Part 2 of the 2009-10 Report Cards will focus on Third Liners. Not necessarily people who played on the 3rd line, but rather where they should have played based on what they brought to the table.
Erik Christensen – C If Erik Christensen were a 21 year old rookie just off the bus from Hartford, I would be pretty excited by what he brought to New York this year. Putting up 26 points in 49 games plus by a fantastic +14 rating, I would say the kid would be destined to do great things. However, Christensen is no rookie, nor is he a late bloomer in the mold of Matt Moulson, which was a fantastic grab by the Islanders.
No, Christensen has been around in the NHL for 5 seasons with 4 different organizations. He has shown flashes of athletic brilliance. He has great hands, solid playmaking skills, and an excellent hockey IQ. The problem with Christensen is when he is not raising eyebrows, he is nowhere to be found. He’ll go shifts, no games, without doing much of anything besides skate up and down the ice. Why does it seem he just disappears?
Easy. He doesn’t hit, he doesn’t block shots, he doesn’t consistently win battles for the puck, and he is an average face-off man. When do you don’t score a whole lot and you don’t do all the little things like a Ryan Callahan or a Chris Drury, you can just become invisible. The one great thing about Erik is he’s cheap, but at this point in his career, he’s just a temporary solution until one of next young kids from Hartford is ready to make the leap.
Sean Avery – C Sean Avery is another player who baffles me. There are games that he completely takes over and there are games he is nowhere to be found. Life of a third liner I suppose. When he’s mentally focused he’s one of the best third liners in the NHL. He grinds, he hits, he fights, he draws penalties, and he can put up 40 points without a problem. He is still his own worst enemy, rehab hasn’t changed that. Has he gotten better at handling the press? Yes, light-years better. However, from what I’ve heard he is still not popular in the locker room and he is still very unpopular in the organization outside of Glen. Evaluating Sean isn’t any different than divas in other sports like AI or Jeremy Shockey. It’s not about skill. It’s about being a bad teammate. Can you win championships with guys like these? Absolutely. But can you win multiple championships?
It all comes down to one basic question. Are guys like Avery good to have on the team to keep everyone else on edge and motivated? Or are they just a needless distraction. To be honest, I don’t know the answer. Keenan and Messier hated each other, but they still won a cup together. Although, just one. At this point, we are all keenly aware of Sean’s strengths and weaknesses, but I don’t think people fully realize what he is like behind-the-scenes. If everyone knew, I’m sure he wouldn’t be the most purchased Rangers jersey outside of Lundqvist. In the end it doesn’t really matter. No other NHL team wants him, and Sather has an affinity for the man. He aint going anywhere.
Artem Anisimov – B Some people were thinking Anisimov was a bust up until his late season surge when he was bumped to the 4th line with Jody Shelley and Brandon Prust. Those people are wrong and anyone who doesn’t recognize this kid’s talent doesn’t know international hockey. Let me explain.
Russian hockey is very different from what is played in North America. The rinks are bigger, the play isn’t as physical, and creative skill is more focused on than grinding when you’re learning the game. As you probably already know, it takes a lot of time for kids not named Ovechkin and Malkin to excel when they cross the pond. Anisimov is one of those players that just needs time to adapt. You throw him in the KHL, he would dominate. You put him back in Hartford, he would dominate. However, up here he needs to do two things. One he has to work on making quicker decisions. Once he has gotten time to get used to the pace of play at the NHL level, I wouldn’t doubt him to put up 60-70 points in a season. He has excellent hands, un-tapped playmaking ability and he can do what he wants with the puck when given the space.
The other thing he needs to do is bulk up. Listed at 6’4 190lbs, he’s probably more like 6’3 180 lbs. Over the course of the next couple of seasons, if he’s able to add 20 -30 pounds of muscle, he will become impossible to knock off the puck. He may never be a great skater or have a cannon of a shot, but if he can get bigger and quicker, he could be the playmaking center we so desperately need. Hopefully he will learn fast and hopefully Sather will hold on to him, but I don't think he will, as he just seems like more of an east/west player, which isn't Torts M.O.
Chris Drury – C Chris Drury will never live up to his contract. I could have told you that the day Sather signed him. This eval isn’t about the money he makes. This is about what is expected of him and what he has accomplished. Let’s start with the good. He’s one of the best face-off men in the Eastern Conference. Only Bergeron, Crosby, and Lecavalier have a better face-off % among those with 1200+ face-offs taken. That is very elite company to be in. He is one of the best penalty killers in the league, and owns a big shot for a very small man.
He’s listed at 5’10 190 lbs, but if you have ever been to a Season Subscriber event or something with Blueshirts United, you know he doesn’t come close to that. He’s probably more like 5’8 175 lbs. I’m getting off topic… The point is, at his size, he gets dinged up very easily. That is why I think his offense was down this year. That and I believe that Chris wasn’t meant to be a captain…maybe on another team in so ho-hum town, but not NY. The man just couldn’t handle the pressure. However, I still think he is still very important to this team. The best thing he brings to the table is the fact that he is a gamer. He is someone you can win a Stanley Cup with. The season is long and the road to the Cup is hard. You don’t win without guys like Drury. He’s a guy coach’s love and players want to go war with.
If he can bounce back next season and score 20 goals/50 points, I would be happy and willing to resign him (at a discount of course). In order to get back to where he was a few seasons ago, I would suggest that #1, he stop trying to live up to his contract. #2, he needs to find a way to stay healthy. Finally, #3, he needs to be more vocal in the locker-room and in the press. Great leaders just don’t lead by example, they also communicate very effectively. Torts isn’t a great communicator, not even close to what Renney was.
Someone else with a high hockey IQ needs to step-up and direct this team. It can’t be Hank, he’s not on the bench. It can’t be Gaborik, his talent is god given. Chris Drury has to be that guy. If he doesn’t believe that within himself, hopefully Messier or someone else from the ’94 team can inspire him to open his mouth. If that can happen, this team will be far better off.