When asked what the keys to the Rangers upcoming season are, most fans would point to the obvious: the health of both Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist; a return to form by Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden; and the ability of coach John Tortorella to implement the up-tempo playing style and the high-level conditioning he favors are answers I would expect to hear.
There is another, less obvious key to the potential success of the Rangers this season; the play of Marc Staal. Is it really fair to pin so much on a 22 year-old defenseman who is entering only his 3rd NHL season? As a matter of fact, yes it is.
Staal has already earned high praise from around the league. In fact, The Hockey News just listed Staal in its list of top defenesmen under the age of 25. But he has more to offer and for the Rangers to qualify the postseason this year it would help if Staal became their best defenseman.
The Rangers have invested a lot of money in Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden to be their best defensemen but the results just weren’t there last season. In fact, Redden’s play has been in decline for the last few seasons and there is no guarantee that he will return to the form he displayed before the lockout. Rozsival is a nice player but shouldn’t be anyone’s #1 or #2.
In addition to Rozsival, Redden and Staal, the Rangers will be employing 4th year defenseman Dan Girardi and possibly 2 rookies among their top 6 this year. If you’re looking for someone to step up and become a true #1 the answer may have to be Staal.
Staal has all of the tools to be successful. Torts would agree with that sentiment as he was quoted as saying when asked what areas Staal needs to improve, “Offense and jam. We’re going to give him the opportunity. He’s got all the tools." If Staal can start putting it together this season then the Rangers would not be so reliant on Redden and Rozsival to be their best defensemen.