Top to bottom I’d put the Rangers forward corps up against any in the league. It’s an intoxicating mix of youthful exuberance and veteran leadership.
Their speed is the envy of the league, while their depth is second to none.
When the defense falters, which has been the case far too often this season, the forwards have been there to pick up the pieces.
So why am I concerned?
Despite possessing a skill set that could hang with the offensively gifted teams of the 1980s, the Rangers forward personnel is alarmingly redundant.
There’s very few forwards willing to take a hit in the corner to make a play. There’s not enough guys prepared to pay the price in front of the opponent’s net to pounce on a rebound. And there’s rarely a time when a Rangers front liner is able to cause a turnover with a relentless forecheck.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is…the Rangers need a grinder.
Now I know some of you are rolling your eyes thinking the last thing this team needs is another Tanner Glass.
However, that couldn’t be further from what I’m looking for.
Where have you gone Brandon Dubinsky, Carl Hagelin and, yes, Sean Avery?
Under AV, the Rangers have gotten away from the lunch pale, blue collar player willing to do the little things to win a game. The Ryan Callahans, Brandon Prusts and Daniel Carcillos.
Right now the Blueshirts have a dearth of those glue guys on their roster.
When the Rangers transition game is stopped cold by an opposing coach’s neutral zone trap, there isn’t a current forward able get the puck deep and retrieve it through pure determination.
The toughness a grinder provides isn’t just for intimidation, but to extend puck possession time and create offensive opportunities.
Plus a little agitation never hurt anyone.
And when are these particular qualities counted on the most? You guessed it, in the playoffs.
I don’t have to remind Rangers fans how their beloved Blueshirts were bounced from the 2012 Eastern Conference Final in large part due to a dominant Devils fourth line. And it’s no coincidence that two years later, the spark behind the Rangers own run to the Cup Final was an equality impactful bottom three.
While north/south players such as Brandon Pirri and Matt Puempel can showcase their skills during the regular season when teams aren’t as committed defense, it’s the Brian Boyles and Derek Dorsetts who are in the trenches when the season is on the line come playoff time.
It’s no mystery that the Rangers are going to have to go through Crosby and the Penguins and/or Ovechkin and the Caps to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals. And to do that, they’re going to need guys who are able to frustrate these super star players through physical play and tenacity.
Plus, if we’ve learned anything during the Rangers prolonged run of playoff appearances, it’s that a Dominic Moore is more likely to score the meaningful postseason goal, than a Rick Nash.
Yes, I know the first priority at the trade deadline should be to improve the struggling defense, but Jeff Gorton shouldn’t overlook another upgrade that could be equally important come playoff time.