NY Rangers Mailbag: It's All About The Kids

Bruce Bennett. Getty Images.

With training camp right around the corner before the Rangers kick off their first season with legitimate expectations in years, it felt like a good time to take some reader questions about what this roster is capable of. So without further adieu, here goes…

In terms of expectations coming in, Strome was fantastic. Couldn't have hoped for anything more back when the Blueshirts and Oilers swapped Ryans. He found his offensive game with the help of an all-world Artemi Panarin - but not anyone can just slide in and push a 60-point pace for 3 straight years. He deserves plenty of credit himself. Stromer's effort could never be questioned and he was clearly a locker room favorite. His skillset was limited though, and it just so happens his shortcomings are Vincent Trocheck's strengths.

First and foremost, Trocheck is a son of a bitch to play against. He's a pest. Sandpaper. Aggressive, physical presence despite his 5'10" frame. Always need a few of those on the roster if you're looking to contend. He's also a huge improvement at the dot, to the tune of 10% better over the last two seasons. That's massive. Trocheck is also a much better defender and, with the return of Zibanejad's two-way game last season, gives the Rangers a vastly improved all-situations 1-2 punch. Offensively, it'll be interesting to see what Panarin will do for his counting stats. If he turned Strome from a 35-point guy to 60, we could be looking at 70+ out of Trocheck - and it wouldn't be his first time. 7 years is a lotta term, but I have no doubt the newest Blueshirt will play well over his $5.625 AAV for the first half of it at minimum.

As far as the powerplay is concerned, Trocheck will undoubtedly slot right into Strome's vacancy. He ran with the top unit in Carolina and, although his output was mediocre last season, he piled up 18 PPP in just 47 games the year before & has a career high of 27. There's no reason for Gallant to get cute with one of the league's most dangerous units & shoot for "balance". Vinny is their next-best all-around offensive weapon up front after Panarin/Zibanejad/Kreider and he'll be wheeling with them whenever they're up a man. I don't think Trocheck was the bumper in Carolina so it'll be a bit of an adjustment, but he's better suited than Lafreniere there.

For reference, here's Kakko firing absolute missiles this summer:

Maybe we're looking at the lefty version of Ovi/Zibanejad in the making. Let the kid post up at the right dot on PP2 and start scoring through goalies instead of past them.

There's no bigger question mark on this team than Kaapo Kakko. There's no question he's an overall asset. He plays a responsible game and there's always a place on a championship roster for players like that - you just don't expect that to be all a #2 overall pick brings to the table. The offense is simply not there. No real glimpses of him taking plays over or flashes of dominance like he exhibited that had him neck-and-neck with Jack Hughes in the 2019 draft. His skating won't do him any favors but he's still skilled enough to contribute more than a point every three games. As he matures, the only way I see his scoring ramping up is if he starts using his frame to his advantage, win the dirty areas and get more pucks on net. Wherever he ends up in the middle six doesn't matter. He's gotta play a bigger, grittier game entering his 4th pro season or we might have to admit lucking into that #2 pick wasn't that lucky after all.

I think Kravtsov is here to stay and it's in the interest of both he & the Blueshirts that he succeeds. It's obvious the former 9th overall pick still wants an NHL career and you'd assume he's matured a bit after his AHL assignment a year ago resulted in a temper tantrum & a flight back to Russia. This isn't the rebuilding squad he thought he was assured a spot on anymore. This is an ECF team now firmly entrenched among the league's best for the immediate future and if he wants to be a part of it, he'll need to fall in line. Assuming he does, the Rangers have themselves a cost-controlled young talent & that's crucial considering contracts they'll have to hand out over the next couple years.

Kravtsov no longer needs to be the offensive dynamo he was projected to be - although that'd be awesome. Still, his game is offense and while he'll need to be competent without the puck he'll be relied on as a secondary source of scoring in their middle six. I think he's got a real opportunity to leapfrog Kakko and get a sniff alongside Trocheck & Panarin while Kakko brings some responsibility & familiarity riding with Chytil. Krav is a big body with hands and some wheels - if his head is right & the effort is there he'll make himself a staple in New York. I think he's gonna surprise a lot of fans this year.

Yes. Yes he does. Let's just make sure we're all on the same page as far as what "turning the corner" means though. Without PP1 time we're not talking about a 35-35 campaign. Not yet. However, if you ask me, no kid pulled more confidence out of the Rangers 20-game postseason run than Lafreniere. 2 goals and 9 points might seem underwhelming despite limited minutes but in fairness, he was a bit unlucky. Forget the offense though. The playoffs were a transformation for him as an overall player. He was throwing his body around with reckless abandon and wearing rubber like a blueliner. More pucks found their way off his stick and to the opposing net than the regular season. He was buzzing more times than not.

Sure he made some mistakes but I have no doubt Laffy proved to himself, teammates and the organization he's capable of stepping into '22-23 as a key cog next to Zib & Kreider. The boost in overall confidence along with surrounding talent and ice time should lock him into something like 25+ tucks & 40+ points with ease - and if the kids can get something going with their limited PP2 time then the 50-point barrier will be within reach. That might not be "setting the world on fire" but the opportunity for him to do so just isn't there yet. All he's got to do to "turn the corner" this year is close that gap between the Blueshirts big guns & everyone else. Grow from a contributor to a go-to option on top of that newfound physicality and we've got ourselves a new alpha.

