 goal scorer with the right linemates. If you want to sign someone then take 4-5 million of your cap space and invest in a player who is just reaching the prime of his career not in the middle of it.

Then there is an area that few want to talk about since the passing of Derek Boogaard but has to be addressed. That is the role of team enforcer and Brandon Prust is not suited for that role.

This is not a knock on Prust at all but acknowledging that he is a middleweight asked to take on a role that leads to his getting injured. Prust has too much pride to take himself out of the lineup but if he repeats the kind of effort he gave in 2010-2011 then he will not finish the season.

You can not keep asking a player to keep playing hurt and sometimes you have to save him from himself but the Rangers can do better by getting someone in there who will take the fighting on.

In many ways because Prust has so much heart that Ranger fans overlook his other contributions to the team. He was very good on the penalty kill and if the Rangers buy out Drury and Avery then Prust ensures the penalty kill does not suffer.

And how many times did Prust go out and with his energy draw a Ranger power play? Even better can anyone tell me when Brandon Prust failed to give his best injured or not?

If you can't do not feel bad as I could not find instances when he did not play hard.

For this off-season can we try something different for a change? Like can we please stop with this "we need a veteran presence on the blueline?" If Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are not veterans after 4 years and a combined 681 NHL games then they never will.

The Ranger blueline is doing quite well thank you and the money saved from spending on a veteran defenseman can be held back for use during the season.

How is this for a crazy idea? Rather than spend every penny of cap space that you put some back and see how the season goes? Let the season decide if you need to make any moves or on the crazy notion that the Rangers are more than 8th seed contenders you can improve the team then.

But for now how about we offer Derek Stepan an early Happy Birthday and give him the gift of the first line center spot? It would really make his 21st birthday a happy one.

(Stepan courtesy of the New York Rangers)


Anonymous said...

Good post! Statistically, hockey players peak at around 25... 26. Thereafter, annual production becomes a little erratic, with a peak year or two happening in the early thirties. Richards is following the formula to a T. Do we really want to replace Chris Drury with, ah, Chris Drury!

Leatherneck said...

How interesting...I agree with you...Liach is an interesting guy for the Rangers to look into...any upgrade should be via a trade as we lack right handed forwards, so a Patrick Sharp? A trade with the Kings involving Tiffoli and hopefully Schenn? There are many ways to get better without going after "the name" in free agency...veteran presence on the blue line?...whats wrong with Eminger...we have what we need and the minor pieces can be had via a trade if need be

Jess Rubenstein said...


Good point of replacing Drury with another Drury. Adding Laich leaves the door open for Dubi or Stepan to grab the top job.

If both fail to make it then Laich because the stop gap while they develop someone else.


For some reason quality RH forwards are becoming harder and harder to find but I do not see the Blackhawks willing to move Sharp.

As for Emminger if he wants to play the same role he did last year then fine but no raise in salary. I do not seen him as an upgrade over what the NYR already have.

stuart said...

i have idea use the cap space to get ryan nugent hopkins. swap picks with edmonton and take back sourays contract it looks like the Rangers would have an august buyout right maybe this would apply to Souray. didnt the rangers use this before when traded Brashear to Atlant so they could buy him out. We would have to include other guys in the deal like maybe artie or delzotto but lets use the organizational depth to get the #1 center and prospect

Kmp said...

Agree with you on Dubi, dont understand Torts saying he is more effective on wing. He is more effective in the middle not along the wall.

Don't see any reason Step can't be a number 1 Center, just not next year. He will get better on face offs, Boyle improved almost 10% over last year.

I don't want Richards, even though I have always liked him. Laich is a nice player, but at 4 mil a year I would pass.

As for a veteran Dman, I like the idea of getting someone like Salo with a big shot to play 3rd pair on the right side and play 1st unit pp. He bridges the gap to McIlrath.

I like them going young next year. I wouldn't mind seeing them going with 2 rooks on D again in Erixon and McIlrath. Like to see Hagelin get a shot at LW with Boyle and Prust.

As for enforcer would like them to go with a another middleweight that can play and think it should be Newbury.

Jess Rubenstein said...


4 Mill for a guy like Laich is a fair price when you look at what he can bring to a team.

The NYR are going to go close to 4 each for Dubi and Cally so it is a fair price to offer.

I do not see any need for a veteran Dman on the roster as you have Staal and Girardi who have 4 years experience each.

It can not be about winning because Staal has 2 Gold Medals and Girardi a Memorial Cup on their roster.

But another middleweight as an enforcer is not going to stop anyone from thinking about running a NYR. It needs to be a heavyweight so they prevent things from happening.