7 Thoughts from 7 Days: Not enough roster spots for the Rangers kids
The preseason is just two games old, and already the Rangers are in a roster crunch. We knew there would be some level of competition for spots in the bottom of the roster, but even those battles are getting crowded quickly. Something has to give, be it from a performance or an injury standpoint, for some of the Rangers kids to crack the roster.
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1. As of now, the only true rookies that appears to be penciled in for a spot this year are Vitali Kravtsov and Nils Lundkvist. Kravtsov has his 3RW spot to lose, and Lundkvist doesn’t really have any true competition for his 3RD spot. But the Rangers have also seen pretty solid games from Zac Jones, Braden Schneider, and Lauri Pajuniemi. All of a sudden, there’s a logjam.
2. Jones is currently blocked by the newly signed Patrik Nemeth, which was a bit of a surprising, albeit good, signing by the Rangers. Pajuniemi is blocked by Kravtsov, and even if he were being considered for a fourth line role, the Rangers would be looking more at Ryan Reaves, whether you agree with that approach or not. Schneider is blocked by the aforementioned Lundkvist. The one thing this trio has in common: Unless there’s an injury or a trade, there’s no clear path for them to the NHL in the near future.
3. There is also no point in the Rangers kids making the roster and sitting in the press box as a 7D or 13F either. That serves no purpose for both the Rangers and the kid(s). Those spots are reserved for players like Dryden Hunt, Ryan Reaves, and Jarred Tinordi. So for now, they will all get big minutes in the AHL, likely in all situations. There are many reasons why this is better for the trio, and it does kick the can down the road if the Rangers need to eventually need to make difficult decisions.
4. Schneider aside, this is the reason why I think the Rangers had something in line for Jack Eichel until everything hit the fan this summer. The Rangers weren’t going to sign Nemeth to a multi-year contract if they envisioned Jones as a part of their immediate future. Pajuniemi likely needs time in the AHL, but is he really going to be a fourth line player behind Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Vitali Kravtsov? He’s not better than any of those three currently, and likely won’t be. This has me convinced that the Rangers viewed at least some of these kids as trade bait for a significant upgrade at center.
5. Also in this position is Matthew Robertson. Yea this is cheating a bit, since basically any defense prospect is in this spot, but the Rangers clearly saw something in him when they signed him a few months after drafting him. It appears the Rangers will find a way to get Schneider on the roster, but Robertson? Maybe not. There’s nothing wrong with having a ton of prospects, and perhaps this is a sign that the Rangers knew what they were doing the last few drafts. It’s certainly a good problem to have, but one that will need a resolution.
6. The easiest resolution to free up roster spots for the Rangers kids is a trade. It’s unlikely the Rangers trade off the current roster, so it would be a trade from these prospects to land a big fish, hence all the Eichel talk. The Rangers were one of only two teams with the high end prospects to make something happen. The issue that came up was Buffalo expecting a package for a healthy Eichel when he clearly wasn’t healthy. Drury, like many others, went into the offseason knowing Eichel wasn’t healthy and expected the ask to come down. Thus someone like Jones, who was potentially expected to make the team, was seen as an asset. Perhaps this is also the same for Robertson.
7. The question then becomes, what if Eichel isn’t healthy enough to trade for? What kind of center would be available for a package that includes the non-roster and non-Schneider kids? Elias Lindholm in Calgary seemed like a good option, but was he ever truly available? People like to point to Aleksander Barkov, but he likely is a pipe dream. Does LA have a fit, given the commitment to Phillip Danault and their astounding center prospect depth? Again, a good problem to have, but eventually the Rangers will need to make room via a trade.