 

I mean at some point they've simply gotta give Zac Jones a shot. Maybe he's not a prototypical third-pair defenseman but it's also not 1990. The game has changed in a big way and it's possible to defend nowadays using smarts, skating and skill. He's just too good to leave on the backburner simply because he's small. Same goes for Nils Lundkvist who seems to have become the forgotten prospect all of a sudden. It may be more unlikely for him to play the left side as a right shot but regardless, there's two quality options who can add a side of puck moving to the main course of Schneider's shutdown skillset.

The smooth skating 6'4" Matthew Roberston is a dark horse young d-man that could surprise too if Gallant simply has to have a giant. They tried an expensive veteran option last year and Nemeth worked out so bad they ponied up draft picks just to get rid of him. I think Hajek and Tinordi are their "veteran insurance" this go-around but they're banking on someone to rise from their pile of young defensive riches & seize the role.

I get it, I definitely do. Othmann showed an NHL-caliber style of play in the WJC that seems to jive with exactly what the Rangers are looking for. For him to make the squad though he'll have to have an unbelievable camp that forces their hand. Why? Well if nothing else it comes down to dollars and cents. Othmann's contract is slide-eligible - meaning if he's back with Flint then his ELC won't kick in until next season. Having a rostered player with a $900k cap hit for three years is going to be massive as Drury navigates new contracts that are coming up, so as far as the big picture is concerned it's better to delay that.

Money aside though, you've got to ask yourself who's spot he'd take. Crowbarring him into a 4th line role seems silly for a 19 year-old and if any prospect is better equipped to do that it'd be their big 20 year-old Will Cuylle, whose contract can't slide. He's not bumping Panarin, Kreider, Lafreniere or Kakko from the lineup so we're looking at Blais and Kravtsov. Blais plays the in-your-face style Gallant loves so that's unlikely, and I don't think they brought Kravtsov back into the fold just to punt him again. They've gotta see what they got in him. Not everyone is gonna meet expectations, but unless Othmann runs through camp like an absolute world-beater they've got too many other options to exhaust before burning the first year of his deal.

As far as rookies go there most likely won't be any surprises. Zac Jones doesn't technically count as a rookie but as of now he's gotta be the favorite to finally get his NHL shot next to Braden Schneider. Kravtsov might still have "rookie" status. Other than that, the aforementioned Will Cuylle could steal a spot to round out the 4th line but odds are he'll be running with the Wolfpack for most if not all of the upcoming year. Reaves, Blais and Hunt all come off the books next summer which opens the door for kids like Othmann & Cuylle.

The easy answer is to bet on likely regression - but I don't like easy. Health permitting, I say he does it again. I mean there's no reason to think he can't continue to be a powerplay juggernaut surrounded by the same skillset all in their primes. That's half the battle. His 5x5 goal rate last season was just a tick ahead of where it was 3 of the 5 seasons prior so it's not like he did anything out of the ordinary there. So yeah I'm in. This time I'm calling 53…and I'm the same guy who called 52 for Kreids back in Feburary so you should probably start placing your bets.

Nah. The Kid Line was a great story during the playoffs but the fact is, Lafreniere dwarfs Chytil & Kakko. He's the only bonafide top-sixer of the three and barring something unforeseen he's getting a promotion beside DJ ZBad and Kreider. I'm curious to see whether Kakko & Chytil remain together though. I'm sure the Rangers want Kakko to become that second-line flank but whether or not his offensive game is up for it is still a major question. Maybe Gallant prefers Blais there for an ultimate forecheck duo with Trocheck. Maybe Kravtsov's offensive prowess finally shows itself and he wins out. Who knows. The one thing I can guarantee though is that Lafreniere has outgrown that Kid Line.

I don't know, I haven't seen an official trade deadline date announced yet for 2023 - but whatever that date is, that's the answer. Won't be any sooner simply because the Rangers need to accumulate enough cap space for half his salary (it accrues per day). It's happening though. No question.

 

My official answer is "neither" simply because the post-Covid cap should right itself leaguewide in time. If not though, the Blueshirts will be in a real tough spot financially and might have to make room. Kreider's been a lifelong Ranger coming off an all-time season. Trouba was just honored with the "C". Doesn't seem like either are prime candidates to be pushed out the door, but it's a possibility in terms of simple math if we're still stuck in the flat cap era after another two years.

Trouba's raking in 8 sheets per & his NMC turns to a NTC in the summer of 2024 where he'll be 30 with a couple years left on his deal. Kreider's pocketing $6.5M per with his NMC converting to a NTC at the same time as Trouba's - except Kreids will be 33 with 3 years left. Seems like a more reasonable decision when you break it down to move on from CK instead of riding out years 33-35. Trouba will still be in his relative prime and even if his game slows at all, he'll still bring important elements of physicality & leadership on the back end while (assumedly) Schneider blossoms ahead of him. Combine that with a year less left in term and, if the Rangers are forced into a 2024 decision between the two biggest contracts they can move, they'll keep their captain.