Thoughts on the draft, free agency, and Jesper Fast
As we head into the “last weekend of the summer,” hockey is still going strong. The Rangers have been paying attention, as this round has had direct impact on their draft. The Blueshirts are going to be looking to make quick upgrades to their roster as well. However those upgrades will need to fit into a the overall plan. Chief among these decisions will be a decision on Jesper Fast and his pending free agency. As per usual, I have some thoughts.
1. With the Vegas and Dallas wins last night, the Rangers now move into the 22-23 range with the Carolina pick. I know it doesn’t seem like much, moving from the 24th pick (yesterday) to possibly the 22nd pick, but it does have value. Most trade up scenarios are a few spots, so with the Rangers at #22, it gives them the ability to move into the top-20 picks. with minimal extra cost.
2. That said, I really can’t see the Rangers picking with that Carolina pick. The Blueshirts are going to use that capital to upgrade the roster. That pick comes with no cap hit in a flat cap era, thus holds more value this year. Teams will be looking to make these kinds of trades. As for the trade targets, targeting any team with a cap issue should be the priority. St. Louis and Vince Dunn should be #1 on that list.
3. An interesting tidbit about the draft: This will be the first draft in NHL history where the season *following* the draft year will have an impact on the draft. We could see a lot of draft ranks change as we get to October.
4. Jesper Fast heading to free agency is interesting. He is a solid player for the Rangers, we all love him. If he wants to stay with the Rangers, then great! However the Rangers cannot simply re-sign him just to keep him. Teams get into trouble by overpaying for bottom-six players. Fast at $4 million, his current projection on Evolving-Hockey, hamstrings the Rangers. You pay for talent. You let depth walk. If they make it work at a discount, then by all means go for it. Otherwise you wind up in a situation like the Islanders, who have $10 million committed to their fourth line. Now the Isles may not be able to re-sign Mat Barzal and Ryan Pulock.
5. If the Rangers do decide to avoid a Jesper Fast free agency war, then the wing depth is superb for the Rangers. Brendan Lemieux would join Fast on the 4th line (assuming Julien Gautheir is the 3RW). That’s the kind of fourth line that reminds you of Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle. The problem now is center depth, something we’ve beaten to death on this blog.
6. There are a lot of prospects playing overseas this year due to COVID. That’s not really a concern. Getting playing time is more important than waiting around for an AHL start date that may or may not happen. Lias Andersson has looked great in Sweden so far. Vitali Kravtsov looked strong in his first game in the KHL.Yegor Rykov and Tarmo Reunanen are also going to be playing overseas. Playing time means the most now.
7. Some food for thought. With all the young NHL talent on the roster today, which prospects are considered trade bait? I’d assume it’s the players that are at that NHL-ready cusp, but there is no spot for them right now. Lauri Pajuniemi maybe? Depending on how the Rangers address the LD needs, will that list include Reunanen and Rykov? What about Brett Howden and Libor Hajek? These are all low-cost pieces that can be used to upgrade pieces of need on the Rangers without directly impacting prospect depth.
8. Remember, the Rangers still have Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson, Karl Henriksson, and others from last year’s draft. They are all teenagers still. Drafting well has helped the Rangers keep the pipeline flowing while giving them flexibility to upgrade the current roster. Lucking into Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere helps too.
9. I would expect teams to begin making trades and maneuvering for the offseason shortly. Most of the draft order is set, and teams know what their offseason plans are. Could be a wild Fall.