A day after being put on waivers, center Jarret Stoll found a new home. The Minnesota Wild are the team who claimed him. So, he goes with Fox sideline reporter girlfriend Erin Andrews from Broadway to St. Paul.
Signed by the Rangers in the off-season for one year at $800,000, Stoll was excellent on face-offs winning nearly 58 percent (158-and-115). But the face-off ace whose career winning percentage is 55.4 percent did little else. Sure. He killed penalties. But he had just a goal and two assists while looking out of place due to Dominic Moore.
The signing never made sense. Especially with the development of rookie Oscar Lindberg. They probably should’ve cut him after camp. Instead, they held onto him for roughly one-third of the season with coach Alain Vigneault struggling to figure out his role. It’s laughable that for one game on that awful Western Canadian road trip, he had Moore centering the third line and Stoll the fourth. He was overusing the checkers at the expense of Lindberg, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes.
Vigneault has not had a good season. He’s mishandled the lines. With Derek Stepan out, he hasn’t settled on a second line. Hopefully, with Tanner Glass reemerging on the fourth line, he’ll realize that Jesper Fast is miscast in a top nine role. Viktor Stalberg has been decent in a secondary role. But once Stepan returns, he should be on the fourth line. Emerson Etem should play on the third line with Hayes and Lindberg when Stepan is back. That would allow Lindberg to take the draws. It would also give the team better balance.
For now, Vigneault can mix and match with Lindberg anchoring the second line and Hayes the third. He tried Chris Kreider with Hayes and Mats Zuccarello before reuniting the top line. There’s no reason to split up Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Rick Nash when they’re easily their best unit. Granted. Nash has been disappointing with some lazy defensive play. He must be more consistent production wise and overall. Nine goals and 21 points in 29 games isn’t what they pay him for. Neither is his dramatic slip defensively.
If there’s a criticism of Vigneault, it’s that he hasn’t been patient enough with Etem. Brought in from Anaheim for Carl Hagelin in a deal that allowed the Rangers to move up in the second round and select Ryan Gropp, Etem has only gotten into a dozen games and has two assists. While it’s true a poor camp contributed to him being a healthy scratch to begin the season, Vigneault has done a poor job finding a role for the 23-year old. It’s time for Etem to sink or swim. When Stepan went down, it was the perfect opportunity. Now with Stoll gone, he’ll play. Though I’d prefer him on the third line and not the fourth.
Vigneault has also bounced Miller around. In his second full year, he’s still looking to establish himself. From a consistency standpoint, the former 2011 first round pick can be better. But it’s clear that Miller is an effective fore-checker who adds energy and a net presence. Areas that have been lacking. I still believe he should be the right wing on the second line with Stepan and Kreider. But AV prefers Hayes even though he is more effective at center. But Hayes doesn’t use his size from a physical standpoint. If he’s not scoring, it’s a waste.
The thing with young players is it takes time. Hayes is 23 and only in his second year. He’s experiencing the same growing pains Anders Lee is with the Islanders. As for Kreider, he should be more consistent by this point. Given all the playoff games since 2012, he should have figured it out by now. He shows flashes. Five goals in 31 games doesn’t cut it. The Blueshirts need better production.
That’s the issue when you subtract key leadership from a President’s Trophy roster. Even though he hasn’t fit in Anaheim, Hagelin was perfect under Vigneault. His speed and gritty style made him a strong possession player who was always a threat in transition. The style Vigneault loves. Hagelin also was superb as a penalty killer. Ironically, the Rangers still don’t have a shorthanded goal. Part of it is Nash under performing and their best penalty killer Stepan remaining out. That’s a disappointment.
Say what you want about him. But Martin St. Louis was a valuable leader who brought a lot to the table. Even in his final year, he still wound up tied with Kreider for second in goals (21) and fourth in scoring with 52 points. His skill allowed Kreider more time and space to finish. Vigneault has yet to find a suitable replacement. It’s probably one reason why Kreider has struggled. The coach hasn’t settled on Miller or Hayes yet. His decision is delayed until Stepan returns which likely means not till the next calendar year.
For the Rangers who play host to the Oilers and Cam Talbot tonight, it’s about finding more consistency. The coach has some responsibility. Ultimately, it’s up to the players to deliver. That includes doing a better job in coverage with Nash and Hayes guilty parties in losses to Edmonton and Calgary. With the cushion they had almost gone, it’s time for the team to come together.