For the Rangers, the offseason is in full swing. They’ve already made significant moves, trading for and then signing Adam Fox, followed by signing top prospects Igor Shestyorkin and Vitali Kravtsov. While it is expected that Shestyorkin will get the majority of the starts in the AHL while adjusting to the North American game, both Fox and Kravstov fill immediate roster needs and have the potential to crack the roster outright.
Fox and Kravtsov fill holes, but only if they come as advertised and have no growing pains. Suffice it to say, that isn’t going to happen. Both will have to adjust and both will have to grow. If the Rangers are truly to compete next year, or at least be fun, they are going to need to fill some of the holes on the roster.
The second line center
The most glaring hole is the second line center. If Mika Zibanejad is entrenched as the 1C –and assuming the Devils take Jack Hughes– then the Rangers are without a guaranteed 2C option. Filip Chytil, if he remains at center, is the likely candidate, but he’s going on his second pro year and is certainly no guarantee. If growth and easing a player into the lineup is important, I can see him getting either 2LW minutes or 3C minutes. Ditto Lias Andersson, although he comes with less offensive upside than Chytil.
Aside from those two, the options aren’t pretty. Ryan Strome’s 20% shooting rate is likely going to plummet next season, and while he is a nice complementary player, I can’t imagine him succeeding in a 2C role. Expecting him to survive in that role is comparable to expecting David Desharnais to survive as a 3C.
Brett Howden struggled so much to the point of being the worst statistical forward on the team. He needs sheltered minutes to get adjusted and work on his game away from the puck. The 2C role doesn’t do that for him.
Those are the in house options for the 2C spot, and Chytil is clearly the best choice of that group. If the goal is trial by fire, and also to give him legitimate linemates, then it might work.
The fourth line center
If you’re assuming Chytil is the 2C and Andersson is the 3C, then you’re getting Strome on the wing. That leaves your 4C options as Howden or Boo Nieves. both struggled mightily, as we mentioned in their report cards. Neither is a good option for center, and there’s a very good case, at least for Howden, to shift to the wing.
Unless Connor Brickley is a real option, then the only other options are Vinni Lettieri (RFA) and Gabriel Fontaine. Fontaine seems like he could crack the roster after a relatively decent year in Hartford.
Perhaps Nieves is given the 4C role in his contract year, as a “show me” start to the season. The fourth line doesn’t get that much playing time, and ideally you don’t waste Howden there the whole year.
The entire blue line
Keep Brady Skjei, Tony DeAngelo, and Libor Hajek. As Rob noted, find a way to get rid of Marc Staal and Brendan Smith, with the former being the bigger priority. I’m good with keeping Kevin Shattenkirk, but if there’s a good deal to be made then I have no problem with it. Like it or not, Neal Pionk is staying.
That blue line instills no fear into anyone, even when you add Fox to it. Ryan Lindgren had skating issues when he was up for his quick stint. That’s….about it for in house options. Maybe Joey Keane cracks the roster? Highly unlikely.
Bonus: Backup goalie
If the Rangers get a good deal for Alex Georgiev and send him packing at the draft, then they will need a backup goalie. Shesty is not going to be the backup right away, as it’s more important to get him consistent time in the AHL. Backups are a dime a dozen though, and Benoit Allaire can find anyone and make them passable.