Grading the bottom-six forwards

Continuing the midterm grades for the Rangers, we are going to tackle the bottom-six forwards. Since David Quinn likes to rotate his lines a lot, and since the Rangers have had a bunch of injuries that have skewed the ice time, I’m going to use best judgment on what is considered a bottom-six forward.

Thirteen forwards have played at least 200 minutes for the Rangers thus far, and I’m going to use that as the cutoff. In doing so, players like Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Vinni Lettieri, and Boo Nieves don’t make the cut. Let’s call Lettieri and Nieves incomplete grades, and give Spooner/Beleskey N/As. Ok? Ok.

Cody McLeod (1-0-1, 28 GP)

Re-signing McLeod was relatively silly, and the results are what we expected. He fights, and that’s about it. There’s more to hockey than this. Maybe a playoff team wants some toughness? Grade: D

Brett Howden (4-11-15, 47 GP)

Howden lit the world on fire with his start to the season. A surprising pick to break camp, Howden put up a line of 4-8-12 in the Blueshirts’ first 22 games. He was outperforming more highly touted prospects like Filip Chytil and Pavel Buchnevich. However the magic faded quickly, with Howden putting up just three assists since 11/24, a stretch of 25 games. This is his first NHL season, so not only are the NHL rigors probably getting to him, but holes in his game are exposed faster (his -12.22 relative xGF% is worst on the team). The fatigue is a reason why he wasn’t sent to the AHL to continue playing during the long break. But still, this is more than we had expected from Howden. Grade: B

Jesper Fast (7-10-17, 43 GP)

Utility man extraordinaire, Fast has his usual self this year. He does all the little things well, chips in here and there offensively, and can play anywhere from the top-six to the fourth line. He’s been mostly a middle-six player this year, and his willingness to go to the corners and do the dirty work makes him mesh with most other duos. He’s up there in relative xGF%, at the top of the non-Hayes/Kreider division on the club with a 5.30 rel xGF%. He’s one of those complementary players that you want on your team. Grade: A-

Vlad Namestnikov (4-12-16, 44 GP)

Namestnikov survived the evaluation period, with Ryan Spooner being sent to purgatory Edmonton. Namestnikov has had flashes of brilliance –his 1-2-3 line against Anaheim being the standout flash– but has also had long periods of invisibility. Grading the forwards is very difficult, because the team as a whole is horribad. He’s been middle of the road. Grade: C

Jimmy Vesey (11-13-24, 47 GP)

I had to double check that stat line when I first saw it. Before Mats Zuccarello’s scoring streak before the break, Vesey was fourth on the team in scoring. He now sits fifth, and despite his poor relative stats (-3.74 rel xGF%), still manages to score. Vesey is an enigma, and another case of poor underlyings that are overlooked because he scores. It’s tough to really grade a player like this. I still think he makes great trade bait, but he is the only player aside from Fast that appears to be willing to do the little things in the corners. Grade: B-

Ryan Strome (6-5-11, 29 GP)

Let’s all give a round of applause to Jeff Gorton for turning Spooner into Strome. Spooner was useless, and Strome is useful. He’s been a pleasant surprise thus far, and has certainly earned a spot in the bottom-six. He’s outplayed a bunch of guys on this list already, and is on a higher points-per-game (with the Rangers, at least) rate than Vesey, Namestnikov, Howden, and Fast. It’s only been 29 games, but Strome may have found a spot on the bottom-six. Let’s see if he can keep it up. Grade: A-

Lias Andersson (1-3-4, 21 GP)

Andersson had an extended look, and quite honestly didn’t do much with it. As Ricky Milliner pointed out, he needs to work on his game away from the puck. I’d expect to see him back up after the deadline. There’s no rush, and he’s still very young. Grade: INC

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  • To me, the bottom six need to win you about 10 games a year. This group is probably not on course to do that. I think you can make one good line out of these 6 and try to find 3 others to support the 4th line. I wouldn’t even mind putting Boo in this group, as he tend to slide down here as well.

    You need depth and alternative strengths from these players, which is not very apparent.

  • Where the heck is BOO? If going to do evaluation of all bottom 6 guys you could at least include them all.

      • You should learn to be more tactful and less insulting to people. Your people skills need some work.

