Henrik Lundqvist

2011-2012 season preview: New York Rangers

2010-2011 record: 44-33-5, 93 points; 3rd in Atlantic, 8th in East

Playoffs: Lost to Washington 4-1 in Eastern quarterfinals

Much like in previous seasons, the Rangers landed the big prize in free agency. Only difference is that this time it’s a guy (Brad Richards) that makes them immediately better and they didn’t give up on their farm team to fill out ranks. Has Glen Sather finally figured it all out? We’ll see, but the Rangers figure to be a strong team in the East.

Offense

It all starts with Richards and Marian Gaborik. With these two stars paired up on the first line, it gives the Rangers a definitive offensive threat for all situations. Worries will surround their collective ability to stay healthy, but when these two are on the ice, opponents will have to be ready. They’ll also have an outstanding second line with equally maturing and improving studs like Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan.

If the Rangers can get more out of Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov they won’t need to make Henrik Lundqvist crazy by forcing him to hold opponents to one goal a game. Guys like Mike Rupp, Brian Boyle, and Brandon Prust will make sure they have lockdown forwards again. If Boyle can score 20-plus goals again, they’ll have offensive threats on all four lines.

source: Getty ImagesDefense

Marc Staal’s health will be an issue to watch all season as he’s the guy that makes it all go there. Dan Girardi has morphed into the Rangers’ best defensive blue liner, absorbing pucks like he’s a mobile goalie. Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer provide solid depth and Steve Eminger is an OK veteran. How they round things out could be an issue, however. Young guys like Michael Del Zotto, Tim Erixon, and Brendan Bell will all get shots to stick around. If the Rangers have a weakness it’s that they don’t have a true power-play quarterback.

Goalies

Lundqvist is one of the best in the league and he’s the guy that makes it all happen for the team. He’s calm, cool, and confident and has been ever since becoming a star in the NHL. Having a healthy Martin Biron to back him up again will help keep Lundqvist from getting worn out. Lundqvist is a Vezina threat any year and with the Rangers’ improvements in offense, he can help make any defensive deficiencies go away.

source: Getty ImagesCoach

If you didn’t know John Tortorella already, you haven’t been paying attention. Don’t worry, with the Rangers being in the Winter Classic and also set to be on HBO’s 24/7, you’ll get to know a lot about him. Tortorella’s the best guy to have in New York and he’s done a solid job of keeping order in Manhattan. With his old pal Richards (they won a Cup together in 2004 with Tampa Bay) expect Tortorella to have things rolling just how he wants. If he doesn’t, bring on the profanity and press conferences.

Breakout candidate

The Rangers had a host of these players last year in Stepan, McDonagh, and Zuccarello. This time around, if there’s a guy that’s going to breakout it’ll be Erixon. With the Rangers essentially holding an open audition for the sixth defenseman spot, someone’s going to show they’ve earned it and the former Flames draft pick has all the upside to do it. Del Zotto still struggles defensively and Bell needs to do more to show he can cut it in the NHL. Let Erixon get a shot and see what he can do and he could surprise everyone.

source: APBest-case scenario

Richards’ arrival helps get Gaborik back above the 40-goal mark and ignites a power play that was mostly feeble last season. Dubinsky and Callahan continue to lead the way and give the Rangers the second-line push to create more offense. Wojtek Wolski avoids slumps and plays the kind of hockey the Rangers need — to score and set up goals. Lundqvist wins the Vezina as the Rangers bully their way deep into the playoffs and help make Sather look like a psychic.

Reality

The Rangers have things in place to be a very good team. They should absolutely be a playoff team and stressing out at the end of the season shouldn’t happen again.  As long as Richards and Gaborik stay healthy and keep the offense rolling, they’ll be a tougher team to handle. The forward roster is deep, and while there’s still questions on defense, Lundqvist makes it all stand up. The question for New York is just how they can manage as a playoff team.

Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

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Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

“We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

“The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.

Leafs and Coyotes headline Craig Button’s list of top NHL-affiliated prospects

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2:  William Nylander #21 of Team Sweden is stopped by Ville Husso #30 of Team Finland during a quarter-final game in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 2, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Maple Leafs and Coyotes featured prominently on Craig Button’s list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects.

Button, the former Calgary GM whose current title is TSN’s Director of Scouting, has two Leafs forwards — William Nylander (1st) and Mitch Marner (6th) — and two Coyotes forwards — Dylan Strome (2nd) and Christian Dvorak (3rd) — in his top six.

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov is fourth, with Jets forward Kyle Connor fifth.

Click here to read the other 44 youngsters that made the cut.

One of them is Jimmy Vesey (8th), the Harvard scoring sensation the Predators need to sign by August, otherwise he can become a free agent.

Goalie nods: Ducks give red-hot Andersen second straight start

Corey Perry, Frederik Andersen
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Bruce Boudreau has one of those “problems you like to have” in Anaheim.

Much of his club’s recent surge is due to excellent play from both netminders — John Gibson and Frederik Andersen — but after alternating starts for the last five games, Boudreau will give Andersen his second straight nod when the Ducks take on the Jackets in Columbus.

The Danish netminder is full value for consecutive starts. Andersen made 28 saves and allowed just one goal in a win over Philadelphia last time out and has been on fire over his last six games, going a perfect 6-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .941 save percentage.

“We just wanted to change the rotation a little bit,” Boudreau said of tonight’s starting goalie choice, per the O.C. Register. “Gibby’s done really good against Chicago and Vancouver and Freddie’s done really good against Edmonton, Calgary. He played an outstanding game last game and I thought he deserved this game tonight.”

Anaheim is in the midst of a lengthy seven-game road swing. After tonight’s game, the Ducks take on the ‘Hawks, Oilers and Flames before wrapping the trip in Vancouver on Feb. 18.

For Columbus, Joonas Korpisalo starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Looks as though Jhonas Enroth gets the nod in Brooklyn with Jonathan Quick banged up. The Isles are going with Thomas Greiss, who has emerged as one of the NHL’s top backup netminders this year.

Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres in Philly tonight. Steve Mason will make his sixth straight start, and Michal Neuvirth will resume backup duties after being activated from IR.

Semyon Varlamov‘s expected to be in goal for the Avs tonight when they take on the Sens. Ottawa will go with Andrew Hammond after Craig Anderson started against Detroit last night.

— Minnesota is going back to Devan Dubnyk, tonight, who has lost nine in a row (0-8-1) with a 3.32 GAA and .881 save percentage over that time. Washington will start Braden Holtby.

Tuukka Rask versus Connor Hellebuyck as the Bruins take on the Jets.

— Dallas looks like it’ll go back to Kari Lehtonen after his strong effort in Tuesday’s win over the Wild. Chicago, unsurprisingly, is sticking with its workhorse No. 1, Corey Crawford.

— Toronto’s switching things up and going with Jonathan Bernier as its road swing continues in Edmonton. The Oilers are going with Cam Talbot, one day after sending Anders Nilsson to the minors.

Karri Ramo versus Alex Stalock tonight in San Jose.