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Cullen: Upgraded offence raises Rangers' expectations

Scott Cullen
9/18/2011 10:57:12 AM
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The New York Rangers have reached the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, but they'll hope for more than just making it into the postsseason dance after securing the most sought-after free agent on the market this summer.

There's little reason to think that the Rangers won't be better with Brad Richards in the fold. Richards has scored at least 70 points six times in his career, including last season in Dallas, when he put up 77 points in 72 games. His playmaking could invigorate Marian Gaborik, at least that's what the Rangers have to be hoping.

Gaborik staggered through 62 games last season, managing 48 points. It was the first time that Gaborik was held under a point per game since 2003-2004, so it's reasonable enough to expect his rate to rebound this year. The bigger issue may be health, as Gaborik has played 65 games or fewer in five of the last seven seasons and that lack of reliability hurts his value on draft day.

One thing that the Rangers have been able to count on, year after year, has been the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has won at least 35 games in each of the last five seasons and is coming off a season in which he recorded a career-best .923 save percentage. Martin Biron was supposed to cut down on Lundqvist's workload last year and 68 games played was his lowest since his rookie year of 2005-2006, but Biron's broken collarbone forced Lundqvist to play more down the stretch, so it's possible that he could end up closer to 65 games or even fewer this season.

Steadily improving Brandon Dubinsky scored a career-best 54 points last season and added 100 penalty minutes, making him one of four forwards in the league to have 50 points and 100 penalty minutes last season.

Dubinsky's frequent running mate, new captain Ryan Callahan, scored a career-high 23 goals and 48 points last season, despite missing 22 games (due largely to a broken hand and then a broken leg suffered late in the season). Callahan's extremely valuable in leagues that dig deep for stats like hits and blocked shots, but a winger who might have 30-goal upside is valuable enough too.

Following up a rookie season in which he was a pleasant surprise with 45 points, Derek Stepan will face higher expectations this season and could find himself on left wing, possibly even on the top line with Richards and Gaborik. After Stepan won 38.5% of his draws as a rookie, it might make sense to have him try the wing and the opportunity to skate with elite scorers could increase Stepan's production. If that's not where Stepan ends up, he's still a nice complementary offensive option.

For leagues that count penalty minutes, the Rangers have a couple of strong options as Sean Avery and Brandon Prust cause some mayhem, yet are reasonably productive. Avery scored only three goals last season, but has more than 20 points in six straight seasons, while recording at least 150 penalty minutes in five of the last six seasons.

Prust scored a career-high 29 points last season and has racked up 160 penalty minutes in each of the last two seasons. His increasing role makes him an asset for those in deep leagues.

Artem Anisimov made progress in his second NHL season, jumping from 28 points as a rookie to 44 points last season. He fared well on a line with Dubinsky and Callahan and, even with low penalty minute totals, could be an interesting sleeper candidate for this season.

Unless Michael Del Zotto returns to his role as power play quarterback, the Rangers don't have great value coming from the blueline. Both Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are solid all-around players, but their offensive upside is minimal.

There are other sleepers on the Blueshirts' roster, including Mats Zuccarello, Wojtek Wolski and Ruslan Fedotenko, all of whom could find a spot on a scoring line.

Wolski might be the most promising of that group, as he could be a fit on the Richards-Gaborik line, but he's been maddeningly inconsistent throughout his career and he went 17 games without a goal down the stretch last season before tallying in the regular season finale. Even Brian Boyle, who surprised with 21 goals last season, could have value.

With high-end options and a variety of secondary and deep league choices, the Rangers will be an intriguing team on draft day, but it will be important to track line combinations to find out just who will be getting top six minutes this season.

Depth Chart - New York Rangers

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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