Over the last month, the Rangers have made a big splash. It wasn’t at the trade deadline, but with their prospects. Since the beginning of March, the NY Rangers have had five prospect signings. They will sign at least another two once the Euro seasons –and possibly the World Championships– end. This is the biggest influx of youth into the AHL and NHL ranks in quite some time. It was also very unexpected. As per usual, I have some thoughts.
1. There is no way to convince me that COVID did not influence at least two NY Rangers prospect signings. The OHL didn’t have a season, and it’s clear next season is in doubt. Due to this, the Rangers kept Will Cuylle (2nd, 2020) in the AHL all season before signing him. They also had Hunter Skinner (4th, 2019) in the ECHL before signing him to his ELC. If there was an OHL season this year, and if there was a confirmed season for 2021-2022, then I’m sure neither would have been signed so soon.
2. Skinner will be 20 in a week, so it’s likely he would have signed at some point this Spring/Summer. Generally speaking, the OHL season would not have ended so soon for Skinner, so we probably would have seen the signing in June instead of April. Cuylle on the other hand is 19, so unless he makes the Rangers, he will be back in the OHL if there is a season. Would the Rangers have signed him already if they didn’t see him in Hartford all season?
3. The same does not apply to Braden Schneider, who will be 20 in September. Of all the ELCs given out, his was the only that was not at least a little bit of a surprise. The WHL has a season, but with Schneider turning 20, he has the option to go to the AHL. The Rangers clearly like him and want him under their supervision as soon as possible.
Euro Prospects Incoming
4. The Rangers wasted no time signing Karl Henriksson (2nd, 2019) to an entry level deal. Henriksson got jerked around this year by Frolunda and COVID. He’s very skilled, and the Rangers desperately need center prospect depth. Between COVID, SHL restrictions, and his relatively young age for an SHL player, the Rangers felt it was time to get him under their control. We don’t know what the plan was pre-COVID, but it likely sped up signing Henriksson.
5. The Nils Lundkvist watch has begun, and he’s the big name coming over. Lulea has been eliminated from the SHL playoffs, and it’s likely the Rangers will get him under contract as soon as possible. It may wait until after the World Championships, but that’s not a determining factor. The big factor for him is the next summer deadline to get under contract. Otherwise he becomes a UFA, and he will get signed immediately. Of all the prospects coming in for next season, Lundkvist is the best. It’s honestly not even that close.
6. Don’t sleep on Lauri Pajuniemi (5th, 2018) either. He’s having a fantastic season in Liiga, and the Rangers will bring him over as soon as TPS’ season ends. He’s not the big name, but he’s talented and has middle-six forward potential. Neither Lundkvist nor Pajuniemi are signed yet, and both need to be signed by next summer.
Something Is Coming
7. Most of these NY Rangers prospect signings were coming. But COVID may have sped things up for others. Winning an NCAA Championship definitely sped things up for Zac Jones. But in bringing in seven prospects, the Rangers give themselves options. First and foremost, it locks in team control –for the most part– until they are all 27 years old. That buys them time for evaluation.
8. But perhaps most importantly, it locks them into a contract for trade bait. Trading rights versus trading the actual contract are completely different things here. When it comes to someone like Henriksson, who can simply wait it out in Sweden, it matters more. The same applies to Lundkvist and Pajuniemi, especially since both would be free agents this summer if they don’t sign.
9. There is certainly room for all these kids in Hartford. However the pure amount of talent signed means that some are likely headed towards a trade. That’s why numbers 7 and 8 above matter so much. Team control is a huge factor in trades. Talent that is attached to a team without fear of holding out is worth more. The Rangers have the talent pool to add a significant roster piece without necessarily deleting from the NHL roster.