The New York Rangers are moving their way through free agency. They have filled a couple holes but some may remain.
The New York Rangers current roster seems to head off a cliff towards the end of the forwards. It starts strong with three lines of familiar, proven faces. The fourth line looks like it may be missing another winger.
The current bottom three forwards are David Desharnais, Jesper Fast and Matt Puempel. Desharnais works as he can play center and was just signed to do so. Fast is a proven two-way forward who has earned his spot. And then there is Puempel.
Assessing Matt Puempel
Matt Puempel joined the New York Rangers last year as a free agent during the season to help with an injury crisis. He was resigned earlier this summer, possibly just to help the Rangers with compliance for the expansion draft.
Puempel had six goals and three assists through 27 games with the Rangers. At times he flourished and seemed like he had finally started to develop. He even netted a hat trick against the Coyotes in late December.
However the long run Puempel was less impressive. He was a -6 as a Ranger and had a brutal 44.7% CF. He was scratched often when the team was fully healthy.
Puempel is a great guy to have on the roster for the times when players go down with injuries. He isn’t great, but in times of crisis, he is certainly better than most of the other options on the open market. Puempel could be a starter, but it’s likely not the Rangers first choice.
Filling the hole in house
It currently looks like Puempel will occupy the left wing on the fourth line. The Rangers have a couple of players that were recently drafted or in their system that have potential to play in the NHL.
Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson, both first round draft picks this year, are both capable of playing left wing. Chytil is 17 years old and Andersson is 18-years-old and neither have any North American playing experience. As much as the Rangers would love to see it, it’s a real stretch that either of them see NHL play this year.
Ryan Gropp is making the switch to the AHL this year after an impressive stint in the WHL. He is familiar with North American style but is still a little young at 20 years old. It’s likely the Rangers will want to start him in the AHL to see how he compares to other guys in the system, but he could make the jump early in the year.
Boo Nieves is probably the closest player to being NHL ready that could fill the left wing hole. Nieves had 18 points in 40 games last year in Hartford and even played in a game for the Rangers. He’s 24 so the Rangers likely want him to make the jump soon if they see him as capable.
Finding a left wing elsewhere
The Rangers, while they have $7M in cap space, are seemingly not as rich as they think. They need to resign Zibanejad this year, and Vesey, Miller, Grabner, Nash, Hayes, and Skjei next year. They will likely let Nash go to increase their cap space to closer to $15M.
With that being said, they can sign someone this season but it realistically couldn’t be for more than a year. The free agent market is running dry quickly but a couple of players could strike a deal with the Rangers.
Dwight King and Jiri Hudler are two bottom six forwards that are still looking for deals.
Hudler isn’t much of an upgrade from Matt Puempel other than name recognition. Hudler had just 11 points through 32 games last year with a -3 rating and 48.4% CF. The Rangers won’t spend the extra money for a guy so similar to Puempel.
King is in a similar boat. He had 16 points through 80 games with a -2 rating and 45.8% CF. He isn’t much of an upgrade from Puempel either.
Trade or bust
If the Rangers don’t want to promote someone or go with Puempel, their only hope will be a trade. What that could be is a mystery.
While Puempel isn’t a great option, the Rangers can certainly get by. They won’t be missing or making the playoffs because of Matt Puempel.
Nieves seems like he could be a very realistic option as the year goes on if the Rangers are unsatisfied with Puempel. Only time will tell.