NY Rangers Midseason Grades: The Top Six Forwards

The season is already halfway done - let that sink in

It’s amazing to say this, but the 2019-2020 NHL season is already halfway through. The Rangers sit around where we expected them to be, pretty far out of the playoffs with an explosive offense, optional defense, and goaltending that does what it can do. The explosive offense and solid goaltending keeps them competitive most nights, but the inability to limit quality and quantity against hinders their ability to be a consistently good team.

There’s a lot to unpack with the top-six, but they’ve more or less carried the team. The top-six has consistently included Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, and Mika Zibanejad. The sixth forward has rotated between Jesper Fast and Filip Chytil, with Fast getting ore time recently. So let’s keep him in the top six for the sake of this post. Deal? Deal.

Artemi Panarin

The lone All Star (so far), Panarin has been everything that has been advertised. Panarin leads the team with 22-33-55 in 41 games and he makes this offense tick. Not only is he producing points, but he’s making others significantly better. That’s what you want from your $11 million player. He’s producing points, driving play, and making his teammates better. Grade: A+.

Ryan Strome

This is going to be the controversial grade. Strome has been nothing short of a steal for the Rangers since they swapped Ryan Spooner for him. This season Strome has not only been close to a point per game at 11-26-37, but his metrics have been significantly better than last season. It’s really hard to argue with the success he’s had this year, even if you question his long-term future with the team and his production without Panarin. You have to just hand it to the guy, as his shooting percentage has dropped but he’s kept producing points. Not much else to say here. Grade: A.

Chris Kreider

Kreider is an interesting litmus test for the Rangers and their plans for the future. Kreider is still the Blueshirts’ best net-front presence, and he’s still a matchup nightmare with his speed/strength. He’s also very streaky, but when he’s on, he’s on. He’s sporting a 12-14-26 line in 46 games, so he’s in line with his career averages too. Kreider is what he is at this point – a 20-goal, 50-point winger. Much like Strome, regardless of where you think his future lies, he’s been what you expect thus far. He hasn’t exceeded expectations, but it’s fair to say he’s met them. Grade: B.

Pavel Buchnevich

Buchnevich is another streaky player, but unlike Kreider we simply don’t know what to expect from him as far as points go. He’s had a huge scoring drought lately, which a lot of folks are pointing to his streakiness as the root cause. However Buchnevich is still doing the little things right while he’s a little snake bitten. I think that’s an important point to note here, as we want to see improvements away from the puck when the puck just isn’t going in the net. Buchnevich has shown significant improvement there, and if the puck ever starts going in while he’s on the ice, we should see the points start to come back. Grade: B.

Mika Zibanejad

The other forward at over a point-per-game, Zibanejad has a line of 16-15-31 in 28 games this season. He’s been the 1C the Rangers have sorely needed all year, and he has basically clicked with whatever wingers he’s been given. Lately he’s been reunited with Kreider and Buchnevich, and the underlying possession/expected-goals numbers are there. Zibanejad is a huge driver on that line. He really rounds out this top-six. Grade: A.

Jesper Fast

As mentioned above, Fast has been a top-six forward this year more often than not, so he’s the safe bet to include here. Fast is the Blueshirts’ utility man, doing everything the club asks of him. That said, he’s not a top-six forward, with a line of 6-8-14 in 41 games. Yes that has a lot of bottom-six time in it as well. Fast’s inclusion here highlights the need for a true top-six winger. As a top-six winger, he doesn’t fit the bill. I’m having trouble grading him – do I grade him on his top-six performance? Or his overall performance? Since this is a top-six post, I think I need to grade him as such. It lowers his grade as a top-six, but that doesn’t mean his overall season performance is bad. He’s still the top defensive forward on this team. Top-six Grade: C. Overall Grade: B+.

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  • The grades are fair, but not on the money.
    Bread, Zib, Strome, Kreider are pretty much what they should be. Buch isn’t rated properly, and to a certain extent it’s on DQ. The kid has been on the first line, second line, third line, and depending on how the coach feels today, the fourth line. That should stop now, but it’s in Quinn’s DNA, he has to jerk people around, makes him feel better to do so. Fast should be on the fourth line period. I like his game, gives all he has, but he has hands of stone, and should be a checker, maybe on occasion skate on the third line. What I’d like to see after the trade dead-line is giving the Kratsov kid a shot on the top six, and then decide what really needs to be drafted this year.

