For months now, the New York Rangers knew they would be without the services of their captain, Ryan Callahan, and speedy winger Carl Hagelin for the start of the 2013-14 season. Following the team’s elimination from the 2013 NHL Playoffs, the pair underwent identical shoulder surgeries to repair a torn labrum. It was initially believed the two would be away from the rink for four to five months, effectively ruling them out for at least the Rangers’ opener.
The question then was, who would replace them in the lineup?
Because of the Madison Square Garden renovations, the Rangers are set to begin the season on a nine-game road trip, and the fact that the team will be without two of their top-six forwards is concerning. So it was imperative that incoming coach Alain Vigneault plug the holes sufficiently.
With a plethora of talented forwards on the fringe of making the NHL jump, AV had several options. He could go with NHL experience, with players like Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller—who’ve appeared in 23 and 26 regular-season games, respectively—or he could go with a pair of players with overseas pro experience, players like Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. And, if Vigneault was feeling extra ambitious, he could have selected a couple of players with little to no pro experience, selecting guys like Marek Hrivik and Danny Kristo.
Vigneualt weighed all his options and kept the six candidates in training camp for nearly its entirety. But when the official rosters were due on Monday, it was clear which two players earned spots on the big club.
Although Miller missed most of training camp and preseason, he proved he could handle the NHL brand of hockey best. He’s got good size,—6’1”, 205 lbs—is great on the puck and isn’t afraid to mix it up. Plus, he picked up a couple of goals in preseason.
As for Fast, he was impressive from day one, but that being said, he didn’t appear to be the front-runner until midway through the preseason. Kreider, Lindberg and Kristo all started well in preseason, but they all leveled off, and in Kreider’s case, even declined. But Fast didn’t; he continued to improve, and he not only created problems for opposing team’s defenses, but he was responsible in his own end as well. He even looked good killing penalties, which he did quite a bit.
So now these two have the difficult task of replacing two proven NHL players on the team’s nine-game road trip. Can they seize the moment?
I think they can. They’re both very talented players with a lot more to offer than just offense. And remember, they’re replacing two versatile players.
Although the two are currently scheduled to play on the Rangers’ third and fourth lines, they’ll still both be expected to replace the styles that Callahan and Hagelin play.
Miller, for example, could have some success replicating Callahan’s game. He’s not afraid to get in on the forecheck and impose himself on the opponent, and he likes to go to the net. Callahan has made a living playing in that manner, and if Miller can perform consistently he’ll help soften the blow.
As for Fast, I think he can come in and pick up much of the slack in Hagelin’s absence. Both are great skaters—although Hagelin is significantly faster—and are dangerous in the offensive zone. Fast probably has a higher ceiling in terms of pure talent, too.
Furthermore, Fast, although a bit undersized—like Hagelin—also doesn’t mind getting in the dirty areas, like the corners. I can’t see him being as effective as Hagelin when digging out pucks, but he could be a decent option in the meantime.
But for these two young players, they’re going to want to make their mark with their own brand, and it’ll come down to whether or not they can truly find their games and play consistent hockey if they plan to stick around after Callahan and Hagelin return.
For Fast to do that, he’s going to have to develop his offensive game. The Rangers don’t have a whole lot of top-end talent. If Fast can prove that he is a solid top-six option then he’ll remain with the team. Otherwise, I’m sure Vigneualt would rather the 21-year-old play top-line minutes in Hartford than bottom-six minutes with the Rangers for an entire season.
Miller is a more rounded player, and his ceiling might be a third-line forward. Therefore, Miller has to make an impact every night, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be on the scoresheet. Using his body and playing responsibly, whether it be on the wing or at center, is a must for Miller. As a young player, he’s got a lot of energy and he’s going to have to use every ounce of it if he wants to stick around. That being said, I believe he has a better shot at remaining with the team after Callahan and Hagelin return.
At the end of the day, fans are going to want to see these two youngsters contribute, but I can’t see both sticking around. Miller has the inside track, so Fast is going to have to light it up. I don’t think he will, and that’s not a reflection of his talent; he’ll be a full-time NHLer one day, but I can’t see it happening this season.
Although I hope he proves me wrong.