Thoughts on Jesse Puljujarvi, struggling rookies, and improving the team without making moves

It was a busy news week for the NY Rangers

The Rangers have had an interesting week. For only two games played thus far, there’s been a ton of chatter about how this team really can be better, and it shouldn’t take much maneuvering. As per usual, I have some thoughts.

1. The first item is that the Rangers and Oilers were apparently close on a Jesse Puljujarvi/Lias Andersson swap. Puljujarvi likely would have signed with the Rangers and played this year. I’m not usually a big fan of giving up on someone like Lias, but in a Puljujarvi swap I’d do it. Edmonton wanted more than just Lias though, and rightfully so. Straight up value is tilted towards Puljujarvi, who is more offensively gifted and just wasn’t used properly in Edmonton. We don’t know what the organization’s concerns with Lias are, but it’s clear they are ready to cut bait.

2. The Rangers are actually pretty thin at wing, especially if you consider the pending departure of Chris Kreider. They have Artemi Panarin, Pavel Buchnevich, and Kaapo Kakko. That’s really it. Vitali Kravtsov is coming over, but Puljujarvi would help fill out that top nine. The emergence of Brendan Lemieux as a viable top-nine winger would give the Blueshirts the top-nine depth they need to complement Mika Zibanejad and Filip Chytil as their eventual 1-2 punch down the middle.

3. The only concern I have with the organization’s willingness to move on from Lias is that it means they either buy in on Brett Howden being a top-nine center (he isn’t yet) or are enamoured by Ryan Strome’s first 90 games with the Rangers (24-33-57) despite his massive shooting percentage that is in the middle of a regression. He’s had great numbers and looks good with Panarin, plus there’s evidence that shows this year is much improved as long as he’s with Panarin.

4. Speaking of Howden, who unsurprisingly looks worse when on a fourth line with a defenseman and Micheal Haley, he’s not the only struggling rookie who needs to have his deployment revisited. Libor Hajek has been just as bad, and for some reason this coaching staff continues to trot him out there in a top-four role. The same way Chytil may have needed a confidence boost in Hartford applies to both Howden and Hajek. They were the key pieces of the Ryan McDonagh trade, and long-term value is more importance than short-term “we get them for our best player and now need to play them.”

5. Which brings me to improving this team without making big moves. This is all on the coaching staff at this point, since there’s some low-hanging fruit here. The first and most obvious is to make a fourth line that matters. If you want Howden there, so be it. Maybe put him on the wing with Boo Nieves and Greg McKegg? It won’t light up offensively, but at least it’s better than two minutes a night. It’s a line that can avoid the 1-2-3-1-2-3-4 rotation that David Quinn has been using. That saves legs for stretches like this.

6. Another easy move: Stop galaxy braining Brendan Smith as a forward. The minute Hajek went down, he should have been moved back to where he belongs. He’s the second (or third, depending on how you view Ryan Lindgren) best left-handed defenseman on the roster right now. With a fourth line established, you can improve the blue line markedly with just sliding Smith in for Hajek (sending Hajek down temporarily) and keeping Staal as the 7D. It’s time to move on from Staal and, at the very least, build up some trade value for Smith for when the Rangers deal him to Ottawa after his July 1, 2020 bonus is paid (Sens get a $4.35 million cap hit for $2.35 million in actual dollars – we all know that’s happening).

7. That’s it. Those are the moves. So simple. No galaxy braining required.

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  • Can we stop bashing the dude and just accept that Strome has turned a corner on his career and is actually a solid NHL player?

    • Why do that? It would mean that every blogger whose repeated the same hyperbole over and over again would have to admit they’re wrong. That includes Strome, Howden, Smith, etc. Much easier to stay the course than admit they made a mistake. Simply put it’s the reason they are bloggers and not hockey coaches nor executives. Monday morning quarterbacks who sit behind a desk as a keyboard warrior!

      • How does Howden and Smith make your list of bloggers getting it wrong? Howden isn’t good. That’s just fact that the eye test, advanced stats and counting stats will all tell you. And Smith has been a disappointment after he signed his new deal. He’s a 4th line winger now for God’s sake.
        Also, GMs and coaches are just as fallible when it comes to not admitting mistakes, especially in the NHL. Happens all the time.

    • I agree — and I was one of those people that suggested Strome’s shooting % last year was bound to come down hard. I wouldn’t pay him Top 6 money next season, but he’s definitely earning his salary+ and has rediscovered his game. If Strome is smart he’ll hitch his wagon to Quinn (for the next couple of years) because clearly there’s some sort of kismet between the two of them.

