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NY Rangers Midseason Mailbag

Jared Silber. Getty Images.

It's about to get real, folks. There's been a lot of chatter about how "real" the Rangers are despite sitting in the top 5 of the East all season long. With playoff spots all but locked up in the conference already it's now just a matter of battling it out for seeding. NY has a tough schedule left in terms of Metro opponents but 20 of their final 35 games will be at home. They've got one more extended road trip left in early March then, in April, they've got 10 at home vs 4 on the road - and 2 of those are at the Isles and Devils. They'll be sleeping in their beds the entire month. Armed with superstars, youth and a shit-ton of cap space this year these next couple months are set to be the most exciting in recent memory.

I asked for mailbag questions on Twitter during the break and you guys came through. Here goes…

 

Oh yeah. The NY Rangers are very, very good. Whether or not their youngsters (Kakko, Lafreniere, Chytil, Lundkvist, Schneider, Jones) are either flipped for better "now" pieces or start contributing themselves will determine if they can make the leap to "elite" in the next year or two.

 

Chychrun is an interesting name linked to the Rangers and a left side of Lindgren/Chychrun/Miller through 24-25 with all three capable of shuffling anywhere up or down the rotation would be as solid as it gets. It's hard to believe he hasn't even turned 24 yet but despite being saddled on some pretty bad Coyotes teams, he's undeniably a proven all-situations commodity at a bargain price tag ($4.6M). It'd be even sweeter if the Yotes would eat a third and NY could squeeze him in at $3M. If he's your big deadline splash though, the cupboard will be missing some key trade assets to strengthen where they need it more - at least in the short term - but not landing a top-flight forward option this year provides Laf, Kakko , etc. one last opportunity to seize an important role. Big picture that may be the smarter play.

I'd just really, really love to see JT Miller back. It's all come together for the Rangers 2011 first-rounder ever since he left. Top 10 among F in TOI as an all-situations horse. Top-25 in scoring & hits which is a rare combo nowadays. Perfect fit as a left-shot RW next to Strome/Panarin & can step in at the dot with his 53.7%. How starved is the Rangers PP2 for JT's 21 PPP? Granted NY doesn't have a Quinn Hughes on their PP2 but Miller is an obvious upgrade and would bring a more hard-nosed aspect with Trouba. And you don't think a return would fire him up? Assuming the price is relatively comparable, I'd still take a year and a half of JT Miller over 3.5 of Chychrun. Maybe shortsighted but that's my gut. I feel the Blueshirts can go a cheaper, more subtle route to improve their back end this season & leave the door open for whichever D prospects are still here.

If the Rangers were able to pull off something similar to both? Man I dunno how you couldn't consider them a legit Cup contender. With Chychrun in the fold we're talking a third pair of Miller/Schneider. With sheltered postseason minutes that's an impressive duo while your top two pairs are essentially an interchangeable mix of #1's. Up front they get a huge boost in physicality & offense to fill a gaping hole on the right side along with a strong option at C if needed. With all their immediate concerns addressed I'm not saying they'd be THE favorite but the teams who are would immediately be put on notice.

 

I'll give you one that everyone will hate and is very unlikely: Brendan Gallagher.

Hear me out. I know he'll be 30 and has 5 more years of Chris Kreider money. But Montreal is in the midst of an upheaval not unfamiliar to Rangers fans. A horrific season, a new GM (former Ranger Jeff Gorton) & a new head coach (former Ranger Marty St. Louis). With a new regime comes new eyes and new plans - maybe, just maybe, those plans don't include Gallagher eating $6.5M per through his 35th birthday. Weber's gone, Price is an aging wild card, they've only got one D under contract for next year…heavy turnover could be imminent & Gorton has an inside track on Blueshirts property that could be coming back his way. Now, no team is gonna wanna foot that full bill either and a buyout would basically have ~$2M in dead money on the books for a decade. However, if they wanna move him and eat that same money for just the next 5 I'm sure they could garner a pretty solid return.

Gallagher would fit the Rangers perfectly. Small, yes, but anyone who knows hockey knows how much of a pain in the ass it is to play against him. He's a miniature wrecking ball with an edge. It was only a few months ago at the Garden when Gally suckerpunched Goodrow while on his knees. Classic example of a guy everyone hates unless he's on your squad. He'd be a great fit alongside Panarin & Strome as a shoot-first agitator willing to do the dirty work. You want an ultimate example of what Gallant is looking for in his younger players? Bring in Gallagher. If and when the youngsters are ready to fill out the right side of the top-six, Gallagher would still serve excellent value with grit, intensity & finishing ability on a championship-caliber third line.

