Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Image by: Getty Images
The blueline offers hope the Rangers an remain competitive come 2019-20, but if they can’t fill out the bottom-six with young, talented players, there’s the threat of their offense disappearing.
Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
The winds of change are blowing in New York and they’re going to get stronger in the next few years. The Rangers already used this past off-season to buyout defenseman Dan Girardi, who had spent his entire 11-season career in New York, and then shipped out top-line center Derek Stepan in a deal that brought back a first-round draft choice and young, promising defender Anthony DeAngelo.
New York’s changes aren’t going to stop there, however. At the end of this coming campaign, you can be near certain that Rick Nash, 33 and earning a whopping $7.8 million, will find himself on the outs, and the same could be said for a host of other free agents, including Michael Grabner, David Desharnais, Nick Holden and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. The question, then, is where does that leave the Rangers in three years’ time?
Offensively, chances are the Blueshirts are bound for a much younger lineup. Barring any signings, Chris Kreider will take over as the elder statesman up front, manning the top line alongside newly minted No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. However, that’s to assume that Buchnevich, who was only so-so in his rookie season, can turn it up in the next few seasons. And the same goes for most, if not all, of the Rangers’ forwards beyond their top line.
Really, it’s a thin group that is, at least for the time being, relying mostly on hope and promise than certainty and clearly defined talent. J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes are both coming off of career years and they must maintain a similar level of production in order to give the Rangers a threatening second line and Jimmy Vesey needs to take his game to the next level in his sophomore season and into the future. That’s especially true given that the bottom six is troubling, to say the least. Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, selected seventh- and 21st-overall in the June draft, stand the best chance of translating into impactful young talents in three years’ time, but there’s little to really rely upon beyond that.
Thankfully, the Rangers should be able to rely on a fairly solid defense corps. Kevin Shattenkirk took a legitimate hometown discount to sign with New York this summer and his cap hit should age fairly well, and slotting him beside McDonagh gives New York a true top pairing. Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith is an intriguing combination, as well, and there’s a real possibility that Skjei even finds himself on the top pairing by the time 2019-20 rolls around. He was that impressive as a rookie this past season. The third pairing is the Rangers’ weakest, but, depending on how their blueline prospects develop, it has potential.
And, in three years’ time, a strong defense might be the best thing the Rangers could possess. No matter how he rebounds this coming season, Henrik Lundqvist is past his prime and coming off of what was inarguably the worst season of his career, so by 2019-20, New York could be looking for the heir to The King’s throne. The Rangers will potentially have some backup help from Brandon Halverson, but they’re going to need to wait another year or two — or hit the development jackpot — for top goaltending prospect Igor Shesterkin to be NHL ready.
GOT IT: A solid defense. Once McDonagh’s new contract is in place — and there should be absolutely no way the Rangers let him slip through their fingers — New York’s biggest strength is going to be on the blueline. Shattenkirk gives the Rangers offensive talent, Skjei’s rookie season gives promise that he can grow into a top-three rearguard and Smith is a talented No. 4. Add in growth for DeAngelo, acquired from the Arizona Coyotes, and Neal Pionk, signed out of University of Minnesota-Duluth, and the third pairing also has significant upside.
NEED IT: New York needs to start building its prospect depth. In THN’s Future Watch 2017, a panel of scouts ranked the Rangers’ prospects as the second worst in the NHL, and that’s the result of consistently trading away top draft choices. In the four drafts from 2013 to 2016, New York didn’t have a single pick in the top 40. Things are starting to look up, though. Andersson and Chytil project to fight for NHL jobs by 2019-20, and, if all goes well, Andersson could even be battling for a spot in the top six.
CAP WATCH: McDonagh’s contract is going to put the bind on the Blueshirts. In July 2019, the Rangers’ captain is going to be up for a new deal, and given he’s consistently received Norris Trophy votes over the past four seasons, you can rest assured that he’s going to command a significant raise from the $4.7 million he’s currently earning. Realistically, he could be looking at the highest salary of any New York rearguard, moving up over the $7-million mark, if not higher.
But that’s not even the Rangers’ biggest concern. Ahead of the 2019-20 season, New York could have as many as 10 projected roster players who will be in need of new contracts, including Miller, Hayes, Buchnevich, Vesey and Skjei. So, who stays and who goes? Well, Mats Zuccarello could be playing his final seasons as a Ranger, and after speculation that Marc Staal could be in line for a buyout, New York may have to finally pull the trigger in order to clear cap space and keep the forward core intact and the roster competitive.
BOTTOM LINE: After seven-straight playoff appearances, the Rangers could be staring down some tough times in the near future. The blueline offers hope that New York can remain competitive, but if they can’t fill out the bottom-six with young, talented, and, frankly, cheap players, there’s the threat of the Rangers’ offense disappearing.
Previously: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers | Los Angeles Kings | Minnesota Wild | Montreal Canadiens | Nashville Predators | New Jersey Devils | New York Islanders
Monday: Ottawa Senators