This list is my best guess at how the front office collectively views its depth chart now and looking towards the future. That means that age, contract, potential and position matter. Past performance holds less weight.
Note that though it’s a foregone conclusion Filip Chytil is going to win multiple Hart Trophies, I’m only including the players that seem to be in the mix for roster spots this season.
While I naturally assumed that Henrik Lundqvist would top my list going into the process, I came to a different conclusion upon further consideration.
I invite you all to share your own rankings in the comments as I think you’ll come to similarly surprising results. So without further ado…
25) Matt Puempel
Puempel is the least-discussed member of the Rangers – and for good reason. Perhaps the hat trick he netted just after arriving in New York is a sign of what’s beneath the surface, but at this point Puempel looks like a guy that could easily hit the waiver wire.
24) Nick Holden
He’s on an expiring deal and has been pushed down the depth chart to the point it’s very possible Holden spends much of the season in the press box, if he’s even still on the roster. New York would surely trade Holden for just about anything in return.
23) David Desharnais
Desharnais was plucked off the scrap heap, but given the team’s lack of centers he carries some importance for this season. That said, he’s a stopgap solution and has no future here beyond this year.
22) Ondrej Pavelec
It still boggles my mind that the Blueshirts aggressively pursued Pavelec and inked him knowing he may need to play 25 games this season. But apparently Benoit Allaire is on board and obviously his word is gold within the organization.
21) Cristoval Nieves
Nieves still hasn’t proven a thing as a professional, but he has several traits that make him intriguing. Speed, faceoff ability, two-way play – it’s easy to see why he’s still mentioned in the team’s plans even if Nieves will have to fight hard just to win a job.
20) Alexei Bereglazov
The KHL out-clause is a bit concerning, but also an indication the Blueshirts are confident Bereglazov is indeed ready for the NHL.
19) Neal Pionk
I have Pionk higher than Bereglazov because he was in much greater demand this spring and is a full year younger.
18) Marc Staal
Whether you agree with it or not, the Rangers value experience and veteran leadership, and Staal provides both in spades.
17) Michael Grabner
The speedster left his mark in his first season with the Blueshirts, as Grabner finished just behind Kreider for the team lead in goals and was a leader on the penalty kill and an ace on the forecheck. Of all the expiring contracts, I think Grabner has the best chance of re-upping.
16) Rick Nash
Obviously Nash has been far more valuable than this ranking over the course of his tenure on Broadway, but with free agency looming and New York ushering in a new generation, the writing is on the wall.
15) Jesper Fast
Fast doesn’t have much room to grow, but he’s an ultra-dependable fourth liner that can be moved around the lineup and is a consummate team player. He’s also on a reasonable contract for three more years.
14) Anthony DeAngelo
DeAngelo was one of the tougher guys to place. Obviously the organization holds him in high regard since DeAngelo was a key piece of the Derek Stepan trade, but DeAngelo hasn’t even cemented his status as an NHL regular yet. The character concerns also would make me very nervous if I were running the team.
13) Jimmy Vesey
The jury’s still out on Vesey. On the one hand, he started scoring immediately last year and was one of the team’s best players in the postseason, providing a glimpse of the dominant power forward he could become. On the other, he went through a brutal drought during the heart of the year and his peripheral stats are some cause for concern.
12) Kevin Hayes
What a difference a year makes. Hayes was blasted by the staff following his sophomore season and now he’s being counted on to pivot the second line and chip in all situations. Still, the Rangers haven’t made a long-term commitment to Hayes just yet…
11) Mats Zuccarello
Though he doesn’t look a day older than 14, Zuke will be 30 years old by the time the season starts. But in many ways he’s the engine that makes the Rangers go and the team is still benefitting from the bargain deal he signed in 2015.
10) Brendan Smith
The Blueshirts invested two high draft picks to acquire Smith, then doubled down and signed him to a four-year deal. He’ll be expected to play on the second pairing and provide the steady stay-at-home presence the Rangers have gotten for so long from Staal and Dan Girardi. Smith is a no frills guy, but he’ll be counted on a great deal.
9) J.T. Miller
Miller and Hayes remain on similar career arcs, but I get the sense the coaches are a bit more confident in what to expect from Miller going forward. J.T. is also a year younger than Hayes and has more room for growth. If he were to be successfully converted to center, he’d climb even higher on this list.
8) Pavel Buchnevich
Buchnevich had an up-and-down rookie year, but he provided glimpses of limitless potential. As a 22-year-old with years of team control remaining, he’s absolutely a key to the present and future.
7) Lias Andersson
The No. 7 pick was one of the trickiest players to rank. Obviously he’s cost-controlled and has terrific potential, but despite his summer highlights, he hasn’t actually done anything yet. That said – Andersson represents hope and looks like he could be a foundational piece.
6) Mika Zibanejad
I’m all-in on Zibanejad and I think the organization is, too. Giving Zibanejad a five-year pact when many others in his position have received bridge deals is a strong indication that New York believes Zibanejad will blossom into a bona fide first-line center and wanted to secure him at a reasonable cost now rather than wait for him to fulfill their expectations.
5) Chris Kreider
2016-2017 was the year Kreider finally put it all together. The team was very patient waiting for Kreider to harness his incredible combination of speed and power, but even while that process unfolded Kreider provided strong value. He looks poised to be a force going forward with a rare set of gifts possessed by few others in the world.
4) Kevin Shattenkirk
The hometown kid inked a team-friendly deal that soaks up his prime years. Not only will he be a weapon on the ice – he’s a marketing dream.
3) Henrik Lundqvist
It feels blasphemous not to have Lundqvist at No. 1, but there’s actually a strong case to be made for knocking him even farther down the list. He remains the man that will have the most impact on the team’s fortunes this season and next, but at age 35 the end is in sight for The King.
2) Ryan McDonagh
The captain had a tremendous season and remains New York’s unquestioned No. 1, but the rumblings about what he could earn as a free agent in two years probably has the Blueshirts a little unnerved. At his best, McDonagh is absolutely worth $7 million annually, but he’s had some trouble staying on the ice and is suddenly 28 years old. For two more years, he’ll be invaluable. But what then?
1) Brady Skjei
There’s a new sheriff in town! To be honest, I didn’t expect to put Skjei here. But he’s coming off an outstanding rookie season in which he displayed offensive ability that few expected. At age 23, he has a decade of his best hockey in front of him. Skjei plays a modern style and can skate like the wind. And, of course, he’s a cost-controlled asset.