Call them Foot Soldiers, call them Grunts or call them The Underrated.
Whatever you choose to call the likes of Jesper Fast, Boo Nieves or Marc Staal, they respectively remain critical to the success of the New York Rangers and their uptick after a slow start to their season.
Though Mats Zuccarello and Henrik Lundqvist are usually the ones receiving the Broadway Hat, the speedy Fast garnered the big tying (second) goal on Tuesday night against the Penguins, ultimately leading to a huge 4-3 Rangers win in Pittsburgh.
So ask any general and he’ll tell you that no army can win a war without its infantry and every hockey coach will add that no club worth its weight in Zambonis can excel without The Underrated.
NEW YORK RANGERS
1. JESPER FAST
Call him Kid Lightning if you like — and I do — the swift Swede delivers a complete two-way game much to Alain Vigneault‘s delight. It hardly was a coincidence that the Blueshirts emerged from their slump when Fast returned from an injury that had delayed his season debut.
Mobility and reliability are the hallmarks of Fast’s game. I’m not jesting about Jesper when I say he can snugly fit on any of the team’s top three-lines and enhance them with his all-purpose talents. AV will second my motion.
“In Jesper,” Vigneault pointed out, “I’ve got a real dependable five-on-five player. And I’ve got one of our best penalty killers. He’s a big part of the energy on the team that we can bring to games.”
2. BOO NIEVES
Coaches invariably wail, “My Kingdom for a top-notch fourth-line center.” No need for Vigneault to sweat that issue since the Syracuse, NY native has filled that bill. He scored his first career goal against Pittsburgh on Tuesday and already is an astonishingly quick plus-7 in the Plus-Minus department.
Summoned from Hartford when Adam Cracknell was demoted, the 23-year-old has been a positive revelation on the fourth line. His significant assets include grit and speed which automatically makes him a coach’s pet.
Vigneault noted, “If you look at how ice time is spread around, it’s pretty evenly matched for the four lines. That permits us to play with a higher pace and more energy so we can roll and score with four lines quickly. That’s what Boo helps us do by playing well and being efficient.”
3. MARC STAAL
Almost — but not quite — The Unknown Ranger-Soldier, this former first-round draft pick (2005) has rebuffed critics who suggested that his best days were behind him. Not true. Maybe not an All-Star, but Staal still is an asset.
For one thing, Marc’s work ethic is nonpareil and evident every night because being a lunch-pail player means so much to his psyche. “I try to work as hard as I can in practice and get my timing and my legs in the game,” Staal noted. “I want to be sharp with the little details that make a difference in a game.”
As a matter of fact, the Thunder Bay, Ontario native is well-ensconced on the third — still vital — defense pair along with either Brendan Smith or Steven Kampfer. At last look, Marc was making his mark with a plus-2 in the Plus-Minus area.