The Rangers are Metro Division Champs, time to rewind the blog flashback style

Miller clinches the Metro Division  (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Miller clinches the Metro Division (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Every Rangers fan like myself, woke up this morning and confirmed that last night was not a dream. The Rangers are Metropolitan Division Champions and are marching to the President’s trophy just one year after their Stanley Cup run.

I remember before the season started a number of experts were actually picking the Rangers to miss the playoffs. One particular hockey writer, Dave Lozo wrote:

[su_quote cite=”Dave Lozo” url=”https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2161019-one-bold-prediction-for-every-nhl-team-in-the-2014-15-season/page/21″]The Rangers were equally decimated this summer, losing Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle to free agency and replacing them with inferior players while buying out Brad Richards in an effort to re-sign their restricted free agents. Remember: The Rangers finished just six points clear of the ninth spot, and on March 16, they were two points from being out of a playoff spot altogether.[/su_quote]

He continued to cite that it would be only because of Henrik Lundqvist that the Rangers could sneak in. I’m not trying to pick on Dave because there were others but he stood out because of his snarky presence on social media outlets like Twitter.

While his logic wasn’t totally off base, what he and many failed to take into account were things I wrote about in July. The article was titled “Reasons why the Rangers are going to be better” and I hit a lot of points but I wasn’t perfect either.

I was certainly wrong about Tanner Glass‘s impact to replace Carcillo and Dorsett but was fairly accurate on the rest. Starting with the fact that almost everyone dismissed that Rick Nash and Derek Stepan had off years and that bounce back seasons were in order. That alone should have sent up red-flags to anyone counting the Rangers out.

Stepan and Nash will be better (Getty)

Stepan and Nash have been better (Getty)

Stepan was at a .92 points per game pace in the lockout shortened season and regressed to .69 last year. This year it is up to .79 and would’ve likely been higher if he didn’t miss a large portion of the year due to a broken leg.

Rick Nash was hampered by injuries last year and only played 65 games. He posted a .60 points per game total but it was a far cry from the prior season’s .95 points clip. I said in July that a healthy Nash could score 40 and last night he got his 41st. More importantly Rick Nash is producing at .88 points per game rate which should bode well in the playoffs.

Other factors I felt were dismissed was the maturation of players like Chris Kreider who would flirt with 25 or 30 goals this year. Kreider has 21 goals and will likely fall short of 25 but he has 5 more games to come close. For the record I predicted 23 goals for him.

Another two players I felt would improve were Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccurello. Hagelin has been a steady contributor on a third line with “out of nowhere” impressive rookie, Kevin Hayes. Hagelin has equaled last year’s 33 points and should surpass it before the season expires.

Zuccarello has now become a mainstay among the top six forwards. After a fairly long struggle during the middle of the year, Mats has come roaring back to be the player we were counting on. Although he will fall short of last year’s 59 points, Zuccarello’s excellent play in the final few months of the season will carry on into the post season.

Derick Brassard (nhl)

Derick Brassard (nhl)

A lot of credit needs to be given to Derick Brassard who has emerged as a top 2 center in the NHL. Brassard has set career highs in assists and point this year (41A – 58PTS). His next goal will tie his career high set last year at 18. Needless to say, he has been the Rangers 2nd best forward this season.

Dominic Moore has also continued to be a solid contributor and has become a heart and soul type player. His ability to win draws makes him stand out further. The Blueshirts rank near the bottom of the league on draws. You have to wonder where’d they be without him.

Now we get down to the kids, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast and JT Miller. Hayes has been an absolute force since February with 22 points in 30 games. Playing out of his natural position of RW, he has given the Rangers 4 solid centers and replaced the declining Brad Richards better than anyone could have hoped.

Jesper Fast has become a defensive gem at forward with the ability to chip in offense. He reminds me of Jan Erixon who was lauded for his defense and hard working style back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. While Fast isn’t as good defensively, he has shown much better offensive skills early. JT Miller has also become a permanent fixture in the lineup and will continue to rise up the Rangers forward depth chart when he figures out to bring his talents to each and every shift.

The last forward to address is Martin St. Louis who by everyone’s standards has had a disappointing season. What we should realize though is he has 20 goals and 47 points in 69 games which is good for .68 points per 60. His value increases in the clutch and I expect many big goals come playoff time.

Klein's arm injury is being evaluated in NY (NYR)

Klein’s arm injury is being evaluated in NY (NYR)

On the blue-line, I got one thing terribly wrong and that was Kevin Klein scoring less. This was in my early season predictions piece, where I said he’d score only 2 goals and 13 points. Oops! 9 goals and 26 points later, I couldn’t be happier to be wrong.

I also thought Ryan McDonagh would find more offense. I believed McDonagh would break 50 points this year at a .63 scoring clip but maybe the weight of the captaincy and a shoulder injury really hampered it. Sadly, McDonagh fell short of my prediction to only .44 points per game.

Dan Boyle on the other hand has been a disappointment but he’s also had a trying season. The poor guy broke his hand in the first game of the year. Plus he missed more time to a mysterious illness not named the mumps. I was hoping Boyle could produce at a .65 rate but his actual production is at .31. The one thing he has done is bring in goals from the blue-line with 9 on the year. I had him pegged for 14 and it’s a number he’d likely have hit if healthy for the full 82.

The rest of the defense has been stellar as expected with Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. We pointed out that Matt Hunwick could overtake John Moore‘s 6th spot and he eventually did. That also allowed the Rangers to use Moore in a package to acquire top offensive defenseman Keith Yandle.

Talbot and Lundqvist  (NHL)

Talbot and Lundqvist (NHL)

As for the goaltending? It was not a concern in the summer and is even less of a concern today. Especially with what Cam Talbot was able to accomplish in Lundqvist’s absence. Which means that only leaves one thing. What did I predict the Rangers would do this year?

On October 8th, Larry Brooks wrote that the Rangers would win the Stanley Cup. At the time he published his article, I was working on something similar. I feel this team walked away from last season with a giant hole in their hearts. The mission started as soon as they left the Staples Center ice: Get Back Here and Win It.

I stand by what I’ve written all year, the good and the bad. However, I especially stand by the fact that I believe the Rangers will win the Cup.

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