Summer Skate: Let the good times roll

ESPN Insider’s Summer Skate series rolled into Ranger Country on Wednesday. The series features the projections and analysis of the fancy stat gurus from Hockey Prospectus, and spotlights one player projected to improve his play in the coming season and another set to regress.

Anyone who’s passed through the MSG turnstiles in the past 365 days can probably guess which player is trending upward. Here’s a hint, his name with … actually … forget it. Nothing really rhymes with Gaborik. Coming of a campaign shortened by injury (what else is new?) and snake-bitten in the scoring department, the Crystal Calculators of Hockey Prospectus show Marian Gaborik on the upswing in 2011-12, in part due to the presence of new center Brad Richards.

We’ve already looked to some extent at the impact Richards should have, but the HP folks think Gaborik’s shooting percentage (11.5 percent in 2010-11) will come in closer to his career average of 13.1 percent this coming year.

Of course, the bad news is that the projections see Brad Richards falling back from his production numbers of this past season. Part of it is that Richards, at age 31, is starting to move out of his prime.

But there’s a notable point to clarify before people start griping about how GM Glen Sather is overpaying another declining free agent. The HP projection system, like most projection systems, is very conservative. Last season, Richards put up 17.5 goals versus threshold (GVT is HP’s player valuation metric. Baseball stat-heads should find it similar to VORP.). That mark puts him among the top 25 players in the NHL. The projection of 14.0 GVT this coming season is not that far off, so they don’t foresee a massive decline.

Insider subscribers can take a deeper look at the analysis on both Richards and Gaborik, and also get up to speed on a name Ranger fans will want to know heading into camp: Tim Erixon. Here’s a brief excerpt from Hockey Prospectus prospect analyst Corey Pronman.

“With the Flames unable to ink their top blue-line prospect ahead of a looming signing deadline, the Rangers acquired Tim Erixon in a trade from Calgary in a deal that could be considered robbery in some countries … Erixon was one of the top defenseman for Skelleftea, logging 20 minutes a night for one of the best teams in the SEL. He was also named a top three player on the Swedish WJC team in Buffalo.

“He's one of the elite defensive prospects in the game, with off-the-charts hockey sense, top-end shutdown ability, fine mobility and can move the puck at a high level.”

Doesn’t sound like the Rangers’ D will be declining any time soon, eh?

The Summer Skate series continues with the Devils on Thursday and the Islanders on Friday to wrap up the Atlantic Division.