As the NHL season is coming into view, Id like to finish up my analyzation of the Rangers by taking a look at the projected third defensive pairing for the upcoming season.
Left Defense: #4 Marc Staal
Personal: 20 years old from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Stands 6 ft 4 in 206 lbs. Shoots lefty. Drafted 12th overall by the Rangers. Entering his firstseason with the Rangers. Contract: 3 yrs 790 K. 2007 stats (with OHL Sudbury): 53 gms, 5 g, 29 a, +7
Strengths: Marc will be following the Staal family tradition of excellence as his jump to the NHL will mark the third Staal brother to make an NHL roster since 2003.
Last season, he was awarded the Max Kaminsky Trophy for the Ontario Hockey League's most outstanding defensemen. Staal played great defense during the season and while leading his Sudbury Wolves to the OHL finals. At 6'4, he is a physical force and throws huge hits along the boards and in open ice. He is good in the rush and can carry the puck through the neutral zone. Thanks to his sound positional play, good speed and strength, Marc has potential to be one of the top shutdown NHL defensemen for the better part of his career.
Weaknesses: Obviously, coming into his first NHL season will be a big adjustment for Staal. He is young and will have to get stronger to win physical battles against the big boys. He will be pressured by defensemen Jason Strudwick and Thomas Pock who will try to get the 6th defenseman spot, so if he does not impress during the preseason, the management will be quick to deem him "not NHL ready" and he will spend the beginning of the season in the minors.
Why Line #3: IT is time for Staal to play for the Rangers. He was the best defenseman in the OHL and he will now work on accomplishing the same feat in the NHL. This year will be a learning experience as he develops, he may be bumped up to play on the top two lines.
Right Defenseman #17 Paul Mara
Personal: 28b years old from Ridgewood, CT. Stands 6 ft 4 in and 219 lbs. Shoots lefty. Drafted 7th overall by Tampa Bay. Entering his first full season with the Rangers. Contract: 1 yr 3 mil. 2007 stats: 78 gms, 5 g, 18 a, -17.
Strengths: After being acquired from the Bruins before last season's trade deadline, Mara played well on the Rangers.
He is the optimal size for an NHL defensman and is good along the boards in physical play. He skates well for someone his size and likes to lead the rush using his good speed. The biggset contributuion is his ability to quarterback a power-play, something the Rangers lacked before acquiring him. He is a solid defensemen whos offensive game should fit well with the defensive-minded Staal.
Weaknesses: Mara is not fully polished in the defensive zone. He makes mental mistakes and his positioning is not sound at times. He needs to use his size and speed to play physically against top forwards as he tends to play conservitavely and give too much room to them. Because of his time on the dreadful Bruins and Coyotes, Mara lacks the big-game experience to be a top four defenseman. He will have to perform well in the many big games the Rangers are likely to play this year if he wants to be re-signed next summer.
Why Line #3: His offensive game should compliment Staal's defensive approach very well. His roster spot is secure because of his value on the power play but he will work hard during his contract season. If he finds chemistry with Staal and aids in the phenom's development, expect him to stcik around New York.
Line 3 Grade: C+
At the start of the season, this line is a question mark because it is unknown how Staal will play but if he adjusts to the NHL game and plays well with Mara, this line can become a solid one.
Stay tuned for the preseason edition of "Rangers Recap", a weekly blog that will appear on MyHB every week of the season, complete with scores, stats, schedules and analysis by yours truly.