      • Nieves has been a solid player in the bottom 6, arguably bordering on being an impact player in that role. The team suddenly jelled with him in the lineup before the all-star break. He should’ve been given a full grade IMO.

        • Nieves has played 157 total minutes this year, and just 16 games over 6 weeks. That did not meet the criteria I mentioned above.

          • I hear you, Dave—just think that the quality of Nieves’ play rated a mention. His size and speed have been very effective.

          • True Dave, you have to set a standard and then stick by it. Maybe it should have been 150 minutes because the perception of Nieves is that he’s here to stay.

  • I would give Boo a “c’ the same with Buchnesvich. Names has been better but had a rough start of the season. Fast is effective as a bottom six player, but doesn’t have the skill level to play on the top lines.

    • He’s doing what he was paid to do, which is fight. He’s not needed on the team, but I gave him the D because he’s doing what his paycheck is telling him to do.

  • Cognitive dissonance time: the Rangers are one of the ten worst teams in hockey, yet these grades reflect a hyperbolic optimism that’s totally unjustified in the face of this team’s actual results. Not only that but Nieves and Buchnevich aren’t here—they’ve certainly played more in the bottom six than Lias Andersson, but they’re left without a grade.

    As far as a rookie like Howden “setting the world on fire” early in the season—that’s an overstatement to say the least. To put things into perspective it’s good to remember Aaron Voros once had a fast start to one of his Ranger seasons, leading the NHL in scoring one week into the season in 2008. Elias Petterson has been a rookie who has set the world on fire from game 1, not Howden. Howden deserves a C- at best, he’s been invisible for over 50% of the season and is getting killed in possession and scoring stats. While he’s certainly got the potential to be an NHL regular, right now he’s not an NHL-caliber player. A stint in the minors would serve him well when Hayes is reactivated, but since Howden is one of Quinn’s boys it’s unlikely.

    This team has only prospered based on the performance of their top 6 and their goalies this year. The D and bottom 6 have largely been garbage.

  • Howden – meh. Good start. the rest… meh. I give him the “take it or leave it” grade” C
    McLeod – he does what he’s paid to do. I don’t think the fight is so much about winning or losing, but simply the act itself. he gets the “thanks for doing your job” grade B-
    Namestikov – He’s Russian, known for being completely invisible for games at a time. NOT all Russians, just most. And for what we gave up to get him… the grade of “Turd Sandwich” – F
    Vesey – Not much to say, as a third liner he is certainly under performing. “take it or leave it” C-

    Fast and Strome – I’m glad they’re around. those were good grades.

    And then there’s Lias.
    He isn’t or wasn’t ready. Didn’t take advantage of the situation. Sure, I get it, he needs some time, he’s a kid… blah blah blah.
    I’m still giving him the “WTF dude!?” grade – D.7. because he might be who Nirvana was singing about!

  • Hey Dave, I don’t think you give enough credit to guys like Cody. It’s because of him that players won’t take unnecessary liberties at us. Yes he doesn’t put up numbers but I would at least gave him a solid C, when he was out of the lineup you noticed the grit missing.

  • Technical point on why Howden was not sent down. You may bet right Dave, but I believe that NHL rosters are in the 20-23 range and they cannot go below 20. Thus, the number of players that can be sent down during a layoff is limited. If you have a bunch of kids, you are not allowed to send them all down.

    I do agree that not sending Howden down was likely best in any case.

    • The only way you can go below 18 & 2 is if the team isn’t playing a game and the player is hurt. They had 20 & 2.

      They could’ve sent Pionk, Boo & Howden down if they wanted.

      • I agree that they could have sent one more player down – either Pionk or Howden – but I think both would have been problematic. Claesson was not just hurt. He was on injured reserve and I suspect it would have been troublesome to activate him and then put him back on injured reserve. Can you really count a player on IR as part of your 18 required skaters?

        • If they had sent down guys to get it to 18, *then* put Claesson on the injury list, they could have been at 17 for the bye week & ASG.

          CBA 16.4(b) Clubs are not permitted to Loan Players where the result of such Loan(s) would reduce the Club’s Active Roster below eighteen (18) skaters and two (2) goaltenders. However, Clubs will not be required to Recall Players to maintain the minimum eighteen (18) skaters and two (2) goaltenders on days which they do not play an NHL Game, provided that the deficiency below those thresholds is a result of an injury that has caused the removal of such disabled Player from the Active Roster.

