In the wake of news that Ryan Callahan will miss the remainder of this season due to a broken leg, the Rangers need to resume their search for leadership on and off the ice.
Callahan was undoubtedly the leader of this team, especially in the absence of captain Chris Drury. One possibility – at least with regard to “on-ice performance,” is 23-year-old Russian sniper Artem Anisimov. He has clearly emerged as a focal point for this Rangers team, and had been a big part of the Rangers’ top line (with Brandon Dubinsky and Callahan) over the past few weeks.
Anisimov has almost doubled his point total from last season, and has continuously found new ways to take advantage of his unbelievable skill-set. He utilizes his soft hands to deke goalies on breakaways (both on the forehand and backhand sides) and also makes great use of his hard-rising, laser-like wrist shot, two critical reasons why Anisimov has been able to eclipse the 40-point plateau for the first time in 2010-11.
Without Callahan — the team’s second leading scorer — it is Anisimov’s time to shine under the bright spotlight of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anisimov’s points have come in bunches this season, and the Rangers hope he will hit his stride when the games matter most. He can be expected to receive top minutes from head coach John Tortorella, especially in the absence of Callahan.
There is, of course, plenty of reason for concern and doubt.
Anisimov has also had horrific stretches during this season which found him with five points during the month of January (four of which came in one game). He also suffered through a 10-game slump from November 22 until December 11 in which he did not record a single point. Not coincidentally, the Rangers have played poorly during his prolonged slumps. But he has become a key component for the Rangers’ success as the season has progressed, with the team performing far better during his hot streaks. Without question, Anisimov has emerged as one of the Blueshirts’ most dangerous players.
As the Rangers near the postseason, they will continue the search for an off-ice team leader. Anisimov doesn’t have the experience to qualify, but his impact in the playoffs must be there for the Rangers to do well in the postseason.
Anisimov must eat up key minutes- including special teams – to fill the void left by Callahan. Without Callahan, Tortorella has announced that Matt Gilroy — usually a defensemen — will fill in as a forward. Indeed, no one player can fill the hole left by Callahan, but rather it will be a group of players called upon to pick up the slack.
Marian Gaborik would prove a worthy candidate to replace Callahan, because he has the skill to score goals with ease. He has now been added to the line with Anisimov and Dubinsky, and it will be interesting to see how they perform together (with Callahan out, they represent three of the Blueshirts’ top four scorers). Although Gaborik has underachieved this season, he is a worthy replacement for Callahan on ice because of his unique goal-scoring ability.
Should they falter, it’s a fait accompli that the Rangers’ playoff run will be short-lived. And having lost over 300 man-games to injury this season, it would certainly be an understandable fate.