Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cashing in the Paul Ranger Lottery Ticket

paul ranger leafs marlies
If there's a silver-lining to Jake Gadiner's "concussion", it's that the Leafs are getting a better look at Paul Ranger.

Gardiner left a game on December 8 against Rochester after receiving a blindside hit from Kevin Porter, who was penalized for the hit, and hasn't played since.

Replacing Gardiner, the Marlies' leading goal scorer at the time of his injury, wasn't going to be an easy task, but head coach Dallas Eakins was confident Ranger could handle the added responsibility.

“I don’t think we have to reinvent the power play at all,” Eakins told Kyle Cicerella after Gardiner's injury. “The burden will fall on Paul Ranger’s shoulders because he’s more than capable to fill that hole.”

Ranger has proved Eakins right, excelling in his new role. Before taking over for Gardiner, Ranger had eight points in 19 games; since becoming the powerplay quarterback, Ranger has scored seven points in five games, raising his total to 15 on the season. He is also a team-high plus-13.

Ranger's signing in the summer was a lottery ticket for the Leafs, the chance at a quality defenceman for a low price. After being out of hockey for three years, expectations for the former Tampa Bay Lightning standout were low. But now, after being one of the Marlies' best defencemen, Ranger's candidacy for an NHL job is real, which is good news for the Leafs, who have many questions on the blue line.

The top three is fairly solid, with Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, and Gardiner, but the bottom three drops off in a hurry. John-Michael Liles was having a strong offensive season until suffering a concussion after being levelled by Paul Gaustad, and was bad when he returned; Mike Komisarek has been an unmitigated disaster since day one, and unless Randy Carlyle is able to implement a defensive scheme that hides his deficiencies, he will continue his terrible ways; and Cody Franson, although still owning considerable potential, was unable to beat Komisarek for ice time last season and isn't even under contract.

With Morgan Rielly likely to spend the entire year in the WHL, the Leafs will have to hope Liles is over his concussion, Franson takes a step forward, and Komisarek stops declining into a pile of puke. The only other option heading into this season was, seemingly, Korbinian Holzer, a rugged, stay-at-home defender who might have the chance to nab the No. 6 spot.

That's not comforting considering the Leafs were already one of the league's worst defensive teams last season.

Now with Ranger, a potential top-four calibre defenceman, things look better. Based on his previous NHL experience, Ranger's addition has the chance to considerably improve a glaring weakness for Toronto.

In 270 NHL games, Ranger scored 92 points, peaking with 31 in 2007-08. He also produced strong underlying puck possession numbers, and was a top-pairing defenceman from 2007-2009.

Season Age Tm GP G A PTS +/- S S% ATOI
2005-06 21 TBL 76 1 17 18 5 73 1.4 17:07
2006-07 22 TBL 72 4 24 28 5 90 4.4 20:19
2007-08 23 TBL 72 10 21 31 -13 105 9.5 25:13
2008-09 24 TBL 42 2 11 13 -5 69 2.9 24:30
2009-10 25 TBL 8 1 1 2 -2 11 9.1 20:19
Career 270 18 74 92 -10 348 5.2 21:23
Moreover, despite missing the last three years, Ranger is only 28-years-old. He's big6'3, 208 lbs (just slightly smaller than Phaneuf)and mobile. He skates well and makes a strong first pass out of the zone.

Dave Poulin, the Leafs' vice-president of hockey operations, told that "[Ranger] can fly" after watching him skate in August.

Considering Poulin works for the Leafs, his assessment should be taken with a grain of salt. But Ranger's former teammate, Martin St. Louis, echoed Poulin's praise.

"When he was with us he was so good," St. Louis told "He had so much potential. For a guy with Paul's abilities—he's a great athlete; a natural—I don't think it will be too hard for him [to step back into the NHL]."

So far Ranger's return to professional hockey hasn't disproved the glowing reviews he received in the summer. And if his strong play continues, one of Toronto's quietest and most surprising signings might provide big returns.


Matt Horner said...

Also, there is some confusion over whether Ranger would be subject to waivers upon signing an NHL deal, but that is not the case.

As per the NHL CBA: veteran minor league players are exempt from waivers if they have played in 320 or more professional games in North America (NHL, AHL and ECHL) and not spent more than 80 NHL games on NHL roster over the prior two seasons or more than 40 NHL games on NHL roster in the immediately prior season.

Because Ranger has played 340 NHL/AHL games and hasn't played in 3 years, he is waiver exempt.

Anonymous said...

Mike Kotska should get a look in camp too

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