The New York Rangers have a log jam in the forward ranks going into this off-season. Although the team’s depth up front was great during the season, it makes the upcoming expansion draft that much more difficult.
While the Rangers definitely have some difficult decisions to make in regards to the expansion draft, there are plenty of easy ones. Obviously, the team has to abide by the draft rules. All players that currently have No Movement Clauses must be protected by the team, unless the player waives this clause.
That stipulation takes Rick Nash out of the question, and there are a few other obvious players to be protected. The rest of the established core will be protected. Players like Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and Mika Zibanejad will be protected.
Players still in their first or second professional year are exempt from the expansion draft. That makes it so that the Rangers don’t have to protect Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich. So who’s left?
Of the forwards left that the Rangers would more than likely want to keep, three players stick out: Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner, and Oscar Lindberg. Each of them excel at something different and bring different things to the Rangers’ lineup. Now, let’s rank those three from lowest to highest priority for the Rangers.
Let’s start with Grabner. The 29-year-old speedster signed a two-year deal with the Rangers last off-season and had one of the most productive seasons of his career. However, there lies the problem with him.
Grabner’s best season was in 2010, when he scored 34 goals for the Isles. Between then and this past season, his highest goal total was 20 the following season. He has proven inconsistent his entire career and nothing, including his playoff performance this season, has proven that he will keep up that torrid scoring pace.
Grabner’s speed, however, is a very attractive aspect of his. He outpaces every player on the ice, creating breakaway opportunities left and right. Over the course of the season, Grabner adjusted his game and began using his pace in the defensive end as well.
Now, compared to Fast and Lindberg, Grabner’s career is getting towards the decline of his prime. Both Fast and Lindberg are only 25, a full four years younger than Michael Grabner. Grabner’s inconsistency and age leads him to be the lowest priority for the Rangers to protect.
Oscar Lindberg is one of the most solid defensive centers on the Rangers’ roster. For the past two seasons, he has anchored the middle of the ice for the third or fourth line, and has excelled at it.
The 25-year-old center ice man has continued to grow both offensively and defensively. Defensively, he has learned how to use his body better both on the faceoff dot and along the boards. His active stick work is just as good as it was when he joined the Rangers, and that’s impressive on its own.
Offensively, although his stats have gone down from last season, Lindberg’s passing and finishing have gotten better. His regular season shooting percentage doesn’t show this, but his playoff performance does.
Lindberg has higher upside than Grabner, and has proven his consistency. Not to mention, Oscar Lindberg is a center, adding to his value based on his high faceoff percentage.
Finally, we get to Jesper Fast, the most valuable of these three players. Fast has been an absolute monster for the Rangers in the past two seasons, winning the trust of head coach Alain Vigneault to play in any role.
Fast has a ridiculous motor and that showed during this most recent playoff run. No matter the scoreline at the time, Fast looked full of energy, zipping all around the ice, winning the puck along the boards and turning the play around. This works in his favor in both the offensive and defensive zone.
Fast works in the defensive zone unlike anyone else. He plays both along the boards and the center of the ice with efficiency. He also works the puck out of the zone with ease when called upon.
In the offensive end, Fast simply beats opponents to the puck down low and digs out the puck. This makes Fast a force to be reckoned with on the forecheck and in long stretches of offensive zone time for the Rangers.
Compared to his colleagues, Fast is better than both Grabner and Lindberg in the defensive end. Offensively, Grabner’s blistering speed make him a threat from anywhere on the ice, but Fast is still better than Lindberg.
How do they all stack up?
Fast’s style of play and the excellence with which he plays makes him absolutely invaluable to this team. He can play in every situation on any line and contribute. Grabner can do the same, but more one dimensionally.
And that is the difference between Grabner and Lindberg; both play well in both ends of the ice, but Grabner can be more easily neutralized. Without his speed, Grabner’s play diminishes immensely. And that is what really separates Lindberg and Fast.
Fast should be the Rangers’ number one priority of these three players. His play is very difficult to neutralize because he doesn’t stop. He doesn’t coast, he epitomizes the Rangers mold. Hard-working, grinding, but can still play with speed and some finesse.