The saying goes it’s better to be lucky than good. Right now the Rangers are neither. But is it worse to be unlucky or bad?
In just their third game of the season, the Broadway Blueshirts added some black to their blue, losing their best skater, RW Marian Gaborik, and one of their most versatile forwards, C Chris Drury to injuries. In addition, Vinny Prospal, who has yet to play a game this season, will be sidelined indefinitely as he will undergo knee surgery.
The Rangers fought hard to gain a point before losing in overtime, but the news after the game was less than soothing. Gaborik will be out two to four weeks with a separated shoulder, while Drury is expected to miss six weeks due to re-fracturing the same pinky that caused him to miss most of training camp.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE RANGERS
The Rangers looked like a playoff bubble team to start the season. Their playoff hopes rested largely on the shoulders of Gaborik and superstar goaltender Henrik Lundqvist coming through with enormous seasons. Though a sublime goal-scoring talent, Gaborik has topped the 70-game plateau just twice since the 2003-04 campaign and since 2006-07 has missed 120 games due to injury while playing in just 218. Another injury-prone year by the slick-skating sniper will certainly send the Rangers from the playoff bubble to the draft lottery.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOUR FANTASY TEAM
Injury concerns prevent me annually from taking Gaborik in the first two rounds where you normally need to grab him. His history of being hurt forced me to drop his pre-season RW rank to sixth behind (in order) Patrick Kane, Martin St. Louis, Dany Heatley, Corey Perry and Marian Hossa. His injury also hurts the Rangers he would be playing on a line with, notably Alexander Frolov and Erik Christensen.
The Drury injury, however, opens the door for increased ice time for a couple of very talented young Rangers’ centers. Artem Anisimov netted 28 points as a rookie last year with marginal playing time and power play time. Expect him to see more offensive situations and better linemates and perhaps approach 50 points this year.
The Rangers also are breaking in a young center who was my pre-season choice for the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year, an amazingly hockey-smart and determined kid named Derek Stepan. He burst onto the scene with a hat-trick in the Rangers’ season opener. Though he has since fallen off the pace of a 246-goal season, a 25-goal, 40-assist campaign would not surprise me. Stepan won the NCAA championship as the go-to guy for the University of Wisconsin, and then followed that up by captaining the USA World Junior team to the gold medal in January. Stepan is a leader and a battler, and although his talent doesn’t quite remind one of Jonathan Toews, his intangibles do. I see Stepan as a younger Rod Brind’Amour in many ways, and the Drury injury will certainly lead to Stepan receiving increased ice time and responsibilities.
In summary, if Gaborik was on your fantasy roster, we’re sorry. If Drury was on your roster, you should be sorry. In deeper leagues, definitely take a flier on Stepan, if not Anisimov. In keeper leagues, consider Stepan the future first-line center and likely captain of the Rangers, and don’t miss out on him. And if you’re a Ranger fan? Clear that throat out and get ready for another winter full of “Fire Sather!” chants.
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