      • $$$… there lies the problem. Strome is going to want a raise over the $3.1 mil he now makes. Sorry, but I’m saying no to a 4 year $20 million contract he may command. If he’ll accept 3 years $12 million its a maybe. I’d rather see him traded for a decent return.

        • Ding ding ding. As with a few other UFA/RFAs on this roster, his next contract will likely be an overpay. He’s great when with Panarin and just another guy when with anyone else. Any long term deal for Strome would mean commiting to that combo. That means committing to Strome as a 1C, and the Rangers can do better there. Zib/Chytil project to be better going forward (Zib is already better and Chytil is on his way).

    • Takes too many stick penalties, IMO. And is in a cold spell right now. He seems to run hot and cold a lot.

    • Strome is definitely a solid NHL player. He should be centering a third line with Lemieux and Fast on the wings. No way does he belong on the first or second lines.

  • First – Can we agree that Lias is a Bust? A team that has an unusable asset wont even make a trade for him. As the 7th pick of a deep draft, it was a crappy choice.
    Second – They do need to make moves. Krieder and Smith need to go. Get more picks, bring up Lettieri, I do not care but it is time to cut bait with both of them. Not so sure Kraftsov has the mental maturity to play in the NHL
    Lastly – Since Boo is headed back to the AHL, we can safely assume he will never be on a DQ roster again barring catastrophic injury. so how about we package him or Lias with SOMEBODY for a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Boo and Lias will be career minor leaguers.
    Post Lastly – The defense will never be even adequate until Lindy sees his last day behind the bench.

    • I wouldn’t agree the Lias is a bust no more then I agree that Howden is . The NHL is tough it takes time for a young hockey player to make that jump.

  • I know Howden isn’t the greatest, but he has looked pretty good at times despite your number counting.

    Not sure what your issue is with Lindgren but I guess it’s diminished some this year, now you just make little snarky comments as opposed to last season when you raked him over the coals. 😉

    HH – Hajek hate … the kid is close. One good summer of S&C is all he needs now.

    Would love to know the “more” in a Puljujarvi trade for Andersson — I think a 3rd round pick tacked on would be appropriate compensation. It’s a change of scenery trade in my mind, more so than a Lias is a bust trade. I haven’t seen any evidence that Quinn has confidence in Andersson and playing him less than 10 minutes a game on the 4th line with a defenseman and a fighter is mismanagement in my opinion.

  • 1. I would have added a late round draft pick from our side to make that trade. I would not completely rule out a trade for Puljujarvi this year. He can’t play until next year, but it sounds like he is willing to sign with The Rangers. No reason to not acquire him at the deadline. Especially if Edmonton remains in the play off hunt and the price is right. I could also seeing a bigger trade with Edmonton. Georgiev and/or Kreider, and/or ADA (I am not on board with trading ADA, but if they are going to trade him Edmonton would be a place that makes sense) (Strome is not going back to Edmonton)

    2. Agree. This years draft can help solve that problem. I’d be happy to see us use or higher draft pick(s) for forwards this year.

    3. I am concerned they are buying into Strome on a longer term basis. Trade Strome while his value is high. There’s good center depth in the draft.

    4. Howden looks lost most nights. I hate to say it. But agree he could use a stint in Hartford along with Hajek.

    5. On this one we’ve all said it, fire Ruff and set up a defensive structure that works. The best way to improve from within. That said I agree with your point about improving the 4th line. Howden, Andersson(they do seem ready to move on) and McKegg would be an improvement as well.

    6. Smith will certainly be easier to move after the bonus payment. And only a year left on his deal. He’ll be fine in Ottawa

  • 1. Agree that Puljujarvi would be a great move. His upside is so much higher than LA’s. Too bad Holland is running the show there now. He’s hoping to hit a home run if Jesse continues to shine in Finland. Not likely that Puljujarvi’s interest is like Fox’s (only have eyes for Blueshirts) so we will probably have stiff competition during the summer. Or maybe Holland just isn’t interested in Lias.
    2. Agree – our depth at wing is thin so the trade would make sense from that perspective as well.
    3. 90 games is a large sample size; please get off the “trade Strome; revert to mean” bandwagon. Just admit you were wrong about him; it will only hurt for a second. He is a talented 26 year old who will not cost that much to resign. He likes it here; 3.5/4 million for a good 2/3C should work for all.
    4. Agree about Hajek and Howden. They both would probably be better served in Hartford, but the Rangers may be trying to justify the McDonagh trade. Of course they are so thin at LHD that I can see trying to develop Hajek here but it’s not working and he is not close as they keep saying. Similarly, with the Lias flame-out Howden should at least be an adequate 4C but that remains to be seen. I see Lias has gone 3 games without a point after his good start in Hartford; maybe he needs to go even one rung lower to shine. Or maybe he has not been provided the best wingers available so he is still not responsible for being ineffective.
    5. The 4th line failure is a big issue. We have yet to find an effective one and it would help immeasurably if we had one.
    6. Smith has been our most effective 4th liner (not saying much) and he is better than the other choices for LHD PK dman so you at least have to give the coaching staff credit for coming up with that out of the box concept. For all Lindgren’s grittiness and getting the most out of his ability his advanced stats are pretty bad; he’s being held up by Fox, who statistically plays more effectively when with the other dmen. Agree though that if Hajek is hurt they would be better served playing Smith at LHD than Staal at this point.

