New York Rangers are built to win, but lack star power up front

Reading Time: 5 minutes

New York’s general manager Jeff Gorton has made some bold moves as of late, with one thing on his mind. Establishing and transitioning to a new core of New York Rangers.

The Derek Stepan trade says it all: they have enough top line, top-six players, but need to find elite talent. So they gave the reigns to Mika Zibanejad, a former sixth overall pick, and moved proven commodities in Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta to acquire some sky high potential: center Lias Andersson (7th overall in 2017), and Anthony DeAngelo (11th overall in 2014 by Tampa Bay).

There’s a foundation in place that the Rangers have developed or unearthed themselves: Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Pavel Buchnevich. Then they got some help from living on broadway, as talented youngsters Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey found their way into the system through college.

Now they need some stars.

Offensive Rating + Formula

Each player will have two ratings: a Current and Potential rating, separated by a comma.

Sponsored message. Article continues below.

Pavel Buchnevic, for example, is a 3+, F.

This means currently he is currently an offensive third line forward, but has the potential to be a franchise forward. It’s far from a guarantee, but we like to acknowledge player’s ceilings.

The Fs you see below represent Franchise Players.

>> About Current and Potential Ratings.

Kreider 1, 1 – Zibanejad 2, F? – Zuccarello 1, 1

Nash 2, 2 – Hayes 2, 1 – Buchnevich 3+, F

Vesey 3+, 1?  – Miller 2, 1 – Grabner 3+, 3+ 

Desharnais 3, 3 – Nieves 4, 3  – Fast 3, 3+

Andersson 4, 1 – Puempel 4, 3

The Rangers offense is one with enough options to compete, but as noted, lacks a super star. The top-9 players in that depth chart though are solid options for the top-6 slots, meaning Alain Vigneault will have plenty of opportunity to find winning combinations.

The most exciting prospects for Rangers fans would be Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad.

These two represent the only players the Rangers could possibly consider possessing star potential. If they manage to hit that best case scenario, New York could be in position to thrive for the foreseeable future.

Buchnevich’s journey came from a teen playing in the KHL, which makes the numbers a bit harder to decipher. But he’s strong on his skates, a whiz with the puck, and plays with pace. Buchnevich posted 30 points in 48 games, then 30 points in 40 games as a 19 and 20-year old in the KHL. With 20 points in his first 41 games in the NHL last season, he should grow into a top-6 forward as he adjusts to the smaller ice surface and improves consistency and compete level.

Mika Zibanejad has now played 4.5 full seasons in the NHL, and has seen steady, if unspectacular improvement. But the trend is clear. Pro-rating his four full season point totals to 82 games you get the following: 39, 46, 51, and 54. Slow and steady. Perhaps Zibanejad was more of a “project” when the Sens selected him 6th overall in 2011, meaning his age 24-27 seasons could be massive. His limiting factor appears to be consistency and competing, not skill. Will he be able to become the driver the Rangers are betting him to be?

The Rangers’ forward ranking is surprisingly low. But as their depth chart ratings suggest, they have plenty of top-9 players, but no elite talent to truly drive the offense. As Buchnevich, Andersson, Vesey, and Miller continue to improve, they should push for a better pre-season ranking in 2018. The sooner Lias Andersson joins the pack, the better.

Forward Ranking: Weak (28th of 31)

Defense Rating + Formula

McDonagh F, F – Shattenkirk F, F

Staal 3v, 3v – Smith 3, 2

Skjei 3+, 1 – Holden 2, 2

DeAngelo 3+, 1?

New York essentially exchanged Dan Girardi for Kevin Shattenkirk via free agency, added Brendan Smith to solidify the core, and brought in a top prospect in Anthony DeAngelo for the future. New York’s overall direction shift this past off-season was excellent.

McDonagh and Shattenkirk represent the anchors of the defense, while Smith, Marc Staal, and Nick Holden provide a steadying influence.

Brady Skjei scored 39 points as a 22-year old rookie, which makes him an excellent sixth option with room for more.

And in times of turmoil, the enigmatic Anthony DeAngelo should push for a roster spot as well.

It’s simple to see: the Rangers defense has star power for today, steadying, improving defensemen for tomorrow, and high upside players like Skjei and DeAngelo pushing for roles at the bottom of the depth chart.

