Girardi a big piece of Rangers' puzzle

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- If it’s possible for a blue-line corps to have a soul, it’s fair to say Dan Girardi would be the soul of the New York Rangers' young defensive group.

The undrafted Girardi has gone from an anonymous tryout player to a highly regarded piece to the Rangers' puzzle in a relatively short period of time.

Last season, his fourth full NHL campaign, Girardi led all sRanger defensemen in assists and points, and logged 24:34 a night in ice time. Only defensive partner Marc Staal logged more during the regular season among Rangers players.

Perhaps most impressive, Girardi led the league in blocked shots with 236.

“It’s the first time I’ve led the league in anything, in any league,” Girardi told ESPN.com at the Rangers’ training camp Tuesday.

“It’s pretty satisfying, actually,” he said.

Girardi says the art of shot-blocking represents a fine line; you don’t want to be known strictly as a player that goes for the block. Smart players will take advantage of those tendencies to go around you, if that’s the case.

There is a similarly fine line that Girardi walks as he tries to enjoy his status as a leader on a Rangers club that has high hopes for the coming season without becoming complacent.

“I think it was satisfying for me,” he said of his ascension to being a top defensive pair with a strong defensive club like the Rangers. “But, of course, I’m not satisfied with where I am.”

Girardi, a native of Welland, Ontario, who moved this summer to nearby Niagara Falls, has developed a strong playing bond with Staal that stems in part from a strong off-ice relationship.

“Part of the game is being able to trust your defensive partner and knowing he’s going to be there,” Girardi said.

Girardi was part of the gathering in Thunder Bay, Ontario, this summer for Staal’s wedding and the two spend a lot of time hanging out both on the road and at home.

Girardi, like many, view the coming Rangers’ team with optimism and expects them to take a jump toward being able to consistently challenge the top teams in the league.

“I think we have the people to do that,” he said.