  • 1. Notice how much better Edmonton is without Puljujarvi. There are lots of talented guys who don’t pan out – we don’t need more.

    This comment is not an indictment of specific players. The NHL is littered with players with the talent of Hajek, Howden, Andersson who simply don’t amount to much. The Rangers have a myriad of players at this level and some of them are going to make it and some of them are not. You just make the most of who you have and move on from those who don’t measure up. I don’t see any great competition between Howden and Andersson at this point. The Rangers just hope one is worth something – if lucky both. At the moment, I think Howden is playing simply because the Rangers don’t have a better option. Plain and simple, the Rangers lack forward depth.

    4. If you have a defense pair (Hajek-DeAngelo) where one guy is great and one is awful, maybe you aren’t understanding. Yes, it is certainly possible that you can have a defense pair where one guy is good and the other is not. But it is also possible that you can have a pair where one guy doesn’t hit, doesn’t block shots, doesn’t have takeaways, just plays offense and his partner is handed an impossible assignment.

    6. There is a strong argument that the best fourth line is one that doesn’t play. Tortorella basically believed that, though other good coaches do not. The argument is even better if you don’t have good fourth line players. Guys like Anderson and Howden are not high end talents. You should not be struggling to find ways to get them more playing time so that they develop more quickly.

    • Ray, the problem with your no fourth line argument, IMHO, is that it wears out the 3 lines and makes it difficult to have a long Cup run. That is exactly what happened in the conference finals when the Torts Rangers lost to the Devils about 8 seasons ago. Torts went with 3 lines and the Rangers were clearly gassed. Might have cost us the Cup. I think even Torts has concluded that it was a mistake.

      I think its a silly to say that Edmonton is playing better because they don’t have Puljujarvi. He was just a teenage prospect trying to make it, not a difference maker yet. But I recall seeing him play 2 seasons ago and his skill set blew me away even then. The fact that he is scoring a PPG in a pretty high level league at his age makes me think he still has a high upside, certainly relative to Lias and his pedestrian skill set. Many prospects have benefited from a change of scenery and succeeded.

  • I might’ve traded Lias and maybe Keane, granted it could be an overpay but considering the prospect depth on defense and the dearth of young forwards in the pipeline I probably would have done that. Plus the bonus is Kappo gets a fellow Finn as a teammate.

    • Frank

      I also have advocated for a Finn to play with Kakko, if for no reason it gives him someone to run around with, who speaks his language. A slight over pay isn’t the end of the world!!!!!!!!!

  • Does howden look lost and clumsy a lot ? Yes. However he does things right now in the nhl that lias for example doesn’t… exhibit A the panarin gwg. Yet it would kill these bloggers to acknowledge these plays/moments .

  • Unrelated note: This may simply be a coach trying to make something sound nice, but a comment by Hartford coach Knoblauch seems appalling.

    Knoblauch said (source ““The way (Jeff Taylor) is playing, there is no way we’re going to send him back. Sean is a good defenseman. He’ll be back. He was helpful when he was here, and we want to make sure he gets his minutes (in Maine),” Knoblauch said flatly.”

    This was an explanation of sending Sean Day to Maine. Last week, Hartford had seven defensemen – two prospects (Keane and Day), two other Ranger signees, and three Hartford signees. They needed to jettison one player to make room for Rykov. I don’t understand any reality where you don’t play the actual prospects at the correct level. Fine if you think Day belongs in Maine, but actually pushing him aside in a numbers game is absurd. I don’t care if Mason Geertsen and Jeff Taylor are better – they don’t matter.

  • Anyone who thinks Chytil has what it takes to get his name on the Stanley Cup is going to be very disappointed. And the Rangers have got to stop thinking that Lemieux has what it takes to be the next Adam Graves, he’s a 4th line winger, end of story.

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