Jeff Gorton has built an excellent mix of defenders.

Defense Rating: Elite (7th of 31)

Goaltending Rating + Formula

Lundqvist F+, F+ – Pavelec 2, 2

Lundqvist’s 2.72 GAA last season combined with a .910 save percentage presents quite the challenge for projecting this season. Those are his worst numbers since 2007-08.

There are two possible scenarios for his dip:

  1. He just turned 35 and is getting worse
  2. The Rangers have become younger, more offensive, and less tight defensively.

I am going to combine the two, and say 70% of it is due to the team in front of him. Every year a goaltender gets past 35 is a little scarier and scarier. But Lundqvist is one of the great goaltenders of the last decade, so it’s prudent to look elsewhere for blips in performance.

Lundqvist’s peripheral numbers may again be less sexy than normal, but it is a necessary task for the Rangers to complete as they rid themselves of a core that was able to bring them to conference and Stanley Cup finals, but never into the history books.

Lundqvist remains an elite option by our rankings, as the 10th best goaltender in the league.

He could very easily outperform that ranking, but beware Father Time. He waits for no one.

Goaltender Rating: Elite (1oth of 31)

Intrigue

Jimmy Vesey is the second stolen free agent in the past three years for the Rangers, as they nabbed Kevin Hayes from the Chicago Blackhawks in similar fashion. Vesey had an impressive start to his professional career, notching 16 goals and 11 assists. The beauty of players plucked from college is they’ve had plenty of time to develop, so you end up with a relatively finished product. The ceiling for Vesey could be higher than anticipated, though the Rangers will be happy with any top-9 production, since they got him for free.

Chris Kreider finally reached his potential as a top line forward last year, netting 28 goals in his fourth NHL season. This should be about where the speedy winger peaks, which the Rangers will be thrilled with. Kreider and Vesey are both 6’3, and Buchnevich is 6’2, so the Rangers will have big, skilled wingers to move forward with.

Kevin Hayes was originally drafted 24th overall by the Blackhawks, but played all four seasons of college before heading to the Big Apple. He’s made an immediate impact in the NHL, posting at least 40 points in two of his three professional seasons. Like Vesey, his last season of college was exceptional, posting 27 goals and 65 points in just 40 games. Hayes should peak as a top line player in the NHL, capable of consistently hitting 50-60 points.

Anthony DeAngelo had an exceptional junior career, yet finds himself on his third NHL team in a year, being traded twice in 363 days. His last year of junior was outstanding though. 25 goals and 89 points in just 55 games – incredible production from the blueline. He put up 43 points in 69 games of minor league hockey, and earned his first cup of tea at the NHL level last season in Arizona. Obviously, his offensive instincts are NHL capable, but the defensive side of the puck needs work. Based on that, New York is a great fit as their defense is more than capable of allowing him to develop at a slower pace.

5 Most Valuable Assets

Ryan McDonagh F, F

Henrik Lundqvist F+, F+

Kevin Shattenkirk F, F

Mika Zibanejad 2, F?

Pavel Buchnevich 3+, F

Top 3 Prospects

Lias Andersson 4, 1

Pavel Buchnevich 3+, F

Anthony DeAngelo 3+, 1?

Prediction

The Rangers success will hinge on the accuracy of the ageless mantra that “defense wins championships”. They obviously have an elite goaltender and an excellent back line. Their offense is deep, though devoid of star power – can Vigneault squeeze enough out of their offense? I’d like to think so. New York scored the 4th most goals in the league last year but it was definitely done by committee. They’ve moved on from Derek Stepan with no obvious replacement, so perhaps that’s where true question lies.

Offense: Weak (28th of 31)

Defense: Elite (7th of 31)

Goaltending: Elite (1oth of 31)

Verdict: 4th in the Metropolitan Division

Playoffs: Our projection has New York and Ottawa in a dead tie for 8th in the east, which means it’ll be a tight fit for both clubs. As long as Lundqvist stays elite and this defense core is together, though, it will be awfully challenging to suggest the Rangers won’t be in the playoff mix.

Previously: Boston BruinsToronto Maple LeafsBuffalo SabresDallas StarsFlorida PanthersArizona CoyotesVancouver CanucksNew York IslandersVegas Golden KnightsColorado Avalanche

Written by hockeythoughts.ca