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Fantasy Puck Preview: New York Rangers

Scott Cullen
9/9/2009 10:24:11 AM
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An offseason of change certainly gives the New York Rangers a new look. Given how ineffective they were offensively last season, any kind of change has to be considered positive.

The greatest potential for improvement comes as a result of signing electrifying winger Marian Gaborik. When healthy, Gaborik is a dynamic offensive force with unparalleled speed and natural finishing ability. Since the lockout, his .59 goals per game ranks second only to Alexander Ovechkin.

Of course, skill only tells part of Gaborik's story. Injuries have limited Gaborik to 207 games over the last four seasons, including just 17 games last season. If last year's hip surgery will, in fact, cure the ongoing groin problems that have plagued Gaborik, then he could have the opportunity to put up his point-per-game numbers while playing in 70-plus games -- a feat he's accomplished once in the last five seasons.

If Gaborik is healthy, he'll upgrade the Rangers' offence dramatically and lift others along with him.

Chris Drury's first two seasons in New York haven't matched either of his last two seasons in Buffalo, so it may be reasonable to expect in the neighbourhood of 25 goals and 60 points for the 33-year-old, but there will be additional upside if he ends up skating with Gaborik.

Superpest Sean Avery has been limited to 98 games over the last two seasons, but it would seem unlikely that he'll draw a suspension under the bizarre circumstances that sidelined him last year. In 104 games with the Rangers, Avery has 65 points, 246 penalty minutes and a plus-21 rating. So long as he stays healthy and in the lineup consistently, Avery can be a valuable fantasy contributor, with the potential to put up 40 points and 200-plus penalty minutes.

High energy winger Ryan Callahan is a quality two-way forward and had a breakout season in 2008-2009 with 22 goals and 40 points, but he'll need more power play time if he's going to dramatically increase his fantasy value.

Acquired from the Montreal Canadiens, Christopher Higgins is coming off the worst season of his four-year NHL career, scoring just 23 points in 57 games, so he'll be looking for a bounceback season. Higgins tallied 72 goals in the previous three seasons, so he has a knack around the net that could pay off if the Rangers give him enough opportunities.

Gritty centre Brandon Dubinsky has been consistent in his first two seasons, scoring 40 and 41 points, respectively, but a slight upgrade in productivity, to the 50-55-point range would increase the fantasy appeal of a pivot who can also accumulate more than 100 penalty minutes.

Few players run hot-and-cold like Vaclav Prospal, who managed 45 points in Tampa Bay last season. Prospal's point totals, starting in 2001-2002: 55, 79, 54, 80, 55, 71, 45. If that trend continues, the 34-year-old could be looking at another 70-point campaign.

Ales Kotalik no longer appears to be the guy who scored 62 points in 2005-2006, but does have 43 goals and 86 points over the last two seasons. At the right time, in deep leagues, he may hold some appeal.

Rookie centre Artem Anisimov also bears watching. The 21-year-old notched 81 points in 80 AHL games last season and, given the Rangers' lack of proven point producers down the middle, he could get an opportunity to earn quality scoring ice time.

On the blueline, the Rangers don't have any tremendous options, but there are some guys who will have value in deeper leagues.

Michal Rozsival has scored at least 30 points in four straight seasons, but his plus-minus has progressively declined in each of those seasons, down to a career-worst minus-7 last year.

Promising young defenceman Daniel Girardi was better in 2007-2008 than he was last year, but he's a steady presence who could collect 30-plus points, particularly if he's deemed to be worthy of some power play time.

Barring a dramatical reversal, Wade Redden shouldn't hold much fantasy value entering this season. The 32-year-old scored a career-low three goals along with 26 points (his lowest total since 1997-1998) last season. Redden's game has been in decline for several seasons now, so it's imperative that he not be valued like the guy who put up 50 points in 65 games with Ottawa in 2005-2006.

A potential sleeper on the Rangers defence would be rookie Matt Gilroy, the Hobey Baker winner from Boston University. Gilroy had 37 points in 45 games for BU last season, so he obviously has some skills, but it could take the rookie some time to acclimate himself to the pro game.

Between the pipes, the Rangers have the reliable Henrik Lundqvist, who has played in at least 70 games (and won at least 37) for three straight seasons. Lundqvist seems to run into problems in December -- clearly his worst month in each of the last three seasons -- but, otherwise, he's a first-rate fantasy goaltender.



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