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Rangers At The Halfway Point: Are They The NHL's Biggest Surprise?

OK so maybe it's a little past the halfway point, but it's been a busy few weeks here in the hockey department of SB Nation New York. 

The New York Rangers, who missed last year's playoffs by a single point, were written off my many experts before the season started. Currently the Rangers are 25-16-2, a record good enough for 53 points and 6th place in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are third in the Atlantic Division, and find themselves three points behind second-place Pittsburgh and six points behind first-place Philadelphia. 

That's a much better first half of the season than many were prepared for. The interesting part, at least if you're a New York fan, is the fact that the Rangers are having such a good year without their star player carrying the load. 

Marian Gaborik, who missed 14 games this season with an injured shoulder, has not been bad for the Rangers by any stretch, but he has not been the game changer that he was last season. Gaborik has 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 30 games. That's well off his normal point-per-game mark career average. 

Other players have been filling the gaps, though. 

Brandon Dubinsky had a breakout year last season, posting 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points. This season, through just 44 games, he has 17 goals and 20 assists for 37 points. He's been one of the brightest lights for the Rangers this season. 

That's no easy task, either.

Not with Derek Stepan making a significant impact in his rookie season. The 20-year-old has 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points (tied for third among all rookies in the NHL) and is third on the Rangers in goals scored, and second on the team in points. It's been a fantastic first half of the season, and he's shown leadership and smarts on the ice well beyond his years. He was also selected to play in the Rookie Skills Competition in this year's All-Star game. 

Artem Anisimov has been another pleasant surprise. Although he only has 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points so far this season, he's shown a serious maturity increase from last season. He's making appropriate decisions with the puck, he's shown that his snap shot can be devastating when utilized properly and his passes have been crisp and intelligent. Anisimov has been a solid contributor to the Rangers this season, and since he's only 22 years old this should continue for a long time. 

The Rangers have also made a commitment to getting younger. The recent acquisition of Wojtek Wolski (24) seems to reinforce that. Especially since the Rangers traded away veteran Michal Rozsival for him. Isn't it odd that we're talking about the Rangers trading a veteran for a younger player? 

Wolski figures to be a huge part of the Rangers plans for the rest of the year. John Tortorella was impressed with his play yesterday against the Montreal Canadiens, and had him on the ice in a bunch of vital situations. Wolski figures to give the power play and even strength a nice boost offensively. 

Mats Zuccarello has a goal and three assists in nine games, and has been another kid who has gotten better and better as time has gone on. 

Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle are two guys who have made significant contributions to the team this year, in unexpected ways. Boyle has 14 goals this year so far, a career high, and is one of the Rangers most reliable scorers. Prust has been brilliant in an all-around those this year, and leads the NHL in shorthanded goals. 

The Alexander Frolov experiment came to an unexpected end this week, with Frolov tearing his ACL in a game against the St. Louis Blues. Frolov was an immense disappointment this season, only notching seven goals and nine assists for 16 points on his year. Of those 16 points, he posted four of them in one contest against the Edmonton Oilers.

On defense we can do a sweeping glance. 

Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have both stepped up their games, and continue to be the core of the Rangers (now very) young defense. Michael Del Zotto was sent down to Connecticut while he finds his game. Matt GIlroy has taken his place and has done well, and occasionally shows flashes of brilliance. 

Ryan McDonagh (acquired from the Scott Gomez trade) has looked better and better as his time in the NHL has continued. His analysis will be reserved for when he's spent some more time with the big club. 

Michael Sauer has been great since he made the team out of camp this year. He's  currently leading the team in plus minus with a +11, and has been a great addition out of camp. 

And finally we come to Henrik Lundqvist, who is having his usually great year, and has been the rock of the Rangers defense all season. 

In the end, the Rangers have been a huge surprise ... in a good way. And Rangers fans hope that continues.