State of the Rangers

For Rangers to win, the bad needs to not be that bad

The NY Rangers have a lot of talent. They have three elite level players in Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Adam Fox. They have elite potential in Alexis Lafreniere and possibly Igor Shesterkin. There is no denying that the top of the Rangers lineup is up there with the best. But you’re only as good as your weakest link. And the worst on the Rangers are some of the worst in the entire NHL.

This presents a problem for the Rangers. We’ve seen elite players carry teams to the promised land, but those teams didn’t have the anchors the Rangers have. We know who the worst of the worst are, and those players are going to have to at least tread water and not be *as* bad as they usually are.

Limiting Ice Time

The best way to ensure the worst can’t hold you back are simply not playing them. The four biggest offenders last season were Jack Johnson, Kaapo Kakko, and Brett Howden. The Rangers aren’t going to simply give up on the kids, so they are going to have to be better. Putting them in a position to succeed is important, and that might mean sheltering them.

The good news is that Kakko already showed signs of life in August. Kakko was notably better, and perhaps one of the better Rangers forwards in that short sweep. There’s a good argument to be made that he simply didn’t belong in the NHL last year. That’s fine. Now he needs to not be as bad while playing with Panarin.

As for Howden, well this might be a make-or-break season. He’s already penciled in for the 4C role, down two lines from last season. There’s little confidence in Howden, but he can only get better at this point. Perhaps the fourth line is the best spot for him in sheltered offensive zone opportunities.

Simply Not Play Them

When it comes to Jack Johnson, the Rangers are best off not playing him. There was hope when the Rangers traded Marc Staal. Then they pulled a Rangers and signed one of the only defensemen in the league worse than him.

The good news is that Johnson may be a taxi squad guy. The Rangers have a bunch of defensemen in camp, and all are better than him. The question isn’t about who’s better, but whether or not some kids are ready to take the next step.

Libor Hajek, K’Andre Miller, and Tarmo Reunanen are the names to watch. Hajek was miscast on the top pair last year, but he didn’t really have a strong loan in Extraliga. He might already be on the outside looking in. Expect one of Miller or Reunanen to break camp, which might push Johnson out of the lineup.

On a related note, Brendan Smith is ok as the 3RD. He will be fine in that role.

Other Areas Need Improvement

For the Rangers to limit ice time –or remove it completely– for their bad players, then other players need to continue to step up. This applies more to the middle of the lineup. Players like Filip Chytil and Ryan Lindgren need to continue to improve. They are two youthful NY Rangers with talent that should take the next step. Otherwise, we may see their ice time taken by Howden and Johnson.

It’s not just Chytil and Lindgren. Brendan Lemieux needs to add to his ability to draw penalties. He has the potential to be a Sean Avery-lite, but he needs more consistent offensive consistency. He is a solid net-front presence, so there is some room for more production from him.

The Rangers also need to get lucky with Julien Gauthier. He’s got the skill and moves pretty well, but he hasn’t put it all together yet. Gauthier is penciled in as the 3RW, but he will get competition from Howden and perhaps Morgan Barron (who was on the RW at practice the other day).

The NY Rangers are loaded with talent at the top of their lineup. But the saying goes: You’re only as strong as your weakest link. The weakest links on the Rangers are notably bad. For them to be successful, the weakest links need to be better.

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  • agree with your general premise. However, The fans many not have confidence in Howden, but the team appears to have confidence in him.

    Regarding the battle between Miller and Reunanen. Based on what I have read from training camp, Miller appears to be forcing his way into the conversation (which I like) but I have yet to read anything about Reunanen. Which leads me to believe there is no battle between these 2. Ditto for Hajek. I think the battle for 3LD is really with Miller and Johnson.

    As for Johnson taking time from Lindgren…seriously? If that happens something has gone terribly wrong.

    • One other often over looked point is Trouba needs to be better. He wasn’t bad, but he needs to be better if this team is going to make the play offs.

    • Obviously most of this was written before camp, as Reunanen has had one practice on the left side and the rest of the time has been bottom pair on his off hand. Hartford is his destination, and he’ll be assigned likely by Monday.

      Even from today’s practice they’re looking at Johnson with ADA to see if there’s a run of injuries can Johnson keep up/can ADA cover up JJ’s issues.

      I’m expecting a Miller/Bitetto rotation in the 3rd pair, especially on B2B games. Johnson taxi squad, as his pension is already fully qualified.

      • In today’s scrimmage Reunanen is 2nd pair on the left side paired with Bitetto, going against the offensively deeper side of Panarin/Strome Kakko & Laf/Chytil/Goat.

        Hajek in the same role for the B team, last chance to make an impression for both.

  • Some very good points made and there is no denying this team has talent. We need stronger performances from Kakko, Chytil, Gautier, and Howden. The Dmen also need to play stronger D, hold the line, and guard the crease better. As to what to expect from this team who knows? I predict a winning season but no playoffs.

  • Chytil made good progress last year, but needs to be stronger on the puck, and figure out how to win face offs. As for the D, Miller looks like he’s realizing his potential, but it will come with time, as long as he isn’t force fed

  • To me:

    KZB
    Panarin-Strome-Kakko
    Lafren-Chytil-Gaut
    Lemiuex-Rooney-Howden

    ADA-Trouba
    Lindgren-Fox
    Miller-Smith

    Should be the line up. Howden is going to play, get used to it, so might as well put him on the wing where he will do less damage there, as opposed to center. Rooney is capable there.

