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October 2, 2013 | 10:03am ET
2013-14 Season Preview: NY Rangers
By Patrick Kearns, TheFourthPeriod.com

This past off-season, the Rangers made a huge change by firing Head Coach John Tortorella and bringing in Alain Vigneault. Much has been written about the Rangers offensive struggles under Tortorella and basically since 1997, and GM Glen Sather pulled the trigger by bringing in the veteran bench boss.

Just one season removed from winning the Eastern Conference in the regular season and taking the New Jersey Devils to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference of the finals, the Rangers are looking to rejoin the elite ranks of the NHL.

They will move into this season with the exact same defense corps that they finished with last season, a key stone of the Rangers success. They team now has to hope that a radical change in system wonít hamstring them too much and lead to some early season struggles.

In addition to working in a new system, they will have to work around Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, two integral members of the top six dealing with injuries. Callahan doesnít expect to miss significant time, but leading up to the season, Hagelin, had not taken contact. Hagelin has been a big catalyst for the offense under Tortorella and in a system with more emphasis on puck carrying, itíll be interesting to see how important he is to the teamís possession play.

Of course itíll help with having one of the consistently elite goaltenders in the league if the offense struggles out of the gate.

FORWARDS

The Rangers offensive attack is headlined by their top player Rick Nash. In the past yearís they have played a grinding system reliant on the other team making mistakes in their own defensive zone. While Vigneault is no where near a run-and-gun style offensive coach, he will putter a stronger emphasis on puck carrying. He has noted that they team will still focus on defending first and building offense off of that.

Also expect to see a jump in the offensive zone start times for some of the top players, putting them in a greater position to succeed. Guys like Nash and Stepan will see the lions-share of the offensive zone starts while guys like Dorsett and Moore will be on the ice for the defensive zone draws.

1. Rick Nash - If Rick Nash struggles, the Rangers may struggle too. He is their top player and is a consistent 30 goal scorer. He was generally held off the score sheet in the playoffs, despite being towards the top of the team in chances. The teamís success depends a lot on his success and his ability to use his body to get to the front of the net.

2. Brad Richards - Evan Richards wasnít sure he was going to be suiting up for the Rangers after his benching in the playoffs like year. The veteran forward suffered greatly from diminished foot speed and was often over thinking the game according to Tortorella. If anyone can benefit from the clean slate mentality, itís Richards.

3. Derek Stepan - The former second round pick blossomed offensively last year, finishing at a near point per game pace. Fresh off signing a two-year extension, Stepan will center the top line and play big minutes in this offense.

DEFENSEMEN

The Rangers defense has been their strong point over the past few years. It helps to have Henrik Lundqvist making up for your mistakes, but will a fully healthy Marc Staal, the Rangers may have one of the strongest defense corps in the league. They lack a real top-end offensive defenseman, but a still young Michael Del Zotto has a chance to become that missing piece under Vigneault.

1. Ryan McDonagh - The former Wisconsin Badger proved last year that he can anchor this Ranger blue-line for the next decade. He is a supremely talented skater and his game all works off his feet. Positionally, heís one of the best in the game.

2. Marc Staal - Staal suffered a scary injury last year when he took a puck to the eye. He has already stated that his eyesight will never be back to where it was, but moving forward he does not think it will hurt his game much. When fully healthy, Staal is a great one-on-one defender and could be arguably the best Ranger defenseman.

GOALTENDING

Vigneault wonít have to deal with any goaltending controversy in New York, as Henrik Lundqvist has himself firmly planted as the number one. It only becomes a matter of how often they want to use him in a season with an Olympic break, where Lundqvist will be the number one netminder for Team Sweden. Biron has proven to be a serviceable back up, but he may be called on for 20 starts this year.

In the past, Lundqvist has liked to be a workhorse. But it has been proven in the past with a significant amount of time off, he can be more successful in the playoffs.

Regardless, Lundqvist is one of the top goaltenders in the game and is the backbone of this team.

One final thing to keep an eye on with Lundqvist is contract talks. He has already stated that he wonít let them become a distraction this season, but talk is cheap. Thereís still a slight chance that impending free agency may weigh on the goaltender just slightly.

And hopefully shaving a few inches off his pads when hurt Lundqvist too much.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Okay, itís time to talk about the Rangers penalty kill. Under Tortorella, it was simply awful. It held them back from being an elite team. Now, we get to find out if it was a systematic error, or if they just have bad personnel to be a top power play team.

The club still lacks a power play quarterback and really has for the past decade. Maybe Vigneault goes where Tortorella lamented he never went, and lets McDonagh run the first unit. The only issue there is that McDonagh will already be relied on for such heavy minutes.

Either way, a change of pace may help break some of these players out of their powerplay rut.

At the other end of the spectrum, over the past few seasons, the penalty killing has been a strong point for the Rangers. Itís obviously helped out by the stellar goaltending, but guys like Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle have proven to be really strong penalty killers. Killing penalties will almost certainly be a non-issue for the Rangers this year.

PREDICTION

As it stands, despite the uncertainty, the Rangers are the second best team in the Metropolitan Division. They have a dense defense corps, one of the best goaltenders in the game and a lot of young talent on offense. The main key will be how quickly the team assimilates to the the new system they will be asked to play and how effective certain guys will be in that system

If the team can stay healthy and find a consistently strong power play, there is not reason the team canít challenge Pittsburgh for the top spot in the division.

Patrick Kearns is the New York Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period.


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