Is the Rangers youth movement a failure? After all, only 3 forwards will be under 30 this season.

On February 8, 2018, a little over 5 years ago, Glen Sather and then Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton released “the letter announcing the rebuild and a Rangers youth movement. However after an unexpected regular season in the 2019-2020 season and a wild run in the 2022 NHL playoffs, the Rangers are a win-now team. In fact, you can argue the Rangers have been a win-now team since Gorton’s dismissal in 2021, just three years after the letter.

Kind of odd for a rebuild, right?

As Larry Brooks noted over the weekend, the Rangers will have just three forwards under the age of 30 to start the season. That doesn’t exactly scream success for the Rangers youth movement. It is a factual statement, but also one that is a tad misleading and requires some nuanced discussion.

Rangers youth movement is lacking up front

What Brooks said is not wrong, only Alexis Lafreniere (22 when the season starts), Kaapo Kakko (22), and Filip Chytil (24 when the season starts) will be under the age of 30 to start the season. These are undeniable facts regarding the roster. The next youngest forwards are Mika Zibanejad, Barclay Goodrow, and Vincent Trocheck. All three are 30 years old.

Most of this is exacerbated by self-inflicted wounds from poor drafting since the 2017 draft, plus a few picks that simply didn’t pan out. Without re-hashing the Vitali Kravtsov and Lias Andersson debacles, the Rangers had other wounds from poor drafting in middle to late rounds. A Rangers youth movement is difficult when you can’t draft and develop your own players, after all.

Since the 2017 draft, when the Rangers had their first top-10 pick, the Rangers have had just one forward outside of the first round make it to the NHL. That player was Morgan Barron, who is no longer with the Rangers. In fact, just looking at their draft history screams horrible draft strategy, something we covered as part of the 2023 NHL Draft. In these mid and late rounds, the Rangers are going for safe picks, not swinging for the fences.

Draft strategy is a major self-inflicted wound for the Rangers youth movement.

It’s too early with a bunch of other forwards

The Rangers may not have many forwards under 30 right now, but there is a next wave of youth coming. Will Cuylle (21) is expected to compete for a roster spot this season. Brennan Othmann (20) is expected to be an injury call up –performance dependent, of course) this season. Brett Berard (20) is in this same boat. Adam Sykora (18) is already turning heads and about 2-3 years away. Gabe Perreault (18) is also 2-3 years away.

Of that quintet, the Rangers youth movement will add at least two players with top-six potential in Othmann and Perreault. Sykora is likely to peak as a middle six forward, with Berard a third line pest. Cuylle is expected to be a fourth liner. These are all rough expectations, and naturally performance in preseason and in the AHL will dictate their timelines and their spots on the Rangers, if and when they crack the roster.

This doesn’t even include Bryce McConnell-Barker (19), who is likely 3 years away and the only true center of the group. All of these players were taken in the 2020 draft or later, so it’s simply too early to call them up.

The Rangers youth movement is certainly unorthodox, but to call it a failure based on the current crop of NHL forwards is mildly irresponsible.

The defense is young and full of potential

This discussion about the Rangers youth movement requires nuance for other positions as well. For example, noting that the Rangers have just three forwards under 30 up front ignores that six of the seven defensemen expected to start the season with the Rangers are under 30 years old. Jacob Trouba would be the elder statesman at 29 years old, followed by Adam Fox (25) and Ryan Lindgren (25).

Digging deeper, five of six starting defensemen –including Zac Jones in this scenario– are 25 or younger. The Rangers youth movement is certainly missing forwards, but it is flush with defensemen. Fox, the best defenseman in the NHL in my opinion, is also locked into another six years with the Rangers at a bargain cap hit for his production.

Even their rotating 6D/7D with Jones, Erik Gustafsson, isn’t considered that old at 31 years old. Their 8D in Ben Harpur isn’t 30 years old either.