Big Ben Tuesday: The New York Rangers Rebuild – Balancing the Playoff Push with Developing the Youngsters

Stamford, CT: Hey there. Happy International Be Kind to Lawyers Day! Yes, actually a thing. Whose idea was that? Fine, I guess I can be nice to them for one day. But tomorrow I go back to throwing rocks at them on sight. Anyway, let’s talk about the New York Rangers, and their balancing act of trying to make a long-shot run into the playoffs while getting their blossoming youngsters enough minutes to develop.

Uphill Climb

Missed Opportunity

The Rangers lost in OT to the Islanders on Sunday, but it was the youngsters that got them back in that game and earned them a point. Vitaly Kravtsov has made an immediate impact transitioning from the KHL and has been noticeable in every game. He even got time on the top line with Zibanejad and Buchnevich after some early blunders by Chris Kreider. Kakko is coming along nicely and Lafreniere is improving as well.

But in the third and in OT, Quinn still rode his veterans. Lafrieniere can’t even get onto the second power play unit. Filip Chytil is stuck around ten minutes a game most night.

The Sitch

The Rangers find themselves four points behind the Bruins for the final playoff spot. That sounds doable, but the Bruins have two games in hand and seem likely to go on a run at some point. They also just traded for Taylor Hall, but I’m not sure that helps them. Maybe it was Buffalo, but he’s looked like a turnover machine of late. I guess it was worth a shot, hoping he regains his MVP form.

The unusual schedule also makes it tougher to gain ground, with everyone beating up on each other. The Flyers are also sitting there with the exact same record as the Rangers.

Remaining Schedule

The schedule is not bad though, with 15 games remaining. Of the 15, I’d say eight are against lesser opponents: four vs Devils, two vs the struggling Flyers, and two vs the bottom dwelling Sabres. They’ve got to rack up the points in those games.

In the other seven, they have two vs the Caps and Bruins and three vs the Islanders. They have played the Isles and Caps tough, but they’re 2-4 vs the Bruins. The two wins have been convincing, at least. The last two games of the season are against the Bruins and the goal is to make those games matter.

The last fifteen games start with four straight against the Devils. Having just traded away Palmieri and Zajac, the Rangers could be catching them at the right time. These four games could really determine how the Rangers play out the rest. I’d say the Rangers will have to get at least six points out to keep the push going. Otherwise, Lafrieniene, Chytil, Kappo and Kravtsov should get big minutes the rest of the way. Live with mistakes and let them learn.

The Future

D-omination

Things look bright on the back end. Adam Fox has smoothly deeked his way into the Norris Trophy convo and looks like he’ll be the best defenseman the team has had since #2. K’Andre Miller has hit the ground running and looks like he’ll be a fantastic two way player. Throw in feisty Ryan Lindgren and bruising Jacob Trouba and the top two pairs seem set. Libor Hajek has looked like a capable third pair guy as well.

The Blue Barron?

They also have two big time prospects that look close to making an impact. Zac Jones just won a NCAA title with UMass and is reportedly close to signing his entry level deal and joining the team. Nils Lundkvist has also been dominating in Sweden and he’s likely to come over next season. Throw in top ten prospects Matthew Robertson and Braden Schneider and you have the making of an elite group for the years to come.

Czar in Charge

Shesterkin has played much better since coming off the injury and I still think he’ll develop into an elite goalie. They have some decent goalie prospects, led by Tyler Wall.

Breathing Room

With Shattenkirk, Staal and King Henrik’s (heal up buddy) money coming off the cap next year, they should be in decent shape there, especially if it goes up a bit. They’re not going to be in a position to break the bank, but they’ll have some room to maneuver. Unless they lock up Mika long term, that is.

Mika in the Middle

While the Rangers are flush with winger and defensemen prospects, they don’t have much in the pipeline at center. Morgan Barron is their highest rated prospect at the position and we may get a look at him before season’s end. After that there are a few intriguing prospects, but none are sure things.

The MF King

Mika Zibanejad has shown signs of his former self, but still isn’t there. He’s missing open nets, flubbing one timers, mishandling breakaways and turning it over too much. He’s a free agent after next season, so he’d better morph back into his old self or he might not be a part of the future. Ryan Strome is a solid player who has exceeded expectations. He shined when Panarin was out, shedding the narrative that he simply benefited from playing alongside Artemi. But he’s also a free agent after next season, and it’s hard to see how he fits into their long-term plans.

Filip Chyil is a guy who really could use some extended minutes. He’s shown some real flashes, but doesn’t get the ice time he needs with Mika and Strome ahead of him and he doesn’t play on the power play. Brett Howden has shown nothing on offense and looks to be nothing more than a 4th line player at best. Rooney and Blackwell have both been useful players they should bring back at the right price.

The obvious solution is to trade some of that winger or defenseman depth for a center. We’ll see if Gorton can find something that works, without giving up too much this offseason. The trade deadline has come and gone and the Rangers stood pat.

Overtime

The Rangers have to shed some of the inconsistency that has plagued them all season long and really get on a roll if they want to have a shot at making the playoffs. But the kids are coming around and this franchise is in good shape.

Well that was about 500 words too long. Come back tomorrow for El Hombre Enojado, aka Angry Ward. Follow us on Twitter at @benwhit, @MeetTheMatts, @Matt_McCarthy00, Instagram @MeetTheMatts and like our Facebook page, Meet The Matts.

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About Ben Whitney 265 Articles
Ben Whitney comes from journalistic stock. Aside from his brothers, rumor has that his great-great grandfather was the youngest brother of Eli Whitney and covered the earliest "rounders" games. Big Ben is also another New York Rugby Club player/pal of Different Matt, Short Matt and Junoir Blaber. He likes film noir discussions, has twin girls and took up ice hockey after retiring from rugby.