  • A few quibbles. If 200 minutes is enough time, you don’t give Andersson an incomplete. As for those who played less, one can evaluate SOME players on less time. You could evaluate me in ten seconds. Spooner and Lettieri did a pretty good job of showing that they did not belong. I agree Beleskey merits an incomplete.

    One quick note on Beleskey. Recently, the Holland-Beleskey-Meskanen line had been on something of a tear down in Hartford.

  • I don’t think Cody McLeod should be on the team taking up a roster spot, but it is not his fault that the Rangers signed and kept him. So, a C is in order for doing what he is paid to do. He’d score higher in my evaluation if he was a better fighter than he is these days. But he is a generally horrid hockey player.

    Howden is promising, but yeah he seems to have hit a wall. Hopefully the long break will revive him. The kid has great vision and hockey sense. I’d go with a B- because he is a first year student.

    I think Fast’s grade is a bit high. I’d give him a B. If he’d put up some more points he’d be an A.

    Same thinking regarding Strome. He’s played well and probably better than expected, but he would have to score more to get an A, so I’d rate him a B too.

    Vesey may never be a great player, but he scores some and works hard. I think he is a B too.

    Lias definitely rates an incomplete. I’d give management an F on how they’ve handled the kid. But he seems tough and can probably take it. Let him develop with the Pack or bring him to the big club to do it, but don’t jerk him around any more.

    Nasmestnikov isn’t consistent enough and so I’d give him a C because he should be better than he’s been.

  • Dave’s grades were based on performances of players in the bottom six. Not the middle or top. Each grade was plausible IMO. However, Jesper Fast deserves an A+. His play with and without the puck has been outstanding, his metrics bear it out too. And he does this often with players who are, to put it nicely, borderline NHLers in the bottom six.

    I expect Fast to receive a good grade for the top 6 also, as when he is paired with better players his play gets better too. One criticism has been he doesn’t score, put him on a line with Zib, Kreider, Zucc, or Hayes and I think he’ll score. If he wasn’t so defensively concerned he has, IMO, the ability produce much more offensively. Based on the salaries other fools on this team make, Fast is severely underpaid.

  • The lineups have been too much of a ‘goulash’ to really appreciate their individual value to the Rangers near term. Coaches/Mgmt need to figure out their roles and stick to that for an extended period of time in order to properly access them.

    I think Strome has earned himself 3rd line center (upon Hayes return), thus inclined to send Howden down for a while until we trade a center. Then again, at some stage I want to see how Chytil or Anderson at Center go with 2nd line wingers. As for wingers, you need to find out if Name cuts it as a 2nd/3rd liner and Vesey as a 3rd line winger. Neither are fit for 4th line duties. Pretty clear Nieves is our 4th line center. Buch was not listed but stick him between Miko and Kreids for extended period for Christ’s sake. Leave it to our NY Rangers to have 4th line players s Power Play specialists. How absurd is that statement?!?! I’ll be pretty bent if he gets shipped out and some GM/Coach ends up being a lot smarter in his deployment and partners. Name would kind of fall into the same boat with lesser expectations (2nd/3rd line).

    Lastly, sad to see Howden’s not ready for DQ’s 82 game College Grind. Baring injury, I would expect some of our seasoned vets like Kreider, Miko. etc to hit the same wall at about 60-65 games as well.

