After the Pavel Buchnevich trade last offseason to the St. Louis Blues, many Rangers fans were ready for Chris Drury’s tenure as general manager to be over. Then Igor Shesterkin decided he was going to shift into Superman mode, Chris Kreider started scoring goals at a rate unseen since Jaromir Jagr, and the Rangers have solidified a playoff position. All eyes were on the Rangers with all the cap space in the world and Chris Drury nailed deadline day. His additions to this squad are paying off and even the most cynical Rangers fans out there need to admit: Drury nailed it at the deadline.
Drury had one task: Get the Rangers more NHL-quality players. Simple as that. There was no way the Rangers could go into the stretch run of the season with players like Greg McKegg, Julien Gauthier, Libor Hajek, Ryan Reaves, and Dryden Hunt and to some extent being everyday players or getting placed too high in the lineup. Barclay Goodrow has been great for the Rangers this year when he plays in the bottom six, so it was imperative that he not be shoehorned into the top-six right for this team as well. They needed depth and they got it in spades.
Frank Vatrano paying off in spades
Frank Vatrano’s impact in the top six has been nothing short of perfect so far. He has four goals in six games, including two in 15 seconds against the Buffalo Sabres. He seems to be a perfect fit riding shotgun alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on the Rangers explosive top line. Vatrano has shown a willingness to shoot from anywhere and it’s paying off beautifully for a team who seemed to be full with players looking to make that extra play rather than fire the puck on the net. He may not have been the flashiest acquisition but sometimes, it’s the depth moves that pay off the most in the end.
One last note on Vatrano: The Kreider – Zibanejad – Vatrano line had a 94.70 CF% and a 98.01 xGF% (according to Natural Stat Trick) against the Penguins last week. Straight up domination. Head Coach Gerard Gallant will have some tough decisions to make when Kaapo Kakko comes back, especially if the plan was to put him on the top line.
Drury nailed deadline day deals
Justin Braun was the first to arrive on deadline day. Braun, as we’ve already seen, won’t be an everyday defenseman but will be an essential depth guy in case of injury or matchups. Even if you’re still mixed on the Braun deal, his presence alone prevents Libor Hajek from entering the lineup, and that alone is a win.
Andrew Copp was the prime target the Rangers valued at the deadline, and for good reason. Copp is in the midst of having a career year with 40 points in 59 games, including five in three games with the Rangers so far. He scored a big goal against the Penguins, two assists against the Devils, and had two more assists against the Sabres. Copp is as versatile as they come, playing all three forward positions. You can be sure Gallant loves having this swiss army knife on the team now.
Copp, like Vatrano, has been a perfect fit with this team and will be assessed closely this season with the 2C issue looming large. Can Copp be that guy if Strome leaves? Time will tell but he has looked good in the Rangers middle six so far.
Tyler Motte was the last to arrive on Broadway. Although he hasn’t scored for the Rangers yet, his speed and tenacity is already having a positive effect on the team.
Shrewd, cheap deals
Another incredible layer to this whole thing is that Drury nailed deadline day without giving away a single top prospect. Nils Lundkvist is still here. Braden Schneider is still here. Brennan Othmann is still here. Will Cuylle is still here. Brett Berard is still here.
Drury should be applauded for not going crazy and paying the Canucks rumored price for JT Miller, or giving the Ducks a massive package for Rickard Rakell. Copp, Motte, and Vatrano have fit into this team seamlessly and most importantly, they’ve all added to the immaculate vibes of this team. Copp and Vatrano have played hockey with Jacob Trouba before at minor league levels and in Copp’s case, the NHL. The two were teammates in Winnipeg before ending up in New York.
Motte seems to be one of the most genuine players in the league. An important and sometimes overlooked part of any hockey team is the chemistry on and off the ice. The Rangers didn’t bring in any problematic players and didn’t trade anyone off their main roster. They simply added quality players to the mix to enhance what they already had. It’s small, but an important factor into how Drury nailed deadline day.
Drury deserves credit
Looking at this roster, and what they’ve done so far, the front office clearly knew what was needed and Drury nailed deadline day. Could they have taken a bigger swing to take advantage of the oodles of cap space left? Maybe, but Drury thankfully didn’t blow the future on any shortsighted moves and left himself open to possibly make some bigger deals over the summer.
The top six looks better with a shoot happy guy like Vatrano, the center ice position looks deeper with Copp, and the bottom six got a huge shot in the arm with Motte. Braun will provide a veteran voice and will be a quality depth guy down the stretch. Any way you slice it, even the most cynical Rangers fan can see that Drury did a great job at the deadline. The Rangers are better now than they were last week and they have a deeper lineup for the wars to come in the playoffs.