New Faces Stepping Up on D

The Rangers have certainly heeded the call from John Tortorella about defense. Entering tonight’s game, the Blueshirts have allowed the second fewest goals in the league at 72, behind only Boston. While King Henrik deserves the most praise for the success because of his work in the crease, it should be noted that the Rangers have achieved consistency defensively with many different players in the lineup. Surprisingly, the current lineup boasts ONLY TWO defensemen from the end of last year’s squad in Girardi and McDonagh.

Here is a list of the Rangers depth chart on Defense at the end of last season and each player’s status now:

1. Marc Staal (Injured Reserve- Concussion)

2. Dan Girardi (Active- NYR)

3. Michael Sauer (Injured Reserve- Concussion)

4. Ryan McDonagh (Active- NYR)

5. Matt Gilroy (Signed with Tampa Bay as Free Agent)

6. Bryan McCabe (Free Agent- Unsigned)

7. Steve Eminger (Injured Reserve- Separated Shoulder)

Despite the injuries and offseason turnover, the Rangers have found a way to continue to get it done with a different group of guys. Here is a list of the current depth chart of the Rangers for now and the foreseeable future until Staal, Sauer and Eminger return to full health:

1. Dan Girardi- Girardi has been the anchor this year with Staal out of the lineup. Logging almost 30 minutes a night, Girardi is blocking shots, killing penalties and even seeing time on the power play. The undrafted defensive stalwart has been a revelation with the Rangers and the most valuable player on defense this season.

2. Ryan McDonagh- To think that just two years ago this guy was playing college hockey is incredible. Playing in his first full season he has shown offensive flair and defensive awareness while logging major minutes on the top pairing. What were the Canadiens thinking trading this 2007 first round pick away? Even Scott Gomez had to know it wasn’t a good trade for Montreal.

3. Michael Del Zotto– After suffering through a sophomore slump, Del Zotto has been a pleasant surprise in his third season and much less of a “Del Zaster”. Showing increased maturity and the same swagger he had as a rookie, MDZ has seen time on both power play units, while earning back Torts’ trust. His defense still needs some work still but it sure is nice to see him back on the right track.

4. Anton Stralman– I have never really been a fan of European defensemen because most tend to play a less physical game, but Stralman has certainly filled in nicely on the second pair while picking up 5 points in 11 games. He played in Columbus for the last two years so naturally nobody really knew who the hell he was before he came here. Signed in early November as defensive depth, the Devils reportedly offered him a contract but he chose us over them. Good choice Anton, good choice.

5. Stu Bickel a.k.a. “The Accidental Assist Machine”– Stu has bounced around the minor leagues for the last four seasons, first in the Anaheim Ducks organization and now with the Rangers, he is making the most of his opportunity. His willingness to drop the gloves and his two nearly identical assists on fluttering shots against the Flyers will surely help him stick around for at least a little while. He has provided grit on the back end that the Rangers have missed since the Sauer injury.

6. Jeff Woywitka– The journeyman defenseman had spent time with the Flyers, Oilers, Blues and Stars organizations before ending up in New York as a waiver pickup. Aside from having a last name that is fun to pronounce, he has filled in admirably despite a few defensive lapses. His giveaway in the game vs. the Stars that led to the only goal in a 1-0 shutout was costly. I do feel bad for his children though. After paying for the Rangers meal that night at The Buffalo Chophouse, they likely won’t be able to go to college.

7. Tim Erixon– Son of former Rangers forward Jan Erixon, Tim is still finding his game at the NHL level. In his second stint with the big club this year, Erixon is playing well in minimal minutes on the third pair. The former first round pick is only 20 years old and still needs some seasoning in the AHL like McDonagh had last season. Nice job by Sather acquiring him from the Flames this past summer; he was the number one prospect in their organization at the time according to Hockey’s Future.

Depth signings, waiver pickups and trades have come in handy, as they have helped the Rangers overcome injuries to the defense for the time being. Torts’ defensive system, the help from the forwards and Marty Biron’s stellar play as the backup all should be attributed to the success thus far as well. The contributions from these guys have certainly been impressive. What will happen to some of these guys once Staal, Sauer and Eminger come back from their respective injuries? Time will tell. But one thing is certain: Depth is a good thing.

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