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The State of the Rangers: The Forwards

January 24, 2020, 7:08 AM ET [110 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The State of the Rangers. i don't intend this to be a deep dive into every player and every position, but more a high level view as to where the team stands at forward, defense and goalie. Those in the minors, college or playing overseas, for the most part, have been ignored, so Vitali Kravtsov, Lias Andersson, Morgan Barron, Karl Henriksson, Joey Keane, K'Andre Miller, Zac Jones, Tyler Wall, Olaf Lindblom etc. are not specifically covered. But they may be mentioned if their possible spot on the team impacts others. The purpose is to provide my view as to which players will definitely be here after the trade deadline and potentially next season, which players are more certainly gone in either case and which ones fall into that grey area; the latter being the most interesting and likely driving the most debate. To make this interesting, i want your views, in general or for each player.

Definitely here:

Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kaako, Brett Howden and Brendan Lemiuex.

Were you expecting Michael Haley? 

Zib has morphed into the 1b/2a center New York needs, the letter grades represent the public viewpoint of his level. The one demerit he receives results from his failure between the dots, an area he has declined steadily the past few seasons. Beyond this aspect of his game, Zib plays against the opposing team's top line and defense, producing at an elite rate.

Breadman has given the Rangers all they could have wanted an more after signing him to a seven-year contract as a free agent this offseason. Slated to be the team's All-Star representative before getting sidelined by an upper-body injury, Panarin has 26 goals and 42 assists in 47 games. The only question is which line he will be on moving forward.

Chytil, selected 21th overall in 2018, failed to make the team out of training camp. He used the nine games he spent in the minors to prove he belonged in the NHL. Promoted at the end of October, Chytil, who played in 75 games for New York last season as a rookie, tallying 11 goals and 23 points, has shown signs of filling the second line center role in the future. For now, he is a 3C. as talk of moving him to the wing has largely dissipated. He already has matched last year's goal total and added six assists in 39 games.

Kakko, taken second overall this past year's draft, is still a nabe. We forget that at times seeing what others rookies have scored. The hope, as Vince Mercogliano wrote, is that he ends up like Andrei Svechnikov, who used last year's All-Star break to refresh his body and was brilliant the last six weeks or so of the season. Kakko, heading back to Finland for the break, is a staple on the third line, producing 16 points, including 10 on the power play, and a minus-14 rating through 36 games. While not at the level we hoped, the upside potential and view of him as a top-six forward has not changed in my mind.

Howden is in this category though you could argue that if New York could include him in a deal for an upgrade, that might be a possibility. Before everyone goes crazy, please note that this is remote at best. Howden, who may have been overvalued by GM Jeff Gorton and is still living partially off his strong first-third of last season, has played better since moving to wing. His upside is where he is currently located - on the third line - though odds are still better than good he ends up as the fourth line center.

Lemieux is a favorite of coach David Quinn. When on, he provides a physical, agitative source to the lineup that is sorely lacking from most of the other lines. Lemieux is miscast on the type line and fits better on the third. He lacks the offensive skill of his father, but he can productive. If Lemieux becomes a poor-man Tom Wilson, the Rangers would be ecstatic. But his offensive upside may be 15 goals, which would be fine if he limits the silly penalties. An RFA with arb rights, Lemieux should see a healthy raise and I could see the team signing him to a three-year deal, maybe for slightly more than Fast got in July 2017.

Definitely gone:

Michael Haley and Greg McKegg

Based on where New York is in the standings, this list right now is small, but likely will grow. Part of this depends on if New York is augmenting the rebuild with a third - for lack of a better term - purge. The other component is driven by who the Rangers look to import, as we expect the team to eschew draft picks and prospects and pursue young forwards for the immediate and long-term future.

