For the Rangers to surprise this season, a lot of things need to go right for them. One of those things is continued development from young players and prospects. These guys not only need to develop, but need to begin hitting their ceilings. Part of that is being put in a position to succeed. The best coaches get the most out of their players but putting them in positions to succeed. Player usage has been a concern for the Rangers and David Quinn for some time, and it will need to change.
The Rangers do have a potent offense that could swing things in a shortened season. But many models have the Rangers around hockey-.500. Sean Tierney managed to get the Rangers there by modifying the lines and with top-heavy usage. The lines aren’t that far off from what we might see on opening night either. MoneyPuck is a little nicer, but not by much. It’s going to be about David Quinn and the proper player usage.
One of the many concerns last year was using Libor Hajek in a spot where he could not possibly succeed. He was put on the top pair with Jacob Trouba despite being woefully unprepared for the competition he would face. He struggled mightily before his injury, and spent the rest of the season in the AHL.
The same goes for Brett Howden, who was forced into an NHL role to help justify the returns of the Ryan McDonagh trade. Howden was one of the worst statistical forwards last year. He too belonged in the AHL. Ditto Kaapo Kakko, who was unfortunately paired with Howden for most of the season on the third line.
Kakko did massively improve in that quick August run, and there are signs that separating him from Howden will do wonders. There are some fundamental concerns that we’ve addressed, but getting him some actual NHL talent will put him in a position to succeed.
The same will go for Filip Chytil, Julien Gauthier, and Alexis Lafreniere. All three are young players that the Rangers are counting on to improve. There’s a chance those three wind up on a line together. That may actually be ideal, since they’d be a very skilled third line going up against weaker competition. But there’s also a chance all three wind up getting less than ideal linemates for extended periods of time.
*-Note: A short term benching/healthy scratch isn’t a big deal. It’s the longer stints where they can’t possibly succeed that are the concern.
With PP1 set, the focus with the man advantage will be on PP2’s ability to be effective. They won’t be nearly as dangerous, and that’s expected. Adding Lafreniere to Kakko, Chytil, and one of Adam Fox or Tony DeAngelo certainly goes a long way in that regard.
The penalty kill will likely improve structurally with Jacques Martin. But the personnel take a hit by losing Jesper Fast. Perhaps this means we get Pavel Buchnevich, who is much better defensively than people realize, on the powerplay. What we can’t see is more Brett Howden on the PK, because as noted, he’s not good in that role.
Rangers player usage is going to be on the forefront of everyone’s minds heading into the season. It’s a key component to any success the team might have this year. It’s also a key component in proper player development. David Quinn is here as a developmental head coach, so the eyes are on him. The status quo won’t cut it anymore.