Chris Drury was a very busy man at the trade deadline and he was able to add four pieces to the 2021-22 New York Rangers puzzle without surrendering a single asset except draft picks and prospect Morgan Barron. Did the Blueshirts keep pace with their Stanley Cup rivals or did they get an edge with these deals? Let’s take a look.
The good news is the Rangers already possess one of the best top six combinations in the NHL. Alexis Lafrenière is thanking the hockey gods that it looks like he will remain on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Although their five-on-five production has slumped a bit lately, he has fit in well and when it works, it’s something special. Witness Lafrenière ‘s work getting Jacob Trouba the puck for the one-timer that Chris Kreider deflected against Carolina.
Frank Vatrano has fit in well with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin and it gives Gerard Gallant the choice to leave him there when Kaapo Kakko is healthy. He can also put Kakko back on that line and move Vatrano to the third ine, improving the goal scoring potential for that group.
We can actually call the bottom six “deep” for the first time this season. Andrew Copp can either play center on the third line or play wing with Filip Chytil centering that line.
That moves Barclay Goodrow to the fourth line along with Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves. It give Gallant the option of sitting Reaves against fast teams like Carolina and using Motte or Hunt instead. Like we said, deep.
Here are the lines:
Kreider – Zibanejad – Lafrenière
Panarin – Strome – Kakko
Copp – Chytil – Vatrano
Goodrow – Rooney – Reaves
Depth: Motte, Hunt, McKegg, Gauthier, Brodzinski
There’s no changing the top four blueliners, but adding Justin Braun gives Gallant a veteran who has played 100 playoff games he can use instead of rookie Braden Schneider. We all love Schneider, but relying on a 20-year old in the playoffs could be too much especially when teams will try to match up and take advantage of his inexperience.
Does that mean a third pairing of Justin Braun and Patrik Nemeth? Maybe not They could choose to use Zac Jones on the left side of Braun.
When it comes to Justin Braun, remember this. The Flyers had a negative goal differential of 64 goals. Justin Braun had a plus/minus rating of +3. On a team that was -64, a plus rating is pretty amazing.
Here are the pairings:
Lindgren – Fox
Miller – Trouba
Nemeth – Braun or Schneider
Depth: Schneider or Braun, Hajek, Jones, Lundkvist
The Rangers need Alexandar Georgiev and they kept him as their backup. He won’t be supplanting Shesterkin as the number one goalie, but the good news is the Carolina game proved to the team that he can win games for them. Confidence means everything in hockey and a Ranger team that has confidence in Georgiev is a good thing.
The Rangers own the second best power play in the NHL so they didn’t need to make any improvements there. It’s the penalty killing that should be much better. They are currently the ninth best in the NHL, successful at a rate of 82.2%. In these deals, they got the best penalty killers on the Jets and Canucks.
Andrew Copp was averaging 2:28 minutes killing penalties for the Jets, the most of any Winnipeg forward. Tyler Motte was on the top penalty killing unit for the Canucks averaging almost two minutes a game on the penalty kill.
On the negative side, the Jets are 24th on the PK in the NHL and the Canucks are dead last.
Andrew Copp also brings prowess in the facoff circle. He has won 54% of his draws this season including 55% of defensive zone draws. Barclay Goodrow leads the Rangers, winning 45% of his draws in the defensive zone and also 45% while shorthanded. Copp has won 49% of his shorthanded faceoffs.
As for defense, Justin Braun was averaging 2:25 minutes per game shorthanded, second most on the Flyers. Adding him to the PK will help take some pressure off Adam Fox.
This Rangers team has a chemistry, developed over 63 games of hard fought hockey. All of a sudden, as many as four regulars will be replace by newcomers. It will be up to team leadership and the coaching staff to integrate these players into the Rangers’ culture.
Frank Vatrano seemed to fit right in, helped by the injuries to Kakko and Rooney. When everyone is healthy, things will be a little different.
Grading Chris Drury
Drury traded two players and six draft picks to get his haul of rental players. That leaves the Rangers with five picks in the first four rounds of the next two NHL drafts. Luckily, they have a plethora of prospects in the pipeline so this is not mortgaging the future.
Let’s not forget that they have picked 35 players in the draft over the last four seasons. Of those 35 prospects, 30 are either in the NHL, the AHL or have a future with the organization. The cupboards are not bare.
If they don’t win two rounds, they keep their first round pick this season. If they make it to the Eastern Conference Finals and Andrew Copp is a key piece of the puzzle, a first round pick is a fair trade. It’s worth noting that if they like Andrew Copp, they will have first crack at trying to extend him after the season. He may turn out to be more than a rental.
Losing Morgan Barron is hard, but clearly, the fan base was more impressed with him than the coaching staff. We’ll have to see if he develops into an NHL regular.
The best news is the Rangers still have Nils Lundkvist, Zac Jones, Braden Schneider, K’Andre Miller, Brennan Othmann, Tarmo Reunanen, Will Cuylle, Brett Berard, Vitali Kravtsov, Matthew Robertson, Dylan Garand, Lauri Pajuniemi and Hunter Skinner.
There are still a lot of questions facing the Rangers starting next season with an awful salary cap crunch. The good news is that Chris Drury and the Rangers organization really believes that this team has the potential to go far in the playoffs as early as this season and they were willing to roll the dice and go for it without sacrificing any of the organization’s crown jewels.