The New York Rangers spent their draft day creating surprises. How did it all turn out?
The Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets completed the first big trade of draft day. Next, Jeff Gorton struck. Gorton matched up with the Arizona Coyotes to move long time New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta to the Coyotes for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the 7th pick in the NHL Draft.
While DeAngelo fits into New York’s plans as the offensive defenseman the Rangers have craved, there appeared to be another shoe that had to drop. New York couldn’t simply acquire the 7th overall pick and expect not to replace Stepan, right?
Wrong. That’s exactly what the Rangers did. Not only did Gorton and company keep the 7th pick, but they also kept the 21st pick.
What does this all mean? Let’s take a look.
An Arizona Blockbuster
The first news of the day was the departure of Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes. Stepan’s loss will be much more significant than most seem to think. After losing Oscar Lindberg on Wednesday, New York already found themselves weak in depth at center. Jeff Gorton’s solution was to trade their top center.
While Stepan’s no-movement clause was set to activate soon, he still would have been movable to a handful of teams. Additionally he was New York’s top two-way center, played the second most minutes per night, and was one of the faces of the franchise. At 27 years old he did not need to be moved for youth.
However, the Rangers decided to move him and Antti Raanta to get the seventh overall pick. Stepan will be sorely missed, but Antti Raanta’s departure tells a different tale. Raanta was fantastic for the Rangers, but Benoit Allaire’s ability to turn any living creature into a strong backup goalie does not leave any room for worrying about the loss there.
Raanta was another fantastic locker-room guy with great talent, but he will be replaced with ease as long as Allaire is in the organization. Stepan is the major loss, one that we expected to see replaced within the same day.
The Rangers Actually Use Draft Picks
In past seasons there has been plenty of reason to complain about New York failing to use their draft picks. New York’s dealt their first rounders like they were poisonous, only to fail to win the ultimate prize repeatedly.
After shedding the contract of Dan Girardi and owning the salary cap space to bring in a Kevin Shattenkirk type on defense, it appeared this was the year to use the 21st pick to help boost the farm, and use the current talent up front to make a run next season.
Jeff Gorton changed the plans by trading Derek Stepan. Gorton brought in the seventh pick, a pick that was expected to be moved until the Rangers announced their selection. Lias Andersson.
Andersson being the pick is unsurprising considering the Rangers are enamored with the prospect, but he could have been drafted later. He appears set to be an NHL player, but as the major piece in a Derek Stepan trade the return feels weak at best.
New York also brought in Filip Chytil, a young forward out of the Czech Republic. He appears to be talented as well, but New York would have been better served packaging the 21st pick with Anthony DeAngelo for a center, then signing Kevin Shattenkirk.
Regardless, Andersson and Chytil are both in as top prospects in the Rangers organization. Regardless of what else Jeff Gorton did, the system looks better than it did yesterday. The NHL roster, though?
What’s The Plan?
The NHL roster took a hit tonight. New York’s only advantage over their opponents was their forward depth. Now Derek Stepan and Oscar Lindberg are gone, while two prospects who are not ready for the NHL are in.
Anthony DeAngelo will be a plus on the back-end, but also appears to be a questionable choice by Gorton. DeAngelo plays an offense first game, while Alain Vigneault typically sits those players on the bench. DeAngelo will have to earn the trust of Vigneault, something much easier said than done.
If DeAngelo fits in well, the defense received a boost. Still, New York needs a defenseman to play alongside Ryan McDonagh, and Nick Holden and Marc Staal remain on the roster. New York now has the built in excuse of adding DeAngelo to not re-sign Brendan Smith or sign Kevin Shattenkirk, a worrying thought.
However, let’s return to the most significant problem. New York possesses a boatload of cap room. They can sign anyone they want right now. New York also requires at least two centers and a defenseman. It’s as simple as signing some free agents, right?
After Kevin Shattenkirk, this free agent class lacks names worth signing. Thus, the Rangers own plenty of space and nothing to do with that case. As stated previously, there has to be another shoe to drop.
New York cannot go into the season with Kevin Hayes and Mika Zibanejad as their top two centers. They cannot expect to win with depleted forward depth and somewhat improved defense.
Rebuilding Is Not Fly
Jeff Gorton called the moves a “rebuild on the fly” on NBC Sports. Teams rebuild on the fly when they aren’t close. Before tonight, the Rangers were a couple of defensemen away. Now, the Rangers are a defenseman, a top line center, and a backup goalie away. All they have to show for the losses is two prospects who may or may not pan out.
The onus is on Gorton to replace Stepan effectively with that cap space. Henrik Lundqvist is not getting any younger and the need is evident. If Gorton can bring in a legitimate top line center for less than the Coyotes gave up to get Derek Stepan, tonight is a win. If he fails to do so, we will look back at tonight as a loss.
The rest of the offseason got a lot more interesting tonight. The Rangers possess plenty of money, but also have glaring needs. Jeff Gorton must step up and ensure this team is trying to win now and win later. Let’s see how this plays out.