The Rangers have hit their best stretch of hockey this season going 10-3-1 in the last 14 and playing like a team with their pedigree should. In a peculiar turn of events, this run has come in the absence of the teams most prolific offensive player last season, Rick Nash. He has been out since Jan. 22 with a bone bruise that the team has been suspiciously quiet about. Initially, reports had him day-to-day with a lower body injury. At another point he was coming back after the All-Star break. Now we sit at week-to-week with the specifics of the injury in his left leg more transparent.
Prior to this setback, Nash was not producing at the same level as last season. Last year he had his seminal Rangers campaign with 42 goals and 27 assists in 79 games, this season he had tallied 12 goals and 21 assists in 45 games before the injury. That is a slight bump in assists but a considerable drop in goals and Nash is best known for putting the puck in the net. This assessment doesn’t bode well for the perception of Nash’s role in New York.
In his absence, the maturation of Derick Brassard into a bonafide goal scorer has come full circle with Derek Stepan shaping up as another top tier center. The J.T. Miller project has finally yielded pay dirt with a sky’s the limit performance of late and Mats Zuccarello has continued to prove a majorly overlooked asset who makes anyone on his line better. Add into that picture a handful of other young forwards who pose a credible scoring threat and the forwards have come together to more than replace Nash’s production.
This assessment would lead one to believe that Nash is inessential and possibly even replaceable in the lineup. However, what is overlooked is that Nash has matured into a fantastic two-way player during his time on Broadway, even garnering Selke trophy buzz last season. He has become a stalwart on both the powerplay and penalty kill. Nash also has the intangibles of drawing defensive attention and being a veteran locker room presence. In short, the numbers don’t sum up his contributions. The Rangers have struggled to find a 12th forward which Nash would help fill with the domino effect of his addition to the top line.
It is a great sign that the young pieces the Rangers have acquired and developed are shaping into a strong core of late. Still the Rangers are a better team with Nash in the lineup. Being excited about the upstart success and valuing a top tier power forward are not mutually exclusive. With lofty goals past April, lets all hope Nash is able to turn off-ice workouts into on-ice workouts into dressing for games and finally into lighting the lamp like only he can.