Don’t believe the talk, Rangers desperately need a top line center

They are all saying the right things. From the players to the coaches, it’s all textbook sports talk. Alain Vigneault talks about players like Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes seizing the opportunity ahead. Now he’s even added J.T. Miller as one of those players to show what he can do at the center position.

Talk is Nice

The players themselves are reiterating what we want to hear. Miller said about his move back to center, “whatever responsibility they need me to take, I’m more than willing to.” Meanwhile, his other two fellow centers have talked about relishing the opportunity and showing they can get the job done.

Well that’s all well and good in quotes, but it is highly unlikely to translate on the ice. The truth is, the Rangers centers are unproven and don’t have a star winger to make it easier to cover that up.

The reality is simple, the Rangers are a group of average to slightly above average forwards. They lack no consistent scoring threat. They don’t have a game breaker. No Crosby, no Ovechkin, no Malkin, hell they don’t even have a player like Kessel. Here’s the problem, all players mentioned are in their division and three play for the defending champs.

When it comes to promising young stars, players like Vesey and Buchnevich don’t hold a candle to the likes of McDavid, Matthews, and Eichel. For all intents and purposes, the Rangers have an elite goaltender, a borderline all-star top 4 defense, but lack any star firepower up front. Just how many times are we going to expect Henrik Lundqvist to single handedly win the Cup? His job is to stop pucks, and his forwards are supposed to score them. Hockey 101, I know.

Save the Drama for Your Mama?

Of course there are some of you reading my thoughts on the Rangers forwards and thinking I am either:

A. Being Melodramatic

B. Over Exaggerating

C. Wrong

D. All of the Above

Zuccarello (Howard Simmons NYDN)

Well let me hit you with some stats. That is what people live and die by these days, especially the advanced kind. The Rangers leading scorer, Mats Zuccarello finished with 59 points which was good for 42nd in the NHL last year. For those advanced stats lovers, J.T. Miller led the team with 2.50 in points per 60 (minimum 50 games played) which was only good for 53rd on the list.

In contrast, the Penguins had 5 players ahead of JT Miller in P/60, 3 in the top 10, one of which was Conor Sheary. The Capitals had 4 players ahead of the Rangers Miller too. Even upstart teams like Toronto had 5, and Winnipeg a whopping 6! It’s just a cold hard fact the Rangers don’t have a big scoring threat.

The GM knows

Even Jeff Gorton knows it. Yesterday he told the press that “he’s never comfortable” but he wants to see what Hayes, Zibanejad, Miller and others can do first. Per the NYPOST:

“We all know that defensemen and centers, they’re a pretty good commodity in this league right now,” Gorton said. “Finding [a center], we’re not the only team looking. I’d like to think that some of the guys we have here can do the job. We’re going to give them the opportunity. Right now, that’s where our focus is — on the ice here and see what these guys can do.”

Miller (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

This leads me to my final point. If the Rangers truly want to win the Stanley Cup, a big decision looms. They will likely have to trade a player like J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes or Chris Kreider in a package with a young defenseman like Anthony Deangelo, Sean Day, or Nick Pionk to land a true number 1 center.

Currently the most logical target is Matt Duchene. However, Joe Sakic is looking for a top 4 young defenseman like Brady Skjei who has become untouchable. As the saga in Colorado drags on, it’s very possible that a deal could be made as mentioned above.

The good news is time is on the Rangers side. Who knows what center might become available during the season. No matter what, Gorton has to be ready to pull the trigger.

The truth here is simple…

If the Rangers want to win the Stanley Cup at least once in Henrik Lundqvist’s career, they need to bring in a star forward. Lundqvist can still stop them, but a game-breaker up front is what the Rangers really need to hoist silver high above their heads.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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