pavel buchnevich chris kreider

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/AP

The Rangers have already been written off for next season. After the fire sale and no trades for big names (yet, and unlikely to come), the Blueshirts are all in on their rebuild. They’ve made five first round selections the past two years, making up for four straight years of no picks in the first round. They have a new coach, one that is going to develop prospects and help them transition to The Show.

However winning and rebuilding aren’t mutually exclusive. Everyone loves to compare the Rangers to the Yankees and their rebuild, and while definitely not the same –the Yankees had elite prospects on the cusp or at the major league level already– there is a connection that rebuilding doesn’t necessarily mean losing. Let’s look at the Rangers’ roster, as currently constructed, and let’s see how bad this team is really going to be.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that the trade market doesn’t open as expected, and the market for guys like Ryan Spooner, Vlad Namestnikov, and Kevin Hayes remains relatively dry. That forces the Rangers to re-sign them all, and that’s the path we are going to assume for the sake of this post. Let’s look at the forward lines:

Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich
Namestnikov-Hayes-Zuccarello
Spooner-Andersson-Chytil (feel free to swap Chytil/Andersson here)
Vesey-Nieves/UFA C-Fast
Beleskey/Holland/Lettieri

There’s a legitimate top line with KZB. That appears to be a solid middle-six, and the fourth line isn’t a train wreck. The issue is depth, as an injury in the top-nine is relatively lethal. The Blueshirts have some depth, but if Zibanejad goes down again, or one of the rookies doesn’t play that well, it torpedos the plan.

The blue line is a different story though, as it’s filled with giant question marks. As it stands today, we are looking at:

Skjei-Shattenkirk, hopefully with both knees (drool)
Staal-Pionk
Smith-DeAngelo
Gilmour/Kampfer

That isn’t exactly your strongest blue line, and it should explain why the Rangers targeted players like Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren at the deadline. But a different system changes everything. An aggressive overload without the man coverage is simple enough that those who aren’t strong skaters (Staal) can relax a bit, and it may improve their game. There’s a lot of “ifs” here, and a lot of rookies with holes in their games. If there’s a weak link, it’s the blue line.

And then there’s Henrik Lundqvist.

There is certainly a lack of elite talent, especially on the blue line, for the Rangers. That lack of elite talent is what prevents them from being a legitimate playoff contender. However that forward group –as is– can (should?) score in bunches.

The moral of the story here is that while we expect this upcoming year to be a tough one to watch, it may not be the bottom-feeder team we expect them to be. For those hoping for Jack Hughes, you may be disappointed. I’m expecting a season like the 2016 Yankees – not good, not bad, and somewhere in the middle. Personally, that’s where I expect them to finish, somewhere in the 10-12 spot.

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