One feature of the New York Rangers since the early 1990s has been their acceptance of Russian players. Sergei Zubov, Alex Kovalev, and Sergei Nemchinov were the first Russians to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup and ever since then Russian players have graced the Ranger lineup. From those three players, to Pavel Bure, to this year's young crop of Russians the New York Rangers have been a destination for those of the former Soviet Union.
This coming season a few more Russians will be with the Broadway Blueshirts and will be looking to make an impact.
Most likely to play at the center position, Artem Anisimov has been in the New York Ranger system for the last two seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL). This past season was a breakout year for the skilled Anisimov as he tallied 81 points in 80 games (37 goals and 44 assists) to lead the team in scoring and rank 5th overall in the AHL.
A very skilled forward, Anisimov came out of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in Russia before coming over to adapt his game to the North American game.
Anisimov will have a unique opportunity in camp this season as Ranger head coach John Tortorella has made it clear that the lines are completely open in terms of who is playing where. From talking to Ranger fans this summer, many expect Anisimov to start at the third line center position behind Brandon Dubinsky and Chris Drury. Whether it is because they believe he is too young or Dubinsky and Drury are better than him, the fact is that Anisimov has pure skill and talent down the middle which the Rangers need.
Probably not on opening night but I expect to see Artem Anisimov centering the first line with Marian Gaborik on his wing. Tortorella will give Anisimov a shot in training camp to be successful.
The other Russian who will most likely be making the squad in New York came over in a trade that happened on July 13th. The Rangers traded forward Lauri Korpikoski to the Phoenix Coyotes for Enver Lisin.
Last season, Lisin scored 13 goals and added 8 assists while playing on Phoenix's fourth line in 48 games. Many Coyote fans, including myself, do not believe he was given a fair chance in Phoenix by head coach Wayne Gretzky but such is life in the NHL. There is no doubt that Lisin will get a chance in New York.
With John Tortorella's system based on speed, Enver Lisin will be a huge beneficiary of this. One of the fastest skaters in the entire NHL, Lisin combines that with the ability to put the puck in the net. I think of him as Nikolai Zherdev but with motivation and drive to play every game. His speed alone created chances for himself and his teammates as it threw opposing defense off balance. A strong wrist shot and quick hands will help young Enver become a quiet scorer on the Rangers.
Will these two Russians play together this coming season? Tortorella will try everything in training camp to see who plays well together. He likes to keep two people together on a line and then shift the third person around so don't be surprised if Lisin and Anisimov get paired together. The reason is not just because they are Russian players but because of their similar skill. While Anisimov is no where near as fast as Lisin, the two of them could form a secondary scoring dynamo for New York. Pair the both of them with Marian Gaborik on a line...well the speed and skill of the line would be able to speak for itself. Gaborik and Lisin come flying down the wing, hit the trailer in Anisimov...
One can dream. But there is no doubt that these two Russian players will be looked to provide scoring depth that was non-existent for the New York Rangers last season.