After poor play in the postseason and hard work in the offseason, the New York Rangers got off to a hot start in October 2016. In Blue Line Station’s third “Top Five” of the 2016 season, let’s take a look at the Top 5 Players of 2016 for the Rangers.
The Rangers got off to a hot start in October 2016, but when we take a look back over the games and the second half of last season, there are standouts.
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5. Kevin Hayes
Kevin Hayes made an extremely impactful turnaround in the first 37 games this season, which is why he takes the number five slot on the list. During the offseason, Hayes worked hard, lost 20 pounds, and ultimately transformed his game.
In the 2016 portion of last season, Hayes had 8 goals and 11 assists for 17 points, and had a +5 rating. Currently, Hayes has 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points and a +12 rating this season.
It is not so much the play of Hayes in the entirety of the 2016 season, but the fact that he has managed to become such a vital part of the Rangers core offense this season that gets him on this list.
With all the change to the Rangers offense during the offseason, Hayes found a place on one of the Rangers most dangerous lines early in the season, playing with J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner.
Since facing team injuries, Hayes’ game has still been strong. He is not only skating better, but he is stick handling, passing and generating more scoring chances as a result.
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4. Derek Stepan
Derek Stepan was vital to the Rangers success in the latter half of the 2015-16 season. In the last 44 games of the year the Stepan recorded 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 points.
The start of this season, it seems the 26-year old has had more trouble getting going. It took him 12 games to score a goal and he had seven assists in those first 12 games. Now sitting at nine goals and 19 assists for 28 points, the Rangers veteran has established himself as another key piece to the Rangers offense.
Stepan’s greatest value added on the roster is that can create scoring opportunity for himself and for the players around him. He also is a player whose mere presence increases chemistry upon whatever line he is playing on.
Most recently with Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello, he found a stride scoring two goals on Tuesday in the Rangers win over Ottawa.
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3. Mats Zuccarello
Mats Zuccarello has been one of the most important play-makers for the Rangers since joining the team for his first full season in 2013. In the latter half of last season, Zuccarello put up 10 goals and 20 assists for 30 points. From October through the end of December, Zuccarello has notched 8 goals and 18 assists for 26 points.
He earns the number three spot because not only are the numbers on the stat sheet a plus, but it is also what he has done on the ice that doesn’t show on the stat sheet.
Zuccarello’s speed paired with his passing ability and hockey sense makes him extremely dangerous, not only in the offensive end, but also in the neutral zone, and especially coming out of the defensive end.
He makes things happen on the ice in every zone, regardless of what the situation is on the ice. That is what makes him one of the Rangers’ best this season.
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2. J.T. Miller
J.T. Miller had a breakout season with the Rangers in 2015-16. Despite the Rangers’ average regular season and poor playoff performance, Miller was one of the most consistent players on the roster offensively.
From the start of January 2016 to the end of April, Miller played 44 games and notched 14 goals and 10 assists for 24 points. Through the offseason and into October of 2016, Miller has stayed right on that number and in his fist 37 games has recorded nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points.
Starting in October he centered a line with Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner – one of the Rangers most dangerous lines this season.
On top of his consistency, Miller continues to grow in his role as a two-way player. He can generate play through the neutral zone and his physicality along the boards and in the zone. He and Hayes have found perhaps the most harmony shorthanded.
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1. Ryan McDonagh
Ryan McDonagh takes the number one spot on this list because he has been the most consistent defenseman for the Rangers. McDonagh is on target to have one of his best seasons in his career.
In the last 44 games of the 2015-16 season, McDonagh had a respectable 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) and was +18. This season, McDonagh has managed to generate more offense in his 37 games, recording two goals and 20 assists for 22 points (he recorded two assists in last night’s win over Ottawa).
The Rangers’ captain has been the team’s most reliable defenseman on the ice, through injuries and change on the roster in 2016. His size and ability to play the blue line make him valuable on both ends of the ice. He is big and plays physically in all three zones.
McDonagh is able to push pucks up out of the defensive end into transitional play and is able to keep in the puck on the offensive end to generate sustained opportunities.