Going into the season, you could be forgiven if you didn’t immediately recognize the players on the ice. Eight players have earned their New York Rangers debut so far this season, or to put it another way, about one third of the roster used to date.
The additions have come a number of different ways, with four veteran free agents added, one draft pick, an unsigned draftee and two trades bolstering the team after their first round exit last season. Perhaps more impressively is that each of those eight players have registered a point already after just six games.
All in all, the octet has accounted for 10 goals and 11 assists to date in the equivalent of 41 total man games. That equates to 1.67 goals and 3.50 points per game, helping the team to a solid 4-2-0 record to date.
Mika Zibanejad headlines the group, and leads the way with two goals and four assists. He has slotted in nicely with a number of players, and has helped Chris Kreider get off to a strong start as well. Picked up in exchange for Derick Brassard, Zibanejad has added size and defense to a position that was occupied by a popular, though offensively focused center. It remains to be seen whether the Swede can match Brassard’s performances in the playoffs, but his utility along with his offense has been a welcome addition.
Another welcome addition has been unsigned draftee Jimmy Vesey. The Rangers fought hard to earn the rights of the winner of College Hockey’s best player – the Hobey Baker award. After Nashville – and Buffalo – were unable to sign the rookie free agent, Jim Gorton and team wernt all out to land him. Having a host of college graduates on the team – not least of all Kreider and Kevin Hayes – no doubt helped the cause.
The former Harvard forward chose the Rangers over his home town Bruins, and has racked up three goals to date. His break out game coming against the Capitals, where he scored the game tying and game winning goals to complete a comeback from 2-0 down. Vesey’s strength, size and willingness to go to the front of the net addresses a need that the team has had for some time. He has also contirbuted to the power play – 1 goal – which has looked much better with the new additions to the team.
Less heralded have been the addtions of Brandon Pirri, Michael Grabner and Josh Jooris. The trio have performed remarkably as fourth liners, with Pirri and Grabner getting bonus powerplay and penalty kill time respectively. Five of the ten goals scored by the new comers, have come from their sticks, a welcome addition for a team that only sporadically got production from their bottom three forwards.
On defense Nick Holden and Adam Clendening have filled in as the Rangers have already seen injuries to Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein. The pair have contributed three assists between them, and have largely been effective, although Holden has already attracted some negative attention has he has been forced to play out of position on the right side, and as an effecitive third-fourth defenseman as opposed to his more suited role as a fifth-sixth guy.
Clendening’s passing has bee crisp, and his defense has been steady, and his offensive ability could see him added to the power play if the team gets into a rut later in the year.
Rounding out the eight is the sole Ranger draft pick, Russian Pavel Buchnevich. The rookie has managed just two games before back spasms pushed him out of the line-up. Still working his way into the NHL, he has notably looked pretty strong on the puck, despite a relatively slim stature. His passing has at times been world class, particularly his lone assist which lead Chris Kreider on a partial breakaway and goal that sparked the win over the Islanders on opening night.
With 76 more games to go, there’s still plenty of time for the perspective to change of course, but the combination of added speed and offense – along with better puck possession – has created a team that is more fun to watch than last year’s. The team still lacks some top four depth on defense, but they’ve gotten off to a good start, primarily as a result of the new faces.