Currently, New York is 11 points out of the playoffs with two games in hand on the Hurricanes, who hold the second Wild Card spot. When the Rangers return to action, they will do so with a back-to-back against the Red Wings (home Friday, away Saturday), after which the team has home contests versus Dallas, Buffalo, Toronto and LA. The initial stretch run post-All-Star break will in all probability dictate which direction team management takes.They will have 15 games in February, 13 of which come before the February 24 trade deadline, 15 in March and three in the first four days of April. That’s 34 games in the season’s final 65 days (including five sets of back-to-backs).

Haley may end up as the only one that falls into this category, since arguments can be made for everyone else not listened in the definitely here category to fall into the next classification. McKegg may want too much in free agency, but if he would be willing to come back at slightly higher than the $750K he is making this season, we could see him back in red, white and blue next season. As expected, the below grouping makes up the majority of the team. 

Might stay, might go:

Pavel Buchnevich, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast and Brendan Smith.

Buchnevich - the polarizing figure amongst Rangers' twitter. His advanced metrics and offense generated leave you wanting for more but that is not match by his production. Buchnevich has certainly been snake but the hang dog, woe is me look after he fails to convert is getting slightly tiresome. We may have expected too much from Buch, as he was a third round pick who we hoped would fill the role of the first round pick we lacked for several years in a row. Signed for one more year at $3.25 mil and then an RFA, New York might move him as part of a bigger deal. If that was to happen, I think it occurs after the season. But I put the chances of a trade as less than likely to occur.

Kreider - in his final season of his four-year deal with an AAV of $4.625. Hot lately, tallying five goals in his past seven games, Kreids is now up to 17 games and 15 assists in 47 games. He replaced Panarin as the Rangers' representative on the All-Star Game. Kreider seems to leave you wanting more, especially when we see him using his speed to blaze up the wing or power to carve out space in front of the net. One of the leaders on the squad, his net-front presence has had a material impact on the power play. If CK20 wants Anders Lee type money, seven years at $7 mil per, he is almost certainly gone. new York may very well look to move him at the deadline for a Rick Nash-like return and then potentially try and re-sign him. You know my views on Kreider already. 

Strome - a RFA after the season, Strome has boosted his value. That rise started last year after Gordon stole him from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner, but the view was that was artificially inflated by a 22.5% shooting percentage. This season, the naysayers point to Strome skating on a line with Panarin. While that certainly has helped, Strome has taken his game to another level. He has arb rights, so New York could sign him to a one-year deal, likely for around $4 million, but that would just delay making a true decision on Strome. The Rangers have a good pipeline, but much of it is on the blue liner. However, Henriksson could be their 2/3 center in the future, same with Chytil, which might make Strome expendable.

Fast - Quickie has been a stalwart in the lineup since 2014-15. Signed to a three-year, $5.55 contract in July 2017, Fast has been a bargain at that AAV.  As said by mdw7413 in my prior blog: "Fast is a leader in the locker room, a defensive dynamo and PK guy. He has shown he could move up in the lineup. He plays really well with Panarin. The guy never takes a shift off. I think fans undersell Fast's importance to the team. He's 6th on the team in scoring for forwards with no PP time. I can't count how many times his hard work opens up ice for Strome and Panarin and he doesn't get on the scoreboard."

He could price himself out of New York, but based on everything he does and the crying need for a strong bottom-six coupled with the difficulty the Rangers have had finding those players in free agency, signing Fast to a four-year, $11 million deal is fine by me.

Smith - originally a defenseman, Smith has played all season on the fourth line. He has yet to dress as a d-man, but Smith has shifted back during games occasionally to the blue line while also playing that role on the penalty kill. Heading into last off-season, Smith was a buyout candidate. After a strong postseason and stint in New York after he was acquired from Detroit, Smith signed a four-year contract with the Rangers worth $17.4 million in June of 2017. Immediately that contract became an overpay. Now, the question is if New York tries to buy out the final year of his deal this offseason or eats some of his contract to move him; each of those options look more likely than him remaining a Blueshirt, though the possibility does exist.

What say you?

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