There is one man in hockey who deserves much more attention than he gets, and oddly enough, he comes from a big market team. Jeff Gorton has done an amazing job with the Rangers\’ rebuild, and while he did get lucky with signing Artemi Panarin and getting top draft picks in 2019 and 2020, he still built a nice core around them and has done well with asset management. This has New York, just a few years after a declaring for a rebuild, in the hunt for the playoff spot.
Additions: D Jack Johnson, F Kevin Rooney, F Colin Blackwell, D Anthony Bitetto, G Keith Kinkaid.
Subtractions: G Henrik Lundqvist, F Jesper Fast, D Marc Staal, F Greg McKegg, F Lias Andersson.
Best Move: Making the right decision for the franchise and buying out Henrik Lundqvist.
Worst Move: Signing Jack Johnson to a one year deal.
One Move I\’d Make: Bury Jack Johnson in the AHL.
Best Contract: Mika Zibanejad, two years remaining with a $5.35 million cap hit.
Worst Contract: Jacob Trouba, six years remaining with an $8 million cap hit.
New Division Rivals: Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.
Pending UFAs: Brendan Smith, Jack Johnson, Phillip Di Giuseppe.
Pending RFAs: Igor Shesterkin, Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Ryan Lindgren, Julien Gauthier, Brett Howden.
The Rangers gave out a lot of money, maybe even too much money, to sign top free agent Artemi Panarin last offseason. He had a career year, scoring a career high 32 goals with a career high 95 points in 69 games. He finished 3rd in Hart voting, but an argument could be made for a better placement. In his five NHL seasons, Panarin\’s lowest point total is 74. Panarin\’s center for most of the year was Ryan Strome, a former rival turned top-six center. Strome scored 18 goals with 59 points in 70 games, and his average ice time of 19 minutes and 35 seconds was a career high by nearly four minutes. With Jesper Fast off to Carolina, the right wing on the top line is not clear. The Rangers might want to put Kaapo Kakko there. Kakko, last year\’s second overall pick, had a historically bad rookie season. He scored 10 goals with 23 points in 66 games, which doesn\’t seem bad for an 18 year old, but his underlying numbers were awful. Kakko had a -9.6 GAR, and Evolving-Hockey estimated his worth at $-8.2 million, which isn\’t ideal. If you thought Mika Zibanejad\’s 74 point 2018-19 was good, his 2019-20 was much better. Zibanejad scored 41 goals with 75 points, and he only played in 57 games. That\’s a 59 goal pace in an 82 game season. He received Byng and Selke votes, and kills penalties. The only lock for his wing seems to be Pavel Buchnevich for now. The 25 year old scored 16 goals with a career high 46 points in 68 games. He might score less goals than both of the options for Zibanejad\’s wings. Chris Kreider scored 24 goals, hitting the 20 goal mark for the fifth time in six years. He is six-foot-three and always has over 100 hits, but he has surprisingly great speed. Even though Kreider is signed for the next seven years, his future replacement will be Alexis Lafreniere, the first overall pick in 2020. For Rimouski of the QMJHL last year, Lafreniere scored 35 goals with 77 assists for 112 points in only 52 games. While he could play with Panarin, the Rangers would have to move him to his offside, which they probably wouldn\’t want to do. Instead, Lafreniere can start with 21 year old Filip Chytil, who is entering his third full season. In both of his first two, Chytil finished with 23 points, and last year scored 14 times. The right winger on that line will be a battle resolved in camp, but for now Julien Gauthier is the best bet. A former 1st rounder acquired midseason, Gauthier had two assists in 12 games for the Rangers. He barely played, averaging under nine minutes on ice a game. Gauthier\’s uncle Denis was an NHL defenseman for a decade, mostly playing with Calgary. The younger Gauthier is only 23, so playing with other young players with potential could help him rebuild his value. The only lock for the fourth line is Brendan Lemieux, who has lived up to the physical part of his father\’s legacy, with his father of course being Claude Lemieux, the starter of one of the sport\’s most famous rivalries at a point in time. Lemieux had 18 points in 59 games last year, but had 164 hits with 111 penalty minutes, which is fourth line material. His line mates are uncertain, with Brett Howden having the best chance. Howden had 19 points in 70 games last year, but really struggled in his own end, leading to a negative GAR. He could be the center, with one of Kevin Rooney, Colin Blackwell and Phillip Di Giuseppe going on the wing. Rooney had nine points in 49 games for the rival Devils last year, and Blackwell had 10 in 27 games for the Predators. The only one of the group with time spent in New York is Di Giuseppe, who had four points in 20 games for the Rangers last year. 2018 first rounder Vitali Kravtsov is a long term option. He has 12 goals in 34 KHL games this year.
Tony DeAngelo was an offensive force on the backend last year, scoring 15 goals with 53 points in 68 games. He received five Norris votes, although he was significantly worse in his own end. DeAngelo had negative defensive value, although his offensive value propelled his GAR to 9.2. The Rangers lack on the left side, so DeAngelo may play on his off-side with Jacob Trouba, who had a disappointing first year. Trouba finished with 27 points in 70 games, and was a nightmare analytically, with a GAR of -8.5. To put that into perspective, Jack Johnson, considered by some to be the league\’s worst player, had a -9.5 GAR. Oh, and by the way, the Rangers signed him after the Penguins dumped him. Johnson will either be the sixth or seventh defenseman, but I\’ll get to that soon. Adam Fox finished 4th in Calder voting, and many thought that he should have been third. Fox had 42 points in 70 games, had a +22 rating, and a 14.9 GAR. His partner, Ryan Lindgren, is the best the Rangers have to offer on the left side for now. Lindgren had 14 points in 60 games as a rookie in 2019-20, and had 94 hits with 47 penalty minutes. He is exactly six days older than Fox, with both of them turning 23 in mid-February. 2020-21 will be the last year of Brendan Smith\’s bad contract. Smith had eight points in 62 games last year, and averaged only 11 minutes of ice time per game. If the Rangers want to replace either Smith or Johnson, calling on 2018 first rounder K\’Andre Miller would be wise. Miller had 18 points in 36 games for the University of Wisconsin last year, and is primed for a starting role in the NHL. The Rangers brought in New York native Anthony Bitetto for depth. He had eight assists in 51 games for a shallow Winnipeg defense last year.
After dominating the KHL, Igor Shesterkin came to North America and did more of that domination thing. He started in the AHL, with a .934 SV% and a 1.90 GAA in 25 games. When he got called up for a 12 game stint, he had an amazing .932 SV%. With Henrik Lundqvist gone, Shesterkin will be the full-time starter. Bulgarian backup Alex Georgiev has had a positive GSAA in his first three seasons, although he had a .910 SV% last year, his lowest of the three seasons. He\’s actually about a year younger than Shesterkin.
Artemi Panarin – Ryan Strome – Kaapo Kakko
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Pavel Buchnevich
Alex Lafreniere – Filip Chytil – Julien Gauthier
Brendan Lemieux – Brett Howden – Colin Blackwell
Extras: Kevin Rooney, Phillip Di Giuseppe, Vitali Kravtsov
Tony DeAngelo – Jacob Trouba
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox
K\’Andre Miller – Brendan Smith
Extras: Jack Johnson, Anthony Bitetto
The Rangers are the definition of an up-and-coming team. They have a ton of young players like Lafreniere, Kakko, Miller and Shesterkin ready to make a big impact on the team. Their depth does weaken out a little bit, and they haven\’t had the recent success of other teams in their division. While they will come close to finishing in 4th place, they\’ll end up in 5th, and miss the postseason.