  • I disagree on Fast. If he was so good why does no other team seek for his services? There is no honesty in your grading. Cody at least checks like a man and is on the 4th line. Fast is the spoon in the utility knife set which no one uses.
    xGF% Expected Goal For Percentage in this case is a joke! 7 goals in 43 games Bull!
    His willingness to go to the corners? Cody does that and you gave him no compliments. Sad and bearing false witness.
    Fourth line, when did you see him on the 4th line?
    Let me put it this way 10 assists in 43 games and not playing on the 4th line. Who is he helping?
    The man hustles as much as anyone if not more. Everyone loves his effort. If effort and hustle equals goals he would lead the league. However Fast is not that talented. That is why people don’t say, he is talented they just say he is a UTILITY player.
    OK lets get some stats. In 20 wins for the Rangers this season Fast scored 2 goals and 6 assists. Utility this.
    There are 3 Jespers in the league and Fast is the worst! look it up.
    Fast is used more than Buch.
    You take Fast off of Kreiders line with Zbad and put Zucc you get production. Why didn’t Fast score a lot of points with Kreider? Utility bull.
    You may like a player and not like the way he is utilized. I’m sure most people would agree with that. You may say putting Fast on a line with skilled players will do no harm because Fast has great hockey sense, I think you would be wrong. His hockey senses will not over come his skill disabilities and will reduce the scoring lines effectiveness.
    Today Zucc has an injury and will not play, The coach will probably put Fast on the Kreider line again and reduce the lines capabilities and output.
    I think the biggest problem the Rangers have is the coaches use of Fast and not Fast himself. He should be on the 4th line with Cody and Boo(sorry Boo not your fault) and keep the skilled players together. Imagine a checker in Cody and hustle in Fast and Boo?
    Was Fast an A+ player on the first line? No
    Was Fast a A+ player on the second line? NO
    Was Fast an A+ player on the 3rd line? No
    So if he did not help any line dominate how can you give him a A+?
    I can not change any ones mind because you can not hear when your mind is full of what you think is true.
    The same goes for me.

    • Fast is complying with Quinn’s system/style this year with being hard on the puck, tough in the corners and having the majority of his starts in the defensive zone. All this predominantly in the bottom 6. His play this year, appears to me, more defensive.

      Last year under AV in a system a little more geared to the attack, Fast averaged 0.47 ppg while seeing very little power play time and playing mainly in the bottom six. Fast has the ability to score and if he needed to modify his style of play I think he can contribute more offensively. Fast deserves a grade that reflects the quality of his performance in the system dictated by the coach.

      And everyone who watches these games Sees the non-stop fore-checking and competent back-checking this guy provides. He’s underrated and underpaid IMO.

  • Lines of
    Looks like a 1st line
    3rd line
    2nd line
    Doesn’t look like predominantly bottom 6 Mr Cat. As a matter of fact none of the lines looks defensive. I have seen a Gnat check harder than Fast. He checks like a 150 pounder. God bless his heart he tries so hard but you cant teach size.
    Fast has a performance of an anchor with a sponge BOB body.
    “everyone who watches these games Sees the non-stop fore-checking and competent ” he is so competent he can’t score. But he tries so hard.

    • So why don’t we cherry pick line situations that regularly change during the course of every game… and Fast doesn’t contribute to scoring for this team under Quinn… so how about mentioning the fact that Fast has less than 7 minutes total of PP time-this year, or how about all the defensive zone starts he’s responsible for. You have a strange bias to Fast’s role on the team.

      In fact you have a peculiar style resemblance to a poster on this site that uses a different handle. Very curious, but I suspect you will deny that notion… vehemently.

      • If he’s not good enough to be on the power play then why is he playing with the first second and third lines?

  • It’s too easy to blame EVERYTHING on the Rangers’ D, for all the losses and for the fact, as MC mentioned above, that the Rangers are near the bottom of the league, as a team.

    Giant fans want to blame that whole mess on Eli, but lo and behold, the Giants led the division in pts, lost about 7 games by 3 pts or less, and was near the bottom of the league in sacks. In other words, if the D could make key defensive stops then the Giants would have been playoff bound (full disclosure, I believe Eli’s time is done but trying to make a point here).

    As for the Rangers, Hayes is having a career year, so is Kreider, so is Zib, and our bottom 6 is at least average if not better. And yet, the Rangers are at the bottom of the league in every offensive category, including the advanced stats. Why? BECAUSE THE FORWARDS ARE NOT THAT GOOD.

    There’s no Panarin here, no Tarasenko, etc. And those are 2nd tier stars, as opposed to McDavid, Crosby, Matthews, Ovi, etc. The Ranger forwards are 2nd line players, at best, on top NHL teams. And that’s why the Rangers need to either totally tear it down to get that franchise player in the draft, or, clear cap space to bring in the elite players that elevates the rest of the roster.

    Yes, the D is a mess, but if the forwards were a lot better, then, surprisingly, the D might even look decent. Having the puck is the best defense a team can have.

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