    • Buch hasn’t been playing inconsistently because he”s been “jerked around”. He gets moved around because his play has been inconsistent.

  • Strome’s underlying stats, with and without Panarin tell the story.

    Fast should be no where near Panarin (Fast cannot accumulate pts even with Panarin on his line), Kakko and Chytil should be (I thought this year was about development, ha-ha).

    Otherwise, yep.

    • Well…management stated this was a accelerated rebuild after signing Panarin…n trading for Trouba …so playoffs were the goal, now, second half of season will be more development, especially after trade deadline.

  • Wow with these grades you’d think we’re in 1st place?… Any of these guys back check? Any of these forwards play w a smart? Can hold on to the puck or better yet defensive responsibility.. the grade on Buch I simply do not understand? He’s been invisible..

  • We need to downgrade each person on this list. We are not a playoff team and should not be delusional to the extent that our top 6 match up with most other top 6’s in the league. Krieder and Buch should be graded a “C” at best. Judge by their points, not their names or potential.

    The last 5 games have shown our mettle, which is little or non-existent. These are games that playoff bound teams win. We are not as competitive in these games as we need to be. We also need to finish and win more of these.

    • We are not a playoff off team because of our Defense. That should not take away from positive ratings for most. I would downgrade Kreider a notch based on first 1/4 of season but has come back strong of late. As much as I love the guy, I can’t take seriously Fast as a Top 6 forward. When Fast is an anchor on our 4th line, that’s when I know we are where this team needs to be from a roster perspective.

      • Joe from Newburg would argue that DQ treats Buch very well, based on his post above. What a joke on both their part!!!!!!!!

        • It’s odd then that Buchnevich’s play improved drastically last year after Quinn sat him in the press box to watch a few games, and talked to him personally about what he needed to do to play better. Buch himself admitted that it had helped, and he understood why it was done. This year, he’s still playing better than he did at the beginning of last year (in particular, he’s using his body much better and exerting his physicality), but he’s had some stretches where he starts to slide back to his old habits, and so he gets moved down a line or two to remind him of how he needs to play.

          • Which causes him to play worse. That’s DQ playing mind games with the guy!!!!!! Buch should never be on the fourth line period. Sit him out for the game, but never put him on the 4th line………..Stupid games played by this coach!!!!!!

  • Panarin deserves his A+ … and Zib deserves his A …. but I think the two of them skew the grades for everyone else that they play with … so Strome should probably get a B to B+ at best. Kreider a B-, same grade for Pavel (although I still think he gets treated poorly by DQ at times) … plus despite my support for Fast, as a Top 6 forward I would have to grade him as a D to C- because let’s face it, despite his excellent defensive play he just isn’t an AVERAGE Top 6 forward.

  • I pretty much agree with the grades, though I might give Buchevich a B- because I think he is capable of being better. Jesper Fast is a nice player, on a fourth line and occasionally the third. Sure, you can put him anywhere for a game if necessary and he will give his all. But, he simply doesn’t have the hands to be on lines that are expected to produce the majority of the team’s points. It is not possible to grade him fairly because he is not being deployed properly.

  • I would give CK a “C”, he only has 26 points in 41 games, on a team routinely scored 4,5 goals a game, and I would give Buchnevich a “D”, he only has 23 points, 1 more point than the rookie D man Adam Fox, Buchnevich is horrible in the first half of the season.

  • You can grade a player by two things,
    First how good or balanced over-all a player he is. Defensively, penalty killing, skating ability, skill, offence,
    Second, if he really excels in one area way above the rest.

    I can’t agree with the ratings for Bush and Fast.
    Bush is average as an NHL player in almost every category. That in my book is a C or maybe a C+ (only because he does have some skill)
    Fast is a good skater, has speed and ability to get to the puck, can be good defensive, but severely lacks skill and offensive ability and in all reality, belongs on the 4th line for a good team.. B+ is stretching it. C+ seems more like it in the role he is playing right now.

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