The New York Rangers bye week has finally come to an end, and the time off presents a fresh start for three players.
New York Rangers hockey is finally back. The team is set to return from their bye week Tuesday night when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers.
The first half saw some success from veterans Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Kevin Hayes along with some surprising performances from rookie Filip Chytil. While those have been the success stories of the Rangers, there were some players who are looking to the second half as a new beginning.
On the Rangers current roster, there are three players who need to look at the second half as a fresh start. All three have had up and down years which featured some great moments but also featured times where they’ve gone invisible. The bye week allowed them to rest up and perhaps put what was a troubling first half behind them.
This specific campaign has not been a kind one to fan favorite Mats Zuccarello. The 31-year-old struggled mightily throughout the first half and just did not seem like the player Ranger fans have come to know and love.
As the nine-year veteran from Norway mentioned earlier in the season, the question marks surrounding his future were bothering and him and it was clearly having an effect on his game.
Even with the first half struggles, Zuccarello turned it on during the weeks before the bye week and returned to form. He picked up nine points in his last five games, including three multi-point games and four goals boosting his season total to eight. His hot streak might have come at the worst time possible though considering the pending time off, but it was refreshing to see that Zuccarello still has something left in the tank.
The second half is going to be extremely crucial for Zuccarello considering the situation he and the Rangers are currently in. A pending free agent at the end of the season, Zuccarello is likely to gather some interest on the trade market as teams gear up for a run to the Stanley Cup.
Zuccarello’s play earlier in the season would have fetched a package below value, but with his comeback general manager, Jeff Gorton might get what he wants. But it is not just the Rangers future we have to be looking at here. Zuccarello is going to be playing for his next contract in the second half and most certainly should want to put up a good showing.
No matter what happens with the fan favorite, the second half is a chance to prove he is still the player many think he is.
If anyone needed the second half to start it was Brett Howden. After an impressive start to his career in the NHL, Howden hit a rookie wall along the way during the final stretch of the first half. He found himself losing minutes, getting moved to the fourth line, and if it wasn’t for Zuccarello missing the Rangers game Tuesday, he would likely be a healthy scratch in the Rangers return from the break.
Howden has not scored a goal since Nov. 12 and has just five points Nov. 15 a huge dropoff after scoring 10 points in his first 17 games. The league clearly made adjustments to defending the 20-year-old and now it is up to Howden to make the necessary adjustments to get back to where he was at the beginning of the season. The talent is clearly there, it’s just a matter of him making the adjustments now.
When the Rangers return from the break, Howden will be playing an unfamiliar position since Kevin Hayes is returning and Zuccarello is unavailable. For the first time at the NHL level, Howden will line up on the wing alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Even though it might be a one-game audition, this is a chance for Howden to show he still has something left in the tank in his rookie year.
Once Zuccarello returns, Howden will likely be a healthy scratch so he can learn by watching some games but when he does return to the lineup, the second half will be his time to show fans not to give up on him just yet.
Jimmy Vesey started the season playing some of the best hockey he has ever played in the NHL. Simply put, he looked like a completely different player showing a type of aggressiveness fans have never seen from him before scoring 10 points in his first 18 games. It looked like this was going to be his coming out party after head coach David Quinn clearly was giving him every chance to shine.
But somewhere along the line in the first half, Vesey’s game came back to reality and he was not that intimidating force he was for the first few weeks. He’s scored just four points since Dec. 29 moving down to a third line, and sometimes a fourth, role after starting the year in the team’s top-six. This second half can prove to be an important one for Vesey because he will likely see an increased role after the trade deadline, assuming the Rangers make the moves we think they are going to make.
If Vesey can bring some parts of his game from the beginning of the season and play that way on a more consistent basis in the second half, the Rangers can get much more dangerous having a new threat to worry about. It is pretty well known in the league that depth and scoring from your bottom nine are crucial to winning games, and Vesey can provide just that.
The time is now for Vesey to step up, and a fresh start can do just that.