Talking to fans since the Rangers got eliminated, I’ve noticed a few recurring trends showing up in the discussions. The most prevalent is that Rangers fans have an absolute desire for a scoring winger on this team.
No matter what direction the Rangers go; Retool, Rebuild, or go for one more run, there will be a need for a scoring winger. Ideally it would be one who is young and can grow with the team. Pavel Buchnevich will be with the team, but he isn’t the answer to your scoring winger desires. This is by no means a knock on Buch, as he has the tools, but tempering expectations for a teenager is always a good thing. Plus, Alain Vigneault will likely shelter him initially.
An obvious way to begin our search for a scoring winger is to look into free agency. Unfortunately when the current crop of free agent wingers is less than appealing.
The chart shows each UFA’s shot/60 data. Included also is PSh% (the specific players shot%), G60 (player’s goals per 60 minutes of ice time), and PDO (a luck index formulated from adding shot% and on ice save %). If a player has a PDO of under 100 he is considered unlucky, if over 100 he is considered lucky, generally speaking. There are exceptions for highly skilled players, though.
Within the chart I also included the average shot/60 among these UFAs and the average shot/60 among all NHL forwards who played a minimum 200 minutes in the NHL this season (vertical line through the blue bars), the values for both are pretty similar. If you look at the chart you can see that for the most part there is a severe lack of players who generate a lot of shots at above league average, and in my opinion if you shoot above it I think it is fair to consider you a cliche “shoot first” player.
Among those who may interest some fans would also be too expensive for the Rangers in their current cap situation. Guys like David Perron, Kris Versteeg, and Jamie McGinn may each get a lot more money from a team like Florida who is on the rise, has money to spend and a spot in the top-nine. Other forwards that may interest fans is Mikkel Boedker who isn’t really effective 5v5 and due to the weak market may command at least $5 million. That simply isn’t worth it, especially when you look at his PSAM:
As an aside, guy like Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson and Radim Vrbata may be too old for the path that the Rangers will be taking.
What does this all tell us?
The Rangers must be sneaky and must prey on other team’s mistakes. One of my main targets that fit this criteria is Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker. Zucker is a 24 year old who had his share of struggles this season with the Wild, leading to a few healthy scratches. It is worth noting that the Wild have been a little off lately with all of the coaching changes as well as players like Thomas Vanek not producing.
Zucker’s shot/60 is 8.57, putting him ahead of both the averages, as well as players like Steven Stamkos. Zucker is also a great goal scorer, so it could be a worthwhile risk. The only concern is that he is yet another left-handed shot. This shouldn’t be a stop sign, but adding a right handed forward kills two birds with one stone. To see the importance of this I suggest reading @ArikParnass‘ work on power plays and a good friend of mine @Iyer_Prashanth who is brilliant at breaking down plays for his Detroit Red Wings. More information on Zucker can be found here as well.
Another target, and I am sorry for everyone who wants a 6’6 player, is Cam Atkinson. We talked about Atkinson a lot on this blog as whenever the Rangers have scoring troubles somehow a rumor about Atkinson shows up. Atkinson is even more of a shot generator than Zucker (Shot/60 is 9.41) and is a right handed shot. Unlike Zucker who is going to be an RFA this summer, Atkinson is signed to a deal worth $3.5 million per for two more years. While I haven’t looked into what the Wild can possibly need in a trade, I think we have talked about the Blue Jackets enough to infer that they would want a defenseman in return.
If I were to tell you that the Rangers can have one of these players who would you want?
Neither is perfect, but both would improve the Rangers immediately.
A wild card here Ahti Oksanen of BU, assuming the Rangers are able to sign him. I’ve spoken a lot about him, and he is a type of prospect that would become an instant favorite for fans. At 6’3, 210-lbs, he is a forward who is practically a semi automatic with a puck. He is one of if not the top shot generator in the NCAA. He has been to the Rangers prospect camp last year (they were the only team as far as I know who invited him) and he showed this season that he didn’t need Jack Eichel in order to produce. He likely wouldn’t make the NHL next year, but another prospect can’t hurt.
If the Rangers are going to add scoring depth, they are going to need to get creative. Limited cap space is going to hurt them unless they can shed a big salary. Even then though, the free agent class is pretty weak. They will need to make a shrewd move to fill this need."To add a scoring forward, the Rangers will need to be sneaky",