No doubt about it, the Rangers have had some serious roster turnover this season, especially among the bottom six forwards. Gone are Brandon Prust, John Mitchell, Ruslan Fedotenko, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky. In are Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, and possibly Michael Haley (at least to start the season while Marian Gaborik is out). While the Rangers will surely miss most of the departed, where they will miss them the most is on the penalty kill.
Fedotenko, Prust, and Dubinsky were all top penalty killers for this club last season, with Anisimov and Mitchell seeing some time there as well. Of those coming in, only Halpern has experience as a top penalty killer. Asham and Pyatt have played there in the past, but not much (if at all) last season. This leaves a hole that needs to be filled, and needs to be filled from those already on the roster.
Luckily for the Rangers, they still have Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan, who are now the two best penalty killers from last season. Add in Halpern, and the Rangers need three or four more players capable of eating time on the kill for the Rangers to have decent units this year.
Carl Hagelin, who was one of the best two-way forwards in the NCAA, is the first player that comes to mind in this situation. Hagelin will likely be able to step right in and eat big minutes while a man down. His versatility here is likely one of the big reasons why his name was never brought up in trade rumors. It is all but a sure thing that Hagelin will step right into Prust’s role as a top penalty killer (if Halpern is to “fill in” for Dubinsky and take face offs).
Chris Kreider is also very capable of killing penalties, as he did so with BC last season. Kreider isn’t the type of guy that will see significant time on the penalty kill, but if one of the main four guys (Boyle, Callahan, Halpern, Hagelin) takes a penalty, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kreider out there. Throw in his speed (and Hagelin’s), and the Rangers have two forwards competent on the kill who have the potential to create some offense while down a man.
Although Pyatt and Asham did not kill penalties last year, they are fully capable of handling a shift or two in these situations, as they have done so in the past. Throw in players like Brad Richards and Derek Stepan –also capable of playing a few shifts on the kill– and the Rangers aren’t in such a bad situation.
That makes nine players capable of at least taking a shift with a man in the box. Four (Boyle, Callahan, Hagelin, Halpern) will be the key components of a completely overhauled unit, while Kreider lies in wait as a fifth forward. With four more players capable of taking a shift, the Rangers are heading into next year with a solid group of forwards capable of filling the hole that Prust, Fedotenko, and Dubinsky left in their wake.
It’s not the ideal situation to have Pyatt, Asham, Richards, or Stepan killing penalties, but concessions needed to be made to bring Rick Nash on board. The effectiveness of the unit, specifically the depth of the unit, may not be as strong, but the top four are surely capable of stepping right in without missing a beat. Believe it or not, the Rangers are in decent shape on the penalty kill. It’s not last year, but it’ll make do.
Update 9:10am: It has been brought up that Nash played on the penalty kill in Columbus, something I did not know. So he’s another option, and an option that can provide offense as well.