Like I said it's unlikely. Between a NTC, injuries piling up, high mileage on a small 30 year-old frame & that ~$4.5M probably better spent elsewhere there's obviously reasons to dismiss it. You wanted outside the box though so I'm pretty sure this qualifies.

Giroux would solve a lot of problems for this year's Rangers without eating into anything further than that. He's on a 65-point pace despite playing on an island more times than not in Philly. On top of not being very good, names like Couturier, Hayes, Ellis & Farabee have all missed significant time due to injury yet the Flyers captain continues to produce. The 34 year-old has been exceptional at the dot - only Bergeron & Tavares have been better - and although Zibanejad's clocking in at over 52% that's an area the Blueshirts desperately need to improve. Having the flexibility to put Giroux on the wing with Strome & Panarin while having him take the draws would be quite the luxury. Or, if Drury's making multiple big moves up front, imagine a third line consisting of something like Lafreniere/Giroux/Chytil or Chytil/Giroux/Kakko?

Skills aside, which Giroux still has plenty of, he's gotta be starving for some meaningful hockey. It's been a tough run since falling short in the 2010 Cup Final. His squads have made the postseason only half the time since then & been bounced in the first round in half of those appearances. Never gotten past the second. He's been a captain for a decade. A true "lead by example" type who knows what it takes to succeed & is willing to do it all. He's gonna chirp, he's gonna play hard, he's gonna get under the opposition's skin and although he's not your typical tough guy he's never gonna tuck his tail. He'd be fired up for a legitimate run. Regardless of how far the Rangers might make it with Giroux in the fold, it'd be a valuable experience for the litany of youth to learn whatever they can from a borderline HOFer.

If he decides he wants to move on from the only franchise he's ever known, his NMC will dictate where he goes. And before you worry about whether or not Philly would ever want to help the Rangers, look at it this way. If Giroux wants to be a Ranger he could be one next year as a UFA, so keeping NY off their trade list doesn't accomplish much. From the Flyers perspective, if Drury presents the best return and that's where Giroux wants to be then that's where he'll land. Whether or not this is where G decides to be the hired gun remains to be seen but I'd be all for it.

Well if the Rangers would've listened to me and inked Philip Danault they'd be a lot happier with their 5x5 play. Out of players still capable of being obtained though, my answer is Joe Pavelski. Analytically he's a stud. Only 11 players in the league produce more efficiently at 5x5 than Pavelski in terms of primary points. He sells out as a shot blocker like few forwards do. Doesn't take penalties. Doesn't give the puck away. Can be an asset at the dot for Strome then slide over to the wing & essentially be a RH Chris Kreider with his tremendous net-front skills. He not only does pretty much everything right but he does nothing wrong. There's his 3-team trade clause and Dallas being smack in the middle of a wild card race standing in the way, but if the Stars falter over the next few weeks then I'm all-in on Pavs if he wants to be here. Between him being an impending UFA & having his say on where he ends up, the price tag will be a bargain. Unless it's for a bonafide piece under control for a while, I'm comfortable with Drury hanging onto all their top assets for another year & truly see who's gonna stick.

As far as after the deadline, assuming that means this offseason - it's hard to project that far. Who knows who's here and who's gone by then. I don't think Hertl is a realistic option though. I've force fed numbers into/out of spreadsheets and made the money work but realistically his upcoming payday is just too much. I'm down with Chychrun but I'm not sure how much of a true target he is - if the Rangers want him they'd just get him at the deadline and squeeze another playoff run out of the deal. I don't see any significant acquisitions happening this summer as long as they sign Strome like I expect they will. Otherwise it'll be retooling depth forwards and figuring out how to shed Georgie & Nemeth.

 

I honestly don't see Strome leaving. Both sides know what he's worth on the market. Both sides know he's an important but not integral piece of the puzzle and both sides know the impending cap crunch. With all the uncertainty throughout Strome's career though and finding a rebirth here in New York I just can't imagine he'd throw it all away for a couple extra mil. You're not gonna find a better winger to be tethered to than Panarin & the chemistry is obvious. You're not gonna find a better situation to truly be a part of something historic under the brightest lights there can be. He genuinely seems deeply woven into the fabric of being a Blueshirt and leaving now, right when they're starting to taste their potential, would be a complete shock. RNH inked a team-friendly deal (8/$5.125 per) to stay in Edmonton and I see something similar in the cards between Strome & the Rangers brass. 7-8 years is a long time but that's the compromise.

