Believe it or not, we're quickly approaching the final game of the season at MSG against the Devils on April 27th. Prior to the game, as has been tradition since 1988, former NY policeman Steven McDonald will speak and give out his Extra Effort Award, given out to the individual who "goes above and beyond the call of duty." Defensive stalwart Jan Erixon was the first to win the award in 1988. Adam Graves has won the award five times, more than any other player. Ryan Callahan was last year's winner and has won the award three times. Voting has begun for this year's award, so let's review some players who might be worthy of being the 2013 winner.
Ryan Callahan: We should start with the incumbent. Captain Cally is the epitome of what this team wants to be. He leads by example every game and never takes a shift off. Despite suffering what appeared to be a severe shoulder injury during a fight with Flyers forward Max Talbot, Callahan caught a break and fought through pain to return only three days later. He's third on the team in goals, fourth in points, second in hits, and first in blocked shots among forwards.
Henrik Lundqvist: He has won the award once, during the 2005-2006 season. Hank has gone "above and beyond" just about every season in his career, and this season is no different. Despite one of the worst ranking offenses in the NHL, Lundqvist has kept the Rangers in almost every game he has started. It's often stated but never overstated; this team would be in a scary place without probably the best goaltender of the last five years anchoring them. He has started 35 of the team's 40 games so far this season and his 2.12 GAA and .926 Save % are the second best of his career, only beat by last year's Vezina-winning totals.
Dan Girardi: Dan has had a rough go of things this season. This is probably in part because he's played banged up, if not injured, for a lot of the time. In a game against the Habs that the Rangers were already losing 3-0, the Rangers were on the penalty kill and Girardi blocked a shot with his foot. Girardi was practically unable to stand up and had to be helped off the ice. Like Callahan, the injury looked severe, but x-rays came back negative and Girardi did not miss a game despite significant bruising. He leads the Rangers in time on ice per game, hits, and blocked shots.
Derek Stepan: There's not much debate about who this season's most improved player is. Despite an awful start to the campaign, Stepan has stepped up immensely at the center position while Richards and Boyle have been lost for long stretches. His 14 goals and 34 points are only second to Rick Nash. He's 16th out of all centers in the NHL in points, ahead of guys like Mikko Koivu, David Kreijci, Mike Richards, and Logan Couture. He's also improved his defensive game and has been assigned to take key defensive zone faceoffs. While many of the team's top guns have failed to show up at times, Stepan has been, as Tortorella put it, possible the team's "most consistent player."
Not a very clear-cut choice, such as in the years of Jed Ortmeyer or more recently Ryan Callahan. All four deserve to be in the conversation, though I think it should come down to Lundqvist, who has stayed mentally strong while most others were sulking and put the team on his back, or Stepan, who has surpassed even more optimistic expectations and banging on the door of top-flight centers. Or maybe you think it's someone not even on my list. Let us know in the comments section and go vote!
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