Christensen embraces a new opportunity
Ranger forward, who will make debut Saturday, ready for fresh start
Thursday, 12.03.2009 / 11:51 PM / News
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The newest New York Rangers forward, Erik Christensen, sat at his locker following his first practice at the MSG Training Center on Thursday, his head swiveling as he looked around the room for familiar faces.
Though he is in his fifth NHL season, Christensen could not find one player that he had played with during his career, though he noted, “I remember playing against (Brandon Dubinsky) a bunch of times in junior.”
|Christensen, a former regular who unexpectedly saw his ice time diminish in Anaheim, said he has learned "good habits" in recent years that will serve him well in this next chapter of his pro career.|
“I was getting ready to play (in the AHL) yesterday, so to be picked up here was a big surprise,” said Christensen, who will turn 26 on Dec. 17. “I think I am still in shock.”
Christensen might be in shock after the recent swing of events in his professional life, but that didn’t stop him from showing signs of why the Rangers claimed him off the waiver wire during his initial practice with his new club. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound native of Edmonton showed quick hands and a nice touch offensively during the Rangers’ 65-minute practice on Thursday, while also displaying a smooth skating style.
It is that combination of speed and skill that helped propel Christensen to a 54-goal, 108-point season with Kamloops in the Western Hockey League during the 2002-03 season. Since arriving in the NHL, Christensen has shown flashes of that form, netting a career-high 18 goals in 61 games as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2006-07.
“I think I bring some skill, and am a guy that can shoot the puck,” said Christensen. “I had been doing that the majority of my amateur career, so there’s no reason for me, with my size and ability to skate, not to be able to transfer that over to the NHL level.”
Since that breakout season with the Penguins, who selected Christensen in the third round of the 2002 draft, he has followed with goal totals of 11 and seven the past two years.
“There’s no reason why I can’t do it again, or am not doing it now,” said Christensen. “Hopefully I have turned the corner here with some good habits.”
After beginning his career in Pittsburgh, Christensen’s world was turned upside down when he was part of the mega-deal that sent four players to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for star forward Marian Hossa and ex-Ranger Pascal Dupuis on Feb. 26, 2008.
The fans, media, and perhaps even management in Atlanta expected Christensen to be a top-six forward, logging top-six minutes, and scoring top-six points. The only problem was Christensen had never been placed in that role at the National Hockey League level, and trying to fill Hossa’s shoes was one tall order.
“When I was in Pittsburgh I was playing behind (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Jordan) Staal, and (Max) Talbot,” said Christensen. “I had never played big minutes before, and I think that’s one thing I struggled with. I didn’t know how to be a top-six forward. I had like two assists the first 10 games, and then was put aside and never put in that opportunity again.”
On March 4, 2009, Christensen was dealt to Anaheim, where he played in 17 games to close out last season and another nine with the Ducks this year. After receiving very little ice time in Anaheim this season, Christensen is pleased for a new opportunity in New York with the Rangers.
“When I compete and work hard and if I’m consistent at it, with my skill level and my skating ability and the way I can think the game, I should be all right here,” Christensen said.
With the Rangers looking to find more consistency in their collective game, Christensen will be given a big opportunity to help be a part of the solution on Broadway. Especially with Dubinsky still sidelined with a broken right hand, Christensen will be able to earn minutes as one of the team’s regular centers.
He’ll get his first chance to make a positive impression this weekend when the Rangers play back-to-back games, first in Buffalo against the Sabres on Saturday night and then at home on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden.
“I watched him in practice (Thursday) and you can see that he can skate and you can see that he has some skill,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “But you have to play in games. That’s where you judge your people. He’ll be in the lineup (Saturday) and we’ll see where it goes from there.”