Chris Drury, President and General Manger of the New York Rangers did not make a big trade deadline splash. Instead, he made prudent decisions and acquired the right players at the right cost, rather than overspending for the best players. In doing so Drury solidified the New York Rangers top six forward group for the stretch run and the playoffs.
The new New York Rangers
The two most important pick-up’s were Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp. Acquired from the Florida Panthers, Vatrano has fit in seamlessly on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. His speed on both the forecheck and backcheck as well as his shoot first mentality have helped the top line to find its most success of the season at even strength. And for his part, Vatrano has been rewarded with eight goals and five assists over 21 games since joining the Blueshirts.
Andrew Copp has also found himself in a seamless transition after coming over from the Winnipeg Jets. Copp has added a dynamic to the second line that has not been seen since Jesper Fast played alongside Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. In fact, by adding eight goals and 10 assists in 16 games, Copp has provided a scoring punch that Fast could not. The duality of his defensive prowess and scoring ability has forged this line into the best it has looked since its inception.
The third line’s a charm
With the top two lines solidified for the playoff run, that leaves little option for Gerard Gallant but to use the “kid line” as his third line. This line has been the dream of many and a nightmare scenario for others. However it is viewed, it is a near certainty that the trio of Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil will start the post season together. None of the three are suited for fourth line play, nor should the success of the top six be broken up.
This has been a challenging season for each of these players. Lafrenière has been bounced around the line-up, switched to right wing, and been a healthy scratch. Kakko has spent much of the season on injured reserve, came back to score two goals only to be injured again. Chytil also missed time, has had a rotation of players on his wings and may be as snake bitten as any player can be. Through all of this though, these players have continued to play well.
Kakko and Chytil are behind only Kreider in driving possession among New York Rangers forwards that have played 30 or more games. Lafrenière, despite hardly any special teams time ranks sixth among Rangers forwards in points with 30 and fifth in goals scored with 18 which is second best at even strength. The prospect of the organizations three youngest, brightest offensive talents playing together is tantalizing. However, it is also not without worry.
The kids are alright
As a line, Lafrenière, Chytil and Kakko have only played together for a combined 23 minutes and 15 seconds of ice-time. To be effective they will have to get used to playing with each other, and doing so during the playoffs will be a trial by fire. In their short time together, they have won the possession battle, taking 24 shot attempts to the oppositions 21, but 75% of those attempts missed or did not reach the net. Conversely, they have surrendered 13 actual shots on goal, meaning more than half of the oppositions attempts reach the net. They are also a minus one in actual goals scored as they were on the ice for one goal against, while scoring none.
The one primary factor that may be in their favor is that in the playoffs, match-ups are of key importance. With home ice for the first round and the opposition focused on the Zibanejad and Panarin lines, the “kid line” should find favorable match-ups. Though, with little time between now and the start of the playoffs it is important to give them as much ice-time as possible tonight. The quicker they can adjust to each other, the sooner this line will find success.