Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.
34-39-9, 77 pts. (8th Metropolitan Division; 12th Eastern Conference)
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The team was getting a little too stale, a little too over-reliant on the heroics of Henrik Lundqvist night-in and night-out, plagued by years invested in players whose names didn’t match their talent level anymore and a coach who couldn’t seem to find the next gear with the team he had.
When the burden atop Lundqvist’s shoulders became too much to bear after the ball dropped in Time Square to usher in 2018, the Rangers simply imploded with him.
And so the purge began, long before the 2017-18 season came to a close -- on Feb. 8, when the team announced that it was game over and before any more coins could be dropped into the machine, a rebuild would have to take place.
In hindsight, it started to happen before the season began. They had already shipped out Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta prior to last year’s NHL Draft for the No. 7 pick, which they used to snag Lias Andersson.
At the trade deadline several months later, the Rangers swung the blockbuster of the season, sending Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for Vladislav Namestikov, two prospects and a pick.
The move capped off a wild year in the Big Apple. The Rangers sold off Rick Nash, Nick Holden and Michael Grabner while amassing roster players, picks and prospects.
Here is the complete list (thanks to PHT’s Adam Gretz):
- 2017 first-round pick (from Arizona — used to select Andersson)
- 2018 first-round pick (Boston)
- 2018 first-round pick (Tampa Bay)
- 2018 second-round pick (New Jersey)
- 2018 third-round pick (Boston)
- 2019 conditional second-round pick (Tampa Bay — would become another first-round pick if Tampa Bay wins the Stanley Cup this season or next season)
- 2019 seventh-round pick
- Vladislav Namestnikov
- Ryan Spooner
- Matt Beleskey
- Anthony DeAngelo
- Ryan Lindgren
- Libor Hajek
- Brett Howden
- Ygor Rykov
- Rob O’Gara
They also said goodbye to their old coaching staff after firing Alain Vigneault and replacing him with David Quinn from Boston University fame. He takes the reins at a perfect time for the Rangers, given his apparent ability to develop young players.
A rebuild, then, from top to bottom.
It’s also meant a pretty uneventful summer in the import category, other than Quinn’s hiring.
Fredrik Claesson, signed on July 1, is the only player brought in that has played NHL games. But the Rangers made some good decisions in re-signing a swath of restricted free agents in Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes, Namestikov, Brady Skjei, John Gilmour, Boo Nieves and Rob O’Gara.
New York’s forward contingent this season doesn’t look half bad on paper, but it’s on defense where things get a bit hairy.
Kevin Shattenkirk had knee surgery in January, ending his first season in a blue shirt, and while he’s probable for the start of the season, you never know how those are going to turn out. The Rangers are certainly hoping a healthy Shattenkirk and return to the same form that they saw when they gave him a four-year extension with a full no-movement clause. The last thing the Rangers need during a rebuild is having to eat a contract that was supposed to be the defenseman that solidified their top-four.
The Rangers gave up the second most shots per game (35.3) and the fourth most goals-against per game (263), so those numbers certainly need to improve if the goal is not to have the aging Lundqvist put in a bad spot each night.
That said, the expectation that the Rangers compete for a playoff spot is probably a futile one. The team is rebuilding, and to do it right means to take it slow. They’ve trimmed a lot of fat in a short period of time, but youth needs time to develop and shouldn’t be rushed.
- Lias Andersson, C/LW, 19, Frolunda/Hartford (SHL/AHL) - 2017 first-round pick
Perhaps the readiest of all of New York’s prospects, Andersson blends a strong two-way game with impressive speed, skill and shooting abilities. He got seven games with the Rangers at the end of the season, scoring once and adding an assist, had 14 points in 22 games in the Swedish Elite League with Frolunda, and in 25 games with the Wolfpack in the American Hockey League, posting 14 points in 25 games. There’s a spot open for him on the opening day roster if he wants it.
- Filip Chytil, C, 18, CSKA Moscow (KHL) - 2017 first-round pick
There’s an argument that Chytil is just as ready for the Show as Andersson, perhaps slightly more. Chytil got nine total games with the Rangers, including making the team out of training camp last season. He posted a goal and two assists combined in his time with the Rangers and played most of the season in Hartford where he had 11 goals and 31 points in 46 games. Chytil also had four points in seven games with the Czech Republic at the world juniors and then two additional points at the world championships. Like Andersson, there’s room for Chytil providing he can make an impression in training camp.
- Vitali Kravtsov, RW, 18, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL) - 2018 first-round pick
The Rangers have a lot of skilled first round picks, don’t they? Kravtsov is their latest, taken ninth overall this past June. The kid is big, too. He’s 6-foot-4 and 183 pounds with plenty of room to fill out. He won the Aleksei Cherepanov Award for the KHL’s best rookie and set a playoff record for a junior-aged player with 16 points. He was named rookie of the month twice and rookie of the week three times and will be back with Traktor to begin next season after signing an extension in July. Assuming all goes well, he could play with the Rangers by years’ end depending on how far Traktor makes it in the Gagarin Cup.