 

Meh - specifically for the Rangers I'm not too keen on Dylan Strome. I think they have enough question marks of their own to acquire another one just as they're opening a window of contention. Granted I don't know everything there is to know about him but from what I can tell, he's an offensive talent who needs to play with top-tier guys and even then he hasn't consistently thrived. If you can't play with Kane how are you gonna play with Panarin? He doesn't have a bottom-six toolbox and whenever he's been kicked out to the wing it's been on the left side, so he's not a fallback option for NY's C depth or RW deficit. Even if you're getting him for peanuts in a trade he's eligible for a $3.6M qualifying offer this summer. Maybe he picks his game up in the same locker room as his big brother. Maybe he's a late bloomer like him too. I just don't think the Rangers are in gamble mode now. They wanna make surer bets & to me he's in a similar "uncertainty" boat as a younger, cheaper Chytil.

As far as K'Andre regressing…is he? I know in my preseason preview blog he was a concern of mine heading into this year but I actually feel like his game has stabilized some. Analytically he's arguably as valuable as Lindgren. With Trouba seizing more offensive responsibility Miller has been much, much better with the puck. His giveaways are WAY down while his reach and athleticism have him among the league's elite takeaway artists. He may never be the bruiser fans want a 6'5 215 pound kid to be but he certainly doesn't shy away from contact. He's still producing the occasional points, still blocking pucks, still chipping in on the PK and there's still plenty of room to grow. Miller just turned 22, went right from college to the pros and didn't even start playing defense until 10th grade. His ceiling may come later than most but for now I'm happy with K'Andre's season.

 

I'm too much of a Nils believer to handle any trade speculation rationally. I understand that Fox & Trouba will patrol the top two right-side slots through, at minimum, the next two seasons (when Trouba's NMC flips to a NTC). In turn, that means there's only one right-side slot up for grabs & it won't include any PP time. Lundkvist had the first crack at it and, while he wasn't terrible despite skating next to Nemeth, he wasn't very good either. Tough spot for a smaller, offensive-minded rookie to thrive in. Meanwhile, in steps 20 year-old Braden Schneider (who the Rangers recently traded up to get despite Nils already in the system & DeAngelo still on the squad) and he's had an excellent first ten games. Bigger and stronger doesn't always equate to being better prepared for the NHL but, in Schneider's case over Lundkvist, it sure has.

Schneider in the lineup makes more sense. He projects as the safer, more physical option. Plus the Blueshirts brass are obviously in love with the kid they didn't need but traded up to get anyway. It's hard to imagine a scenario where Nils isn't on the outside looking in - but assuming he's as good as gone would be a mistake. The Rangers aren't forced to do anything. Unless there's a significant piece coming back who's proven AND cost-effective AND more than just a rental there's absolutely zero harm in letting Nils finish out the year in Hartford. He'll have two years left on his ELC. There's no trade value to lose, only to gain if he picks it up in the AHL or unexpectedly gets another crack on the big stage. Hell there's still a chance he makes himself indispensable here with another shot, who knows? Let's not forget how big a prospect this kid was coming into this season. No one's a sure thing but that potential doesn't vanish over a third of a rookie year.

If I'm banking on which D gets traded it's neither of those two. It's Zac Jones. I don't say that because I think he's any worse than Nils or Braden - but there's been ample opportunity for Jones to capitalize on the promise he showed over 10 games in Quinn's last hurrah. Instead he's irrationally found himself behind Nemeth and Hajek. Ouch. It took two spots to open up (Fox & Nemeth) for Jones to finally get a callup for the Rangers last three tilts, but if he's not sticking next to his AHL cohort Schneider after the break then you gotta wonder if he'll ever be a part of the team's future. Whichever one they move on from, one thing is clear - this is truly a champagne problem. All these kids will be NHL mainstays soon enough. There's just not enough room for them all to do it in NY.

 

I like this question, and it's a testament to how good this team is when you've got to eliminate 5 "obvious" names for the team MVP race at the halfway point. I don't think it's much of a competition though after those guys. It's Jacob Trouba.

Top five in shots hits & blocks, top ten in goals, top 15 in ES points among all NHL defenders. His points have been impactful ones too - 14 of 20 at even strength have come when up/down a goal or tied. The Trouba Train has run through plenty of opposing players in highlight reel fashion & had back to back Gordie Howe hat tricks a couple months ago. Critics will hang onto his fancy stat charts for dear life but he's been solid defensively while playing more disadvantageous zone starts than anyone else on the squad. He's been an absolute force on the ice and gives them an all-around threat behind perennial Norris candidate Adam Fox. In today's game, players who lay the lumber while producing offensively are an extremely rare breed. This year it's basically been Weegar, Nurse & Trouba. His influence cannot be understated.