    I wonder if the Rangers do a “do over” with Johnson, knowing what they know now. And that’s why they were way too quick to sign this guy. especially if he ends up being taxi squad fodder. No reason to have done this, IMO.

    • Disagree, in case you forgot, we are in the middle of a pandemic. That could play a big role in all this.

      • You mean signing JJ? There were/are plenty of vet D men out their that could fill the role there.

        They did not have to spend $1M for JJ. They could get a guy like Claesson for $700K, who is a better D man on top of it.

    • He’s like a $100k cap hit on the taxi squad. He would actually make more money there as he wouldn’t kick in to escrow.

      Break. Glass. In. Case. Of. Emergency.

          • Not terrible.

            But I would be surprised for the Rangers to sign him and then sit him, the way they went on and on about how important he will be to the team.

  • Good article, To strengthen our weakness we need to trade from our strong areas ie: Wing and defensemen to obtain a good center. This team is doing a great job with the rebuild but now it’s time to make a few smart trades to shore up our weak areas.

  • Agree with most comments. My observations. By the end of the season, Smith is likely traded, Gautier needs time on the 3rd line to see if he can score. If not, that was a waste of a trade. Howden also needs scorers around him, but no room for both. Howden or Gautier could get traded or 1 of them exposed in expansion draft. Miller makes the team. Morgan Barron is likely 1 year away or at least needing some AHL time. DeAngelo (with Strome) could be part of a trade for a 2nd line center. Rangers need to hire Messier to teach these guys how to win face-offs. Rangers need to play harder as a team.

  • To me this is just another glass half empty review. Dave, I thought you were in favor of this rebuild? Since we are throwing around bad metaphors, I have another. It’s more of a glass half-full kind.

    A rising tide lifts all boats! The New York Rangers are a rising tide and with it will come the rise of all of their boats.

  • Lemieux will at least stand up and finish what he starts unlike Avery who IMO, was just a gnat who would not back up his nonsense. He was an embarrassment to the Rangers and the league.

  • I’m not going to totally dismiss analytics, but really getting tired of those people totally dismissing what scouts and coaches see. You know, the actual experienced hockey peeps. JJ isn’t worse than Staal. Let’s give J Martin some credit. Obviously he wanted him. And Quinn wants to be a harder team to play against. JJ was 3rd among dmen in hits. He’s also top 15 in blocked shots (we were at top of league in giving up shots) Were not going to win with a bunch of little puck movers with better “Corsi”. I prefer DeAngelo stay on right ( really prefer we trade him and Strome in a deal for Dubois) and Miller plays with Trouba. He’s definately moving in right direction based on DQ comments. Also, I’ve been saying in every blog for last 2 weeks that Reunanen hype was way overblown.

    • Jack Johnson was the worst D in the league the last few seasons. Both eye test & stats showed it. Couldn’t keep a close gap, showed his numbers too quickly even though he didn’t have a close gap, didn’t even really box out well. Can’t make the breakout pass, can’t skate it out. Obviously he’s a good guy, but I can pay an equipment manager/trainer to be that guy for $100k.

      That doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near in the lineup.

      I personally would’ve gone after Slater Koekkoek as a guy who can play, has some upside and was traceable/exposable.

    • Force? It seems it’s Miller who is forcing his way possibly onto the team — and this started in the bubble, as DQ said it was a shame he couldn’t have used him this summer because of his contract status.

      I had my doubts to be honest (that he could develop enough over the course of the last year), but DQ tends to be somewhat stingy with the praise for younger players — Miller has broken that mold with DQ for some reason, so where there’s smoke there’s probably some fire … in this case the fire has a name, Miller … in any event, we’ll find out soon enough.

      • From what DQ has said, and the comments from the beat writers, it seems like Miller isn’t just knocking on the door, he’s trying to break it down.

    • Hajek did nothing in the Czech league this year, so I’m not optimistic about his chances, and Tarmo is getting a chance to show what he can do. Of the three, Miller is the most advanced.

  • When I read your assessment of Lindgren it made me wonder if you watch the kids play at all I believe he will get better just threw his playing time and playing with Fox I think those two could potential he be a top player because they do play both ends of the ice and how many times did they play against top lines last year If Johnson is as bad as you say there is no reason to play him I wouldn’t care if we stuck one of the kids in there and let him learn on the job

    • Lindgren isn’t’ that good of a hockey player. There was a reason why he was used as a throw in for a aging vet player (Rick Nash). He is a undersized D man with average awareness in the d-zone at best. His size doesn’t help his straight line D for countering speed and skill on the rushes. He might have enough heart to stick out a 7th role. It still doesn’t help him clear the creases per shift verse opposing team’s with 200+ pound guys down low. His best attribute is closing in with a hip check in the neutral zone… He will most likely get run over by a Wilson or Ovi type if continues to go for those.

      -Carolina (when they come back)

      -Pittsburgh

      -Philly

      -Boston

      -Buffalo

      – Maybe- NYI/NJ/Washington team’s

      Are all the different teams that Lindgren couldn’t scratch their top 4/5 spots.

  • Robertson should get a good look, I know about the his ELC, but defense is their weak area. If he earns it, wouldn’t keeping him make sense?

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