The NY Rangers exceeded expectations this season. If you were told in August last year that this team were to make things interesting, and be three games out of the last wild card spot, you would have taken it. The Rangers rode their top six and right side defense with some timely goaltending to their play-in series loss. Lessons are learned from that loss, as the NY Rangers have some offseason needs to address.
Carolina exploited the Rangers lack of depth. That was going to be the issue with the Rangers this postseason. If the top-six didn’t score, the team wouldn’t win. That’s what happened. The top-six didn’t score, the Rangers only put up four goals in three games, and Carolina beat them up. There was a game plan, and Carolina stuck to it. They were a well disciplined team that took advantage of a young team with holes. Those holes are what keep the Rangers from being true contenders.
The Bottom Six
One injury to Jesper Fast changed everything for the Rangers. This forced Kaapo Kakko, who played very well, into a top-six role. In turn, that forced a combination of Julien Gauthier, Brendan Lemieux, and Brett Howden into roles that overwhelmed them. Gauthier is likely the best of the bunch and showed flashes of top-nine potential. Lemieux is likely a fourth liner at best. Howden doesn’t belong in the NHL.
The Rangers lacked the forward depth to compete with the Canes. If offense from the top-six dried up, then the Rangers were doomed. That’s what happened over four days in Toronto. Depth wins in the playoffs.
The Canes had Justin Williams, Jordan Staal, and Warren Foegele as their third line. The Rangers trotted out Filip Chytil on the wing. The Canes had Brock McGinn and Morgan Geekie on the fourth line. The Rangers had Greg McKegg. No matter which was you sliced it, the bottom-six always heavily favored the Canes.
If they are to take the next step, addressing the bottom-six is an offseason need for the NY Rangers. If the Blueshirts truly want to be contenders, then they need balanced scoring beyond their top-six. There is not a specific direction other than improving upon what they have today. Suffice it to say if Howden is the 3C next year, that won’t end well.
The Canes had a targeted approach to their series. The Rangers were strong on right defense, but borderline terrible on left defense. Forcing the left defense into quick puck moving decisions forced turnovers. This may not have always led to pucks in the back of the net, but it led to limited time in the offensive zone. The strategy worked. It played a major role in keeping the Rangers’ top-six at bay.
The left defense hole has been widely known for some time. It became even more of an issue at the trade deadline with Brady Skjei going to Carolina. K’Andre Miller is certainly going to be a welcome addition, and may already be the best left defenseman on the roster. But the Rangers need more than just him and an overachieving rookie in Ryan Lindgren.
Lindgren was by far the best Rangers defenseman this postseason, which is great for him and his development. However if he is the best defenseman, that’s a problem. If the Rangers are going to be deep enough to win, then Lindgren needs to be, at the very least, the 2nd best left defenseman on the roster. Preferably the 3LD. Depth wins.
Not A Quick Fix
Before COVID-19 threw everything out the window, we were projecting the Rangers to be true contenders in the 2022-2023 season. This was in part due to the contract coming off the books next season, but mostly due to the development time of key prospects.
Kaapo Kakko will need to develop into that top line winger we know he can be. Adam Fox will eventually need to assume 1RD control from Jacob Trouba. K’Andre Miller will need more than one AHL/NHL call up season to be ready for that role. Nils Lundkvist will need to come to the NHL and hit his potential. Morgan Barron will need to hit his potential.
There’s a lot that can still go wrong for the Rangers. But there’s a lot that can still go right. The best first step for the NY Rangers is addressing these offeseason needs. The depth of this club needs to be worked on. It’s not one or two pieces. It’s multiple.
They are trending in the right direction. However the NY Rangers offseason needs are clearly in the bottom half of their lineup. Depth matters. Depth wins. And depth needs to be addressed.