As usual, a great job by SN.
The goalie was erratic at best, the defense was inconsistent, so one would surmise somebody on this team must be playing well in order to for the team to rack up all those wins. The forwards started out like gangbusters, then faced some injuries and finished slowly at the break. This forward group has the most skill in the Top 9 since I can remember. Whether they combine that skill with consistency and solid 2-way play to perform well into the spring is the big question. Good news is most of these players are early in their careers so the future is bright. Smart to hold on to some of those draft choices…
NYR Forwards: Grade B+ [editor’s grade: A-]
Rich Nash – Grade: B- [B]
The power forward looked to rebound this season and was off to a promising start but a mix of injuries and desire to shoot from any angle no matter how poor has left him at a pace to pot only 26 goals. In December prior to his injury, he was playing with a burning desire and high level of skill only seen in spurts and, sure enough, it was short lived. While a solid 2-way player, the need is for big goals and power forward play at the highest level. Will forever be the barometer of team performance based upon his contract and pedigree. Needs to step it up to another level or two in the 2nd half.
Derek Stepan – Grade: B+ [B]
Consistent center with proven durability and solid productivity in a season where 2 of the other 3 centers in the top 9 were injured. Much rather pass than shoot and while compiling the points, he gets the most prime ice on the team so he should be producing. WYSIWYG with Step; steady 2 way play getting more out of his natural ability than anyone else on the team. 1 goal on the PP’s first unit stationed in OV’s office is not enough production, but solid PK and responsible D play as pivot is very helpful. Centered Kreider and Zucc to lead team in December when 3 starters were out in top 9. [no mention of face offs?]
Chris Kreider – Grade: B+ [B+]
Started out great in October, slowed down in November along with an injury but has come on to be on a pace for over 30 goals for the first time in his career. He has all the physical tools, but missing something between his ears that leads to some questionable plays along with unofficially leading the team in off-sides calls. Needs to play more aggressively and enforce his will around the crease. Has become a beast on the PP.
JT Miller – Grade: A- [A]
Only 23 years old and has come into his own featuring an all around game that allows AV to place him up and down the Top 9 at forward or center. On pace for 26-33-59 and has also added PK duties to his game. Still tries to force a pass through the middle but there are much less of those mistakes. Probably their most physical player on the wall and has an attitude that points toward future captaincy.
Kevin Haze – Grade: B+ [A-]
Haze is another one of the Young Americans in the forward group that has a unique skill set on the offensive end. While he has the size, the physical aspects of the game are not his forte, much more interested in dangling the biscuit and making a great feed. Needs to become a little more selfish for the teams’ sake and rip the puck at the net. Was the pivot for the teams’ most productive line with Miller and Grabner. Was on pace for 22-37-59 prior to injury before ASG. Has played only with two and a half seasons so far, so reason to believe he will only improve.
Mats Zuccarello – Grade: A- [A-]
The little Norwegian has once again been in the middle of offensive production while making small strides (pun intended) on the defensive side of the ice. Still wanders down to low and gets out of position in Dzone but has been used on the PK and seems more engaged on both ends of the ice. Has not missed a game in a season where the team has experienced a rash of injuries and has put up 23 points in 26 games during December and January albeit only 2 goals. Will not approach the career high 29 goals from last season but is team leader in points and on pace for 48 assists.
Michael Grabner – Grade: A+ [A+]
Wow, just wow. This guy has been a godsend using his amazing speed and keen off-puck play to be the most electric player on the team. Leading goal scorer with 22 and on a pace for 36 goals and 50 points (career high is 34) with no PP time. Grabner is very responsible in D-zone and fast as lightning through neutral zone. This speed is creating match up problems and his ability to go from defense to offense in the blink of an eye. Just Wow.
Pavel Buchnevich – Grade: Inc./B+ [A-]
The kid suffered a mysterious back injury that has left him out for over 30 games but in the small sample size, his skills and ice awareness has been very impressive. Always seems to be in the right place at the right time and possesses a very deft touch on his passes. The future is bright but with a need to get stronger and avoid any additional issues with his back.
Mika Zabinajad – Grade: Inc./B [A- before injury, C+ after, averages to a B]
Another of the injured forwards who suffered a ghastly leg injury but has recently returned. On a pace for 41 pts in less than 60 games, the center has the skills to be a very productive player down the stretch. He is very smart with puck and particularly adept on the PP. His booming righty slapper needs to start finding the net more and he can disappear for stretches during games but he’s good both in D-zone and on the dot. Need for him to put it in the next gear for the balance of the season.
Jesper Fast – Grade: B [C-]
Defensively responsible under-sized 4th line forward who AV likes to play higher than his hands would warrant in the lineup. Recent injury coincided with the two schedule breaks so no major time off and is on pace for 20 assists which is quite impressive on the 4th line.
Jimmy Vesey – Grade: B+ [B-]
The summer’s coveted prize from BC started off gangbusters but has hit the college rookie wall and his playing time has been relegated to the 4th line. On a pace still for 20 goals but he had 8 markers in the first 24 followed by only 4 in the next 25. The tools are in evidence including a drive to the net which is hard to teach and almost harder to watch as he has been getting smacked around some. Eventually will need to settle into a regular top 9 role but the glut of forwards will keep his ice time down.
Brandon Pirri – Grade: C [D]
The gun for hire reclamation project came in with nothing to lose and AV fell in love with his quick lefty slapper on the PP. Pirri has been good on draws as well, but is not a 4th line forward unless he plays for an AV coached team. Be interesting to see if he still is allotted a starting role if the recent poor team play continues. Biggest issue is he is not a great skater so his game will always be hampered by a lack of wheels and ability to make proper turns.
Oscar Lindberg – Grade: B- [B-]
Oscar started out coming back from a hip injury and seemed to feeling affects early in season and only started to round into form in December and January. He has been the odd man out as AV tries to construct an offensively focused 4th line. Oscar has not produced in the points department, but plays a ‘heavy’ game and is solid on the dot.
Matt Puempel – Grade: C [D]
Pumps was claimed at the beginning of the season and offers AV another offensively focused player to use on the 4th line. Has contributed 6-1-7 in 29 games with 3 of those goals coming in one game so the experiment hasn’t proven itself out yet. Seems to have the tools and wheels but needs to play with top 9 talent order to get the most out of him and no room on this team’s top 9.