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Nash's scoring, Hayes' role questions facing Rangers

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers should be capable of competing for the Presidents' Trophy again this season after they won it last season with 53 wins and 113 points. But that doesn't mean they don't have their share of questions.

Here are three of the big ones for the Rangers:

Will Rick Nash score 40 goals again? It would be nice for Nash to score in the 40s again, but it's unlikely, at least if you go by his history. Nash scored an NHL career-high 42 goals last season, but it was the first time since 2008-09 he scored at least 40 and the third time in his 12 NHL seasons.

It's more likely that Nash will score in the 30s, which would be a good season for anyone. However, if his goal production dips, it means other Rangers will have to make up the difference. They also have to make up for the 21 goals and 52 points that Martin St. Louis scored last season (he retired in July).

Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider are the first two players New York should look to for increased production. Kreider scored 21 goals and had 46 points last season; 30 goals and 60 points are realistic goals.

"He should be one of our go-to players," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.

Zuccarello dropped from 19 goals and 59 points in 78 games in 2013-14 to 15 goals and 49 points in 77 games last season. A big reason is he played 50 fewer minutes on the power play compared to two seasons ago. His power-play time should go up with St. Louis gone, so Zuccarello's production should climb too.

Will Kevin Hayes play wing or center? Hayes was the Rangers' No. 3 center for the majority of last season because they were thin in the middle. He played the role well and finished with 45 points, fifth among NHL rookies. But he was a liability in the faceoff circle, winning 36.3 percent.

It seems likely, if not definite, that Jarret Stoll and Dominic Moore will be the two bottom-six centers. Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard are locked in as the top-two centers. Hayes likely will get a chance to be a top-six right wing, the position he played for four years at Boston College.

"I think for a player being versatile is a big, big bonus," Vigneault said. "He's got that versatility."

Where will Emerson Etem fit in? The Rangers acquired Etem, a right wing, from the Anaheim Ducks on June 27 in a trade for left wing Carl Hagelin.

Etem could be Hagelin's replacement on the third line and potentially on the penalty kill, though he hasn't been a consistent penalty killer in his NHL career (112 games). He is likely to have more offensive upside than Hagelin; he just hasn't shown it (31 points).

"I'm going into this with an open mind," Vigneault said. "This is a very young player (23) with a tremendous, tremendous amount of upside."


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