The Rangers and David Quinn finalized their roster for the October 3 opener against Winnipeg, and suffice it to say there was some controversy regarding the decisions. Regardless of who made the cut for this Thursday, we know the roster is a fluid situation, but as per usual I have some thoughts. There’s nothing alarming either.
1. Let’s go player by player, starting with Ryan Strome. Strome solidified the 2C spot about halfway through the preseason when he was lined up with Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko for a game, and then that trio stuck for the rest of the preseason. Strome getting the 2C spot isn’t a surprise to me or anyone, since the competition was really between him and Filip Chytil for that spot. Chytil struggled, and Strome got it by default. I will be absolutely stunned if he remains there all year, and it will be a sign of development problems for Chytil if he does.
2. Transitioning to Chytil, that 2C spot was likely his to lose to start preseason, and lost it he did. It’s not that he had a terrible camp, it just wasn’t good enough to warrant a 2C spot. There’s a valid argument that he will learn more playing with Kreider and Kakko, but the counterpoint is that he will also learn playing top line minutes in Hartford. Once Lias Andersson solidified himself as the 3C with an excellent preseason, the writing was on the wall. He will be back up before the end of the 2019 calendar year, if not sooner. Remember, the schedule played a role.
3. On to Andersson, he had the strongest preseason of the kids (and Strome). He worked his butt off this summer, focusing on his skating, and it paid off. He may not be a prolific point scorer, which is viewed as a disappointment by many for a seventh overall pick, but he’s likely going to hit that middle-six, two-way center floor most had him pegged for. His ceiling is still the 2C spot, and he’s a dark horse for that role. He outplayed Brett Howden by miles, and has already earned his spot on the to penalty killing unit.
4. Now to Howden, his struggles away from the puck continued, and that’s why he was barely given a game for a top-nine spot. He slots in as the 4C, or at least he should since Andersson, as mentioned, Andersson skated circles around him in the preseason. Of all the roster decisions that matter going forward, Howden’s usage is the one I am keeping an eye on, especially when compared to Lias. Howden had that flash last season, but has been terrible since. The only way to go is up for him, and 4C minutes is a good way to transition him into a full time NHLer. Hopefully.
5. With Andersson, Strome, Vlad Namestnikov, and Brendan Lemieux seemingly playing top-nine roles, the roster was getting crowded for skilled guys like Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov. The issue is that the Rangers want to ensure they get their minutes, and fourth line minutes in the NHL for two potential offensive dynamos won’t cut it. This is why both were “surprise cuts” from camp. They simply need ice time.
6. The battle for the 12/13F spots was an interesting one. It was a three way battle between Micheal Haley, Boo Nieves, and Greg McKegg. In the end, Nieves was waived and Haley earned his spot as the 13F. McKegg had an excellent camp and is going in as the 12F. For me, the difference between Haley and Nieves is negligible, and the cap situation is a wash for both. Haley’s spot as the 13F had no impact on Chytil, Kravtsov, or others being cut. Only Nieves. I don’t really think Haley is a positive asset on the ice, but this isn’t the move I lose sleep over.
7. The blue line played out almost exactly as everyone predicted, with the final spot coming down to Brendan Smith vs. Ryan Lindgren. Since the cap situation was again going to be close to a wash with Smith or Lindgren, it came down to development. Smith is best served as a 7D or 13/14F, and can take that role without sacrificing Lindgren’s development time. It also helps that Smith can play both defense and forward, giving the Rangers options.
8. A lot of discussion was made about the schedule and how the Rangers can increase their cap accumulations by keeping 20 players on the roster on non-game days. That would require paperwork transactions in sending down (most likely) Andersson and Adam Fox. While that isn’t happening leading up to the October 3 opener, the Rangers may still do this with one player, knocking the roster down to 20 in those off days. I’m unsure what the implications of this are, in regards to players practicing at the NHL level vs. the AHL level, though.
9. I’d be remiss not to mention the culture and old time hockey notion that your top three lines need to be skill lines while your fourth line needs to be a grinding, shut down line. Hockey is shifting away from this, and it will be the counterpoint to all these decisions to keep Haley and send down Chytil/Kravtsov. However the ice time piece still comes into play here. You win by playing your best players, so you want to play your top-six as much as possible. If the organization doesn’t have the skill depth of players like McKegg to round out the bottom line, then you wind up with this Haley situation. This is a rebuild. I’m not overly concerned with this right now. However if the same decisions are made when the Rangers are competing for a Cup, then yes I will be concerned."Thoughts following the Rangers' final roster cuts",