5 Players The Rangers Are Thankful For This Season
Ah, yes! It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the United States! (Happy normal Thursday, Canadian readers). A day where we take the time out to share and appreciate what we are thankful for in our lives. As many of you reading this, I am thankful that I am a New York Rangers fan. This team has provided me with some incredible moments over the last few years, and that’s something that I am grateful for, as a New York sports fan.
The New York Rangers themselves have a lot to be thankful for over the last few years and months. Fresh off a fantastic 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers, year after year, find a way to overcome any hurdle and put out a competitive team season after season. Rangers brass lately has found certain players to fill certain roles, creating a cycle of consistency, year after year.
Even after a large roster turnover last summer and a dismal October, the Rangers have bounced back strong and are now back in the thick of the playoff race. Many players on the team have stepped up to the task. I’m sure Rangers brass is thankful for these certain players who are able to contribute. So, here are 5 players the New York Rangers are thankful for this season.
Cristoval “Boo” Nieves
With Derek Stepan being sent to Arizona over the summer and prospects Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil not being NHL ready yet, the Rangers displayed a noticeable hole down the middle. Having the Chytil experiment only lasting two games and J.T. Miller not being able to play his game down the middle, and the loss of Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in the Expansion Draft, the Rangers needed a bottom 6 center who can keep up with the pace of the NHL.
Calling Boo Nieves. Drafted 59th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Nieves worked his way through HS hockey and the University of Michigan before joining the Hartford Wolf Pack a few seasons ago. Seemingly ready to jump in for the Rangers at any moment, there wasn’t a spot for Nieves with the big club boasting names like Stepan, Kevin Hayes, Derick Brassard, Mika Zibanejad and Oscar Lindberg. Finally, after much deliberation and a struggling hockey team, the Rangers recalled Nieves to fill the 4th line center role.
The results were immediate as he tallied his first three points in his first game on October 26th, 2017 versus Arizona. Skating with Pavel Buchnevich and Michael Grabner, Nieves displayed his skill set by creating plays with his speed, as well as defend the middle of the ice, holding the fort on the bottom 6. Nieves’ recall seemed to provide stability, as Vigneault was finally able to roll out four forward lines, instead of shuffling players around different pairs. I’m sure the addition of Nieves and his steady play is one thing the Rangers are thankful for…..
A few years back, the Rangers were in the midst of another Stanley Cup run and needed to make a move for an impact defenseman. At the time, the Rangers were targeting Keith Yandle, of the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes. The cost for Yandle was going to be high, which more than likely meant one of two of the Rangers top prospects were going to pack their bags to the desert. Those two were Anthony Duclair and Pavel Buchnevich.
In the end, the Rangers traded Duclair and John Moore for Yandle, keeping Buchnevich as a Ranger. This move, I’m sure, is something Rangers brass is incredibly thankful for at the moment. Drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, He was known for being a dynamic player with great puck skills and a lethal shot. Buchnevich played a few years in Russia, crafting his game before signing a three-year entry-level contract in 2016.
Scratched on and off, as well as nagging back spasms, Buchnevich didn’t storm out of the gate last season but his performance gradually improved as the season went along, and even had a few sharp performances in the playoffs versus Montreal and Ottawa. Something changed during the summer, as Buchnevich as turned himself into a tour de force for the Rangers this season. On a line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, Buchnevich is excelling as a top line winger, creating plays and forcing himself into the action. In the comeback win versus Vegas, Buchnevich was part of the third-period comeback, as well as energizing the 4th line with Grabner and Nieves by skating around the Coyotes defense with two goals.
It seems now that Buchnevich has found his confidence as a top line winger and is giving the Rangers something else to be thankful for.
After the departure of Carl Hagelin and inevitable flop that was Emerson Etem, the Rangers lacked speed in their lineup. In order for the Rangers system to be successful, they needed to beef up on speedier players, Michael Grabner fit that bill.
In his first season as a Ranger, Grabner exceeded anyone’s original expectations by potting in 27 goals and 40 points. His blinding speed contributed in many ways for the Rangers. What makes Grabner valuable to a team is not only his speed but his contribution on the penalty kill. Also, his ability to play the role of secondary scorer allows the Rangers offense to exercise its depth to the fullest. Grabner was a noticeable presence in the playoffs last year, which I’m sure caught the attention of a few teams, including that of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Exposed to the Knights in the Expansion Draft, Grabner was ripe for the picking for the 31st NHL franchise. In a bittersweet moment, the Golden Knights opted to select Oscar Lindberg from the Rangers instead of Grabner. This move, I am almost sure, the Rangers are thankful for, as Grabner continues to play a large role in the Rangers offense, most recently scoring a key goal versus the Senators last Sunday as well as a multi-point performance versus Arizona.
I won’t lie to you. I did not like this trade at the start, as I was a huge Derick Brassard fan, but that dislike only lasted a brief moment, as I read who the Rangers got in return. On July 18th, 2016, the Rangers acquired Mika Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Brassard. Fueled by Salary Cap restraints and the need to get younger, Zibanejad was acquired to give the Rangers a future number one center.
Known for his big shot, faceoffs, and size, at 24 years old, Zibanejad has the tools to become a number one center for the Rangers. A gruesome leg injury hampered his first season as a Ranger, as he only scored 14 goals and displayed inconsistent play upon his return from his injury. But something sparked inside Zibanejad as last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs began, as he began to show his future potential, becoming one of the Rangers better and more consistent centers, including a huge OT win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal versus Montreal.
Coming into this season, healthy and all, Zibanejad has proven himself to be the number one center the Rangers need, after sending Derek Stepan out to Arizona in the summer. He’s electrified the team by putting up 18 points in his first 18 games this season and has become a welcome presence on a rejuvenated power play unit. His flawless chemistry with Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider has given the Rangers a legitimate first line with tons of skill, speed, and power, which I am sure the Rangers are definitely thankful for…
All right, we get it, Henrik isn’t the same goaltender he was a few years ago. He clearly has lost a step and is on the back end of his career. That being said, an aging Lundqvist is still one of the better goaltenders in the league and continuously, night after night, gives the Rangers a chance to win games, as he’s done year after year. It always seems that whenever Lundqvist is doubted, he steps up and takes charge. Everyone doubted Henrik before their first-round series versus Montreal last year and to some extent, I don’t blame them. You had a rock star goalie in Carey Price who carries Montreal game after game when healthy versus an aging superstar who showed cracks in his armor at multiple points last season.
What happened you say? Lundqvist stepped up to the plate and won the battle against Carey Price, giving the Rangers the chance to prevail over Montreal. Well, well, well, how the turntables……
Fast forward to this season, Lundqvist has found his game again. After struggling through most of October, he’s bounced back with the rest of the Rangers club, including stellar performances versus Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Carolina, and Edmonton. The Rangers need Lundqvist, not to be vintage Henrik, but just Henrik. This means a solid performance from a superstar goalie. The Rangers have been blessed to have such a rock solid star in their net for the better part of 10 years. He’s been the foundation of every playoff team and playoff run and regardless of what is said about him, time and time again he proves that he can be the go-to guy in a big game. The Rangers are indebted to him for his many years in the crease and almost certainly are thankful for his tremendous contributions to the Rangers.