Let’s all take a deep breath. It’s been a big day for the New York Rangers, who traded away a core member of the team in Derek Stepan and their backup goalie Antti Raanta (who could very well be starter material – you can check out my piece on him over at NHLNumbers here) in exchange for Anthony DeAngelo and the 7th overall pick. With that pick they selected Lias Andersson, and later at 21 they took Filip Chytil, both of whom are could play either LW or center according to their profiles at Elite Prospects. There’s still a lot left to this offseason, so it’s not quite time for panic, but there’s a reasonable case to be made that there’s cause for concern.
Let’s start by stating the obvious – the Rangers are a win-now team, because Henrik Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger. Given yesterday’s events, and the loss of Oscar Lindberg to the Vegas Golden Knights, the roster still needs some filling out. As it stands right now, we’re down two centers from where we were at the beginning of this season, when our depth down the middle was one of our obvious strengths. Our defensive group is still a work in progress, and it remains to be seen whether or not we’ll end up signing the coveted Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency. The opening night roster is not quite ready yet.
Along these lines then, it’s a little concerning that the Rangers opted for futures instead of present NHLers, although it remains to be seen whether or not there are more moves to be made (I’ll get to this later). DeAngelo, Andersson, and Chytil are all decent enough, but none of them are the kind of elite, high-ceiling skill the Rangers could have gone for. They’ll help fill out the farm, but none of them are the crown jewel, and that’s concerning given what we gave up to get them.
Starting off with DeAngelo, there’s the obvious concerns about his attitude. With a history of frequent suspensions, slurs directed at teammates, and abuse of officials, it’s hard to be excited about this guy replacing a person as good as Derek Stepan. Sure, he’s got upside as a puck moving defenseman who can work a powerplay, but his defense allegedly needs some work, so it’s not as though we got a perfectly well-rounded prospect. He’ll be a work in progress, on and off the ice, hopefully ditching the blatant and unacceptable homophobia and tightening up his defensive acumen. The bottom line is this: we’ll see.
Next let’s move on to Andersson. The Rangers had the opportunity to take someone like Gabe Vilardi, a high upside center who was compared to John Tavares and Anze Kopitar during the NHL’s broadcast of the draft. Instead they went for someone who’s more or less a safe pick – responsible defensively and able to do it all, but with a projected middle six ceiling. That’s not exactly thrilling, considering we gave up a consistent, talented, and dedicated center in Derek Stepan to get that pick.
Next up we’ve got Chytil, who I’ll admit I know even less about than Andersson. According to our very own Josh Khalfin, he’s a young, speedy player who’ll have plenty of room to grow and develop, given that he’s only 17. The NHL’s broadcast compared him to Ondrej Palat, and he himself likens his game to Auston Matthews (we’ll see about that), but although he’s got a lot of time to develop that’s exactly it: he’s going to need some time and Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t exactly have time.
So while it’s not quite time to panic, there’s valid room for concern. The Rangers’ direct rivals all got better this week – with the Devils drafting Nico Hischier first overall, Philly taking Nolan Patrick at number two, and the Islanders stealing Jordan Eberle from the Oilers in exchange for a guy who’s yet to hit 20 goals in his career. Couple that with Pittsburgh’s perennial contender status and CBJ’s acquisition of Artemi Panarin, and the Metro just got a whole lot scarier. Did the Rangers make similar strides? Well, not exactly.
I’ll say this though, I still have some faith that Gorton knows what he’s doing. It’s also important to note that with today’s trade, the Rangers opened up around $20-$23 million in cap space (depending on if Klein does in fact retire). Hopefully that means there’s something more coming, but at the very least it means we can expect Smith and Zibanejad re-signed to long-term deals (Zibanejad longer than Smith of course) in addition to the run at Shattenkirk that’s likely coming. Furthermore the Rangers have long been rumored to desire Jumbo Joe Thornton, who could potentially be had in free agency for a reasonable sum and would fill a hole at center. Couple that with the fact that Gordie Clark typically has his act together with regard to drafting and developing, and all of the concerns listed above become well, just concerns.
The Rangers have a lot of work to do to improve on where they were last year, and while yesterday wasn’t a ringing endorsement of this front office’s process, it also wasn’t entirely damning either. We’ll just have to wait and see, but my guess is the Rangers aren’t done yet. It’s perfectly fair to be concerned, but the bottom line is that we simply don’t know yet what the rest of the summer holds. Whether or not you want to panic depends on how much faith you have in the way Gorton and co. will handle July and August, but for right now, let’s wait and see.