Setting Realistic Expectations
Monday February 02nd 2009, 11:00 pm

UPDATE: It’s official.  Anisimov will make his NHL debut at the Garden tonight wearing #42!

There’s still no guarantee that Artem Anisimov will make his New York Rangers debut during Tuesday night’s much-deserved celebration of Adam Graves, but having watched him play before he even arrived stateside and having followed his progress in Hartford as closely as anyone who’s not on the Rangers payroll, I thought I’d weigh with my thoughts on what can be expected if he does.

On paper, Anisimov’s most mouth-watering asset is his size.  At 6-4, 205-pounds (according to the Wolf Pack), the Yaroslavl native’s stature is certainly an advantage, but despite the effort he’s put into getting stronger, physical strength is still an area that could stand improvement.  His work along the boards has gotten better as he’s built up his upper body — especially over the past few months — but he’s not as dominant in that area as you’d like for player of his size.

Not that he’s a shrinking violet.  Anisimov has handled the physical attention his offensive production has garnered relatively well, even displaying a bit of feistiness in return when getting roughed up in front of the net this season.    Just don’t ask him to drop the gloves; the one time he did, it wasn’t pretty.  And those who look at Anisimov’s size and yearn for him to deliver bone-crunching hits are likely to be disappointed.  That’s just not his forte.  He’ll finish a check when the opportunity arises, but he won’t go out looking for one.

What he does bring is outstanding on-ice vision, solid skating, and excellent playmaking abilities.  He’s a prototypical two-way pivot who’s responsible at both ends of the ice, a characteristic that should serve him well under the current Ranger regime.  He’s got great hockey sense and is highly aware of what’s going on around him; among other things, he uses that awareness and his long reach to break up plays in front of the net in the defensive zone.

While he could stand to become a more explosive skater, once he gets moving he’s got surprising speed for a big guy and has used that speed and his stickhandling abilities to beat opposing players through the neutral zone. He’s not a guy who’ll regularly challenge players one-on-one once inside the enemy blueline, however — the Hartford coaching staff has done a good job of pounding the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality into him.  While he lacks a lot of the “wow” factor his fellow countrymen are known for, he makes up for it with solid, smart play. His passes are generally tape-to-tape, though occasionally a surprise to their intended recipient,  and he’s developed a great deal of poise with the puck, showing the confidence to hold on to it that extra half-second in order to make the right play.

There are no face-off statistics available — publicly anyway — for the AHL, but based on anecdotal observations, Anisimov’s face-off skills could probably be termed “ok”. It’s definitely another area that could stand to be improved. He’s got a good shot, but its not a stand-out strength.  It may come as a surprise to some who see “Russian” and automatically think “finesse”, but the majority of his 21 goals this season have been of the dirty variety, scored from in close, on deflections or (more often) rebounds.  He, like most of the forwards in Hartford, have taken the directive to go to the net to heart, and he isn’t afraid to take the punishment he receives once he gets there.

Blue Notes and Ranger Rants both report that the rangy Russian practiced on a line with Aaron Voros and Lauri Korpikoski in practice on Monday, a combination that has already lead to criticism of the oft-deserving Rangers head coach.  In this case I find it difficult to be too critical of Tom Renney’s decision.  Theoretically, Voros is the perfect compliment to Anisimov and Korpikoski.  Over the past couple of seasons the two have found success in the AHL with big, grinding wingers on their left side — players who’ll do the dirty work along the boards, mucking, grinding and causing havoc in front of the net.  In practice, I’m not convinced Voros is capable of being as successful in the role as Dane Byers and Brodie Dupont have been in Hartford, but I can’t fault the coaching staff for following a recipe that’s produced results in the past.

(That’s not to say I wouldn’t give strong consideration to surrendering my first born child for the opportunity to see him play on a line with Brandon Dubinsky and Nikolai Zherdev, of course…)

As for those who insist he must be played in a top-six position in order to have any success, I can only suggest that they become more familiar with his game before making such declarations.  He’s an excellent two-way center, not some one-dimensional offensive threat.  Though I personally believe he upside is higher, the organization has said repeatedly that they project him to be their third line center.  There is absolutely no harm in starting him there, where he can fall back on his defensive game and slowly add offense, as he has over the past year and a half in Hartford.

All that said… Renney hasn’t committed to actually inserting the kid in the line-up Tuesday night.  This call up, which has been kept under wraps, with nary a press release on either the Wolf Pack or Rangers web sites, could still simply be a reward for a season and a half of hard work and an opportunity to see how a young player acquits himself in a big-league practice against big-league players.  Such a decision certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented.  After all, it was exactly a year ago that the organization unexpectedly recalled defenseman Corey Potter for a single practice.

Even if that’s not what’s happening here, barring an offensive explosion it’s highly likely that his stay in New York will be short-lived and he’ll end up back in Hartford in a few games’ time with a better idea of what areas still need improvement, and the knowledge that his next opportunity is only an injury (or trade) away.

If he does play, it’s important to keep expectations realistic.  He’s a 20-year old kid — a work in progress who’s not going to be the magic bullet for the Rangers offensive woes.

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Filed under: Artem Anisimov

2 Comments so far
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    Fantastic post, thanks for your thoughts, Laurie. He’s certainly earned at least a big league practice and morning skate if nothing else. I imagine just that alone will do wonders for the psyche of a kid who moved across the globe away from all friends and family as a 19-year to chase a dream. Looking forward to see how this all plays out.

    Comment by Rajeev 02.02.09 @ 11:09 pm

    yeah it’s gotta be an “attaboy” for artie with how hard he’s been working. i gotta reiterate how sad i am for dane byers that he got hurt. he would’ve blown past aaron voros on the depth chart by now.
    i hope to see him play though, i think he’s earned a few shifts. also glad to see dawes take a seat, he’s losing his game a bit… i still think dubinsky could create way more havoc in front than voros, and man imagine if zherdev and anisimov were paired together… now THAT’s a line!

    Comment by Amos 02.03.09 @ 11:46 am

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