The New York Rangers received a massive blow to their forward group when they were forced to add Rick Nash to the IR list earlier today. While no one on the current roster can fill the hole left behind entirely, there are several players that will have the opportunity to elevate their games in his absence. and replace him in the aggregate.
Here are three players that will need to play even better while Nash is still on the mend.
There was a time when Derick Brassard was being groomed by the Columbus Blue Jackets to be the center that Nash never had while in Ohio (no, Jeff Carter does not count). Through various trades and a bit of fate, the two still play on the same team in New York. While Nash has found consistent chemistry with Derek Stepan, Brassard has begun to evolve into an outstanding top-six player for the Rangers.
He put up 11 points in 13 games after he was traded to the Big Apple last season, playing to his potential more than he ever did with the Jackets. Brassard has started off 2013-14 well enough, posting three points in five games while maintaining a minus-one rating despite the Rangers getting manhandled twice last week.
There’s always been the belief that there was more to the 26 year-old’s game than he was showing, and the time is now for him to erupt. A coming-out party for Brassard while Nash is on the mend would give the Rangers one of the strongest top-six groups in the NHL once he returns. Even if the former sixth-overall selection doesn’t got bonkers, a few goals here and there would certainly help the Blueshirts make it through this tough time.
It may seem like a long time ago, but there was a point when Benoit Pouliot was considered one of the top prospects in the NHL. The Minnesota Wild selected him with the fourth-overall selection in 2005, passing over the likes of Carey Price, Devin Setoguchi and Anze Kopitar to land the highly touted forward.
Eight years is a long time in the NHL, and while Pouliot will never live up to his selection, he’s still a darn good player in flashes that can dazzle with his speed and hands. Consistency has always been an issue, and now would be an outstanding time for Pouliot to reward the Rangers for giving him a shot to continue his professional hockey career after sighing him this summer.
Mats Zuccarello was one of the players that pundits believed would get a boost from Alain Vigneault’s more up-tempo, fast-paced system. While he’s still looking for his first point of the 2013-14 season, it isn’t because he’s been used sparingly. AV clearly likes something that he’s seeing from the hasty but undersized forward, as he’s averaging more than 17 minutes of ice time according to THN.com.
Like Pouliot, Zuccarello doesn’t need to go on a tear. A consistent output and a point in every other game would go a long way toward bracing the Rangers for the loss of Nash down the stretch though. The guy isn’t going to bowl anyone over, but is one of the quicker players in the league.
If he can get going on a bit of a points streak, New York might manage to make it through this rough season-opening patch with enough time to make up some points in the playoff race later on in the year.