 

I'd rather see 37 year-old Dan Girardi un-retire to solidify the Rangers third pair playing lefty with a permanent puck in his visor than Libor Hajek skate another shift. It's over. The Rangers got crushed on the McDonagh/Miller trade with Howden & Hajek. Such incredibly poor hockey awareness at this stage of his career (24) is just inexcusable and he doesn't have the physical attributes to make up for it. I know pairing a couple of rookies together is always a risk but it's a headscratcher that Zac Jones hasn't gotten a shot yet to skate with his Wolf Pack partner after Braden Schneider has impressed in his debut. We'll see how the lineup shakes up at practice this weekend but I'm looking for anyone else besides Hajek - and that's saying something when that "anyone else" might include Patrik Nemeth.

 

 

I know Lafreniere hasn't exactly taken the league by storm yet but I know for a fact his time will come. It's been tough for him without much powerplay time and minimal top-six run but he's gotten a crack alongside Kreider & Mika recently with a goal in his last two. Perhaps this is where he finally sticks - but if you dig deeper, he's actually been very productive without massive opportunity. In his rookie year, he found his stride over the last 6 weeks with only Kaprizov & Robertson having more ES tucks than Laf. Now this year the 20 year-old is only behind Kreider for the team lead in ES goals (10) and ALL of them have been when up/down a goal or tied. There's no garbage time stats. No real help from an unproductive, seldom used PP2. The kid still just keeps chugging along, quietly chipping in when it matters while trying to find the all-around game that'll gain Gallant's trust and keep him in a top-six role. Whether or not Lafreniere seizes the opportunity over the next 15 games will determine if he's a key cog for their playoff run or dropped back to the third line making room for a deadline acquisition.

I dunno what to think about Kaapo Kakko. Right now he's just a very good, very boring hockey player. When he's on the ice not a whole lot happens. Despite ample top-six minutes he's usually just a spectator on offense while the others work the puck. He's excelled defensively. Plays responsibly with the puck whenever he has it. Solid along the boards but certainly not a "physical" player. To me that all sounds like your prototypical checking line winger and I haven't seen anything in his game with a semblance of consistency that shows he'll be anything else. Obviously he's still young and I'm not saying it's time to cut bait - but in the case of Laf vs Kakko it's really not all that close in terms of who, at this point, looks to be the bigger contributor going forward. The playoffs are a different animal and I don't think the Rangers plan on both of them being part of the top two lines when the time comes. Too much cap space for that. Kakko may be the safer all-around play now, but his injury helped provide the more dynamic Lafreniere the opportunity to change Gallant's mind. I think he will, and that'll lead to an interesting RFA summer for Kakko.

 

Othmann has now become the Rangers top forward prospect and is demolishing the OHL to the tune of 30/27/57 in 38 tilts so I get the excitement, but the kid just turned 19 last month. Like most his age, he still has to put on some size and most likely get some AHL seasoning before an NHL sniff. He's already signed but there's no way he's in the cards at any point this year, especially during a grueling home stretch jockeying for playoff position. Let that ELC slide a year and we'll see what the Othmann's got next camp.

 

The best thing I can say about Brett Berard is that he's a god damn pain in the ass. If he can put 20-30 pounds on his frame he's got the speed, motor and smarts to become an oh-so-important middle-six pest & fan favorite (a la the aforementioned Brendan Gallagher). It'll be a while before we find out, but nabbing Berard in the 5th could cement 2020 as the Rangers best draft class.

 

Does Kreider score 50? No. He scores 52.

While Kreids had never hit the 30-goal mark before this season, he scored at a 30-goal 82-game pace over his prior three. He's slowly but surely become a better finisher and at 30 years old it's finally all come together. Being the PP net-front guy finishing off incredible dishes from guys like Fox, Panarin, Zibanejad and Strome certainly helps but he's still top-20 in 5x5 goals while also chipping in a pair on the PK. Gallant is riding him a minute and a half more per night than he's ever played and his confidence has been rewarded in the most consistent version of CK20 we've seen without any reason to believe the All-Star will slow down.

His 5x5 shooting percentage isn't anything unsustainable (13.64%) so, assuming health, the only way the Rangers don't have their 4th ever 50-goal scorer is if Kreider dips on the man advantage where he's finishing at an absurd but not unprecedented 42.5%. Why would that happen though? Are teams gonna start focusing more on Kreider's stick and give Zibanejad or Panarin more space? Not a chance. As long as he's open, his playmakers will be banking rubber off his tape & get him to 50 with relative ease. He'll break Jagr's record of 24 PPG along the way.