Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ranger Roster Review - Zherdev

Okay - with your permission, Nugman, I'd like to talk a little Ranger's Hockey:

Our first Ranger Roster Review was about Nik "A" (Antropov) - so for our third one we thought we'd take a look at Nik "Z".

Traded to NY Rangers by Columbus with Dan Fritsche for Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman, July 2, 2008.

Position: RW
Age: 23
Number: 13
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 203
Shoots: Right
Regular Season
Games: 82
Goals (23) + Assists (35) = 58 Points
Plus-Minus: 6
23 Goals/ 219 Shots (on goal) = 10.5%
Games: 7
Goals (0) + Assists (0) = 0 Points
Plus-Minus: -3
0 Goals/ 12 Shots (on goal) = 0.0%

Here at Blueshirt Brothers we don't believe in stereotyping. So when we hear that in general, Russian forwards tend to be enigmatic (yes - I spelled it correctly - and yes - I know what it means). In other words, some say that Russian forwards show flashes of great talent - but at the same time - the tendency to disappear for shifts, games, series at a time. We disregard that kind of thinking as antiquated stereotyping that has no place in modern society.
But, at the same time - it is entirely true that Nik Zherdev showed some flashes of greatness during the regular season - but also disappeared for long stretches. On the plus side he was our 2nd highest goal scorer with 23 and was tied for the team lead in points with 58. But the table was set for Zherdev be an offensive star here - to carry the team on his back - and Nik did not come close to seizing that opportunity.

In the Playoffs - when everyone's output is under a microscope - instead of stepping up, Nik Z was something of a no-show. Like you, dear reader, Nik had no goals and no assists in the 7 games against the Washington Capitals. And unlike you, Nik was minus 3 in seven games (you, sitting in your living room, raging and throwing things at your TV managed to have a plus-minus of zero).

We have been hearing that Zherdev, who spent a few years on lowly Columbus was absolutely stunned by his first NHL playoff action. The speed. The intensity. It freaked Nik out a little. He talked to the coaches about it. And he did manage to launch 12 shots at Theordore and Varlamov - even though none of them rang the buzzer. But I do think time and experience can fix that next time. And a year with Torts to condition and coach should help too.

It seems so long ago now, but once upon a time Zherdev was a first round draft pick - the 4th player taken overall - that was six long years ago in 2003. He had been seen as a rising star with Columbus - but they became disenchanted with him as he seemed at times to lose focus and not play up to his potential (I won't say enigmatic - but you see what I mean).

This was his 5th full season, but at 24 years, he's still pretty young. So there's definitely potential upside in the mix for this 20+ goal scorer.

The Russian National team also saw something they really liked in Nik, selecting him as a starter in their World Championship winning team (of course some of the best Russian players were unavailable because their NHL teams were still in the playoffs). Nik broke his hand early in the tournament (pulling a "Drury") but toughed it out - playing two more games before having to shut it down. This may be good for two reasons - it shows his grit when he's motivated and may improve the Rangers' bargaining position a bit.

And on the surface at least - Zherdev seems like the kind of player Tortorella likes and can work with - young enough to mold - big man - with offensive skills. On the other hand - he's been known to sulk when punished - and Torts already had to bench him once this season for failing to get back on defense. It's possible that he's too sensitive for Torts coaching style - and its possible Torts - after watching him through the last few months - just doesn't want him.

He is an unrestricted free agent. Which means our Rangers have some serious thinking to do.

They have to sign him or lose him.

I say - yes - sign the guy. He can put the puck in the net and he's young enough to still be on the upside of his career. Even if we want to use his salary Cap room to land a bigger offensive stud - we can package him in a trade. He made $3.25 million last year - and I don't think his playoff stats will impress anyone to go way higher than that. I'd try to sign him for 2 or 3 years going somewhere in the range he's making now - between $3 and $3.5 million per (not that I have a clue about these things).

Talking to Russian reporters during the World Championships - Nik mentioned that he would not worry about his contract and would "turn his phone off" during the tournament. But now Nik has his trophy - his phone is back on - and the clock is ticking. July 1st is coming and the Rangers need to get going.

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