Coming out of a roster rebuild, the New York Rangers are on the cusp of greatness. Following a second-round playoff loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Rangers entered their first period of uncertainty since the 2003-04 season. Following a swift roster reconstruction, the Rangers are primed for another era of success. Under head coach David Quinn, the Rangers appear to be headed in the right direction.
The Wild New York Rangers Rebuild
The Tear Down
At the 2018 and 2019 trade deadlines, the New York Rangers rebuild got underway with a flurry of moves involving several high profile players. The Rangers made the Tampa Bay Lightning one of the best teams in the NHL by giving them Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller in 2018. The Rangers also managed to get a deal done with the Boston Bruins for Rick Nash. The next year would see Kevin Hayes dealt to the Winnipeg Jets. Hayes was not the only departure in February of 2019 as the Dallas Stars went after Mats Zuccarello. Nearly every big name in New York was sent packing.
The Rangers did not have a bad return by any means. Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden, and Libor Hajek were all sent to New York along with a pair of high draft picks in the McDonagh trade. While Namestnikov is no longer with the team, the prospects acquired could still be impactful players.
The Rick Nash trade could largely be considered highway robbery. New York was able to get their hands on Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Ryan Lindgren, and Boston’s first-round draft choice for a forward that barely contributed during Boston’s playoff run. While Beleskey and Spooner are both essentially meaningless at this point, Lindgren has spent considerable time in the Big Apple.
Kevin Hayes was a highly regarded player in New York that never managed to take the next step. When the Rangers traded him, they received young forward Brendan Lemieux and a pair of draft picks, one of which was a first-rounder.
The return for Zuccarello was not as significant as the one for some of New York’s other stars. A conditional second round and a conditional third-round were sent to the Rangers.
The Rangers have acquired and developed a lot of young talent in a very short time. Through trades and draft choices, the team has a solid young core that could propel them to championships in the not too distant future. Several prospects made an impact at the NHL level this season as they look to make a name for themselves at Madison Square Garden.
As a top draft pick, big things are expected. Taken second overall in the 2019 draft, Kaapo Kakko is supposed to be the next big thing in the Big Apple. In his first year as a professional, Kakko cracked the NHL roster. He spent time playing on the third line as a rookie.
Kakko did not impress in his first year. In 66 games he tallied 23 points. While those don’t jump off the page as highly impressive rookie numbers, Kakko is also only 19 years old. Very few players can say they made the NHL roster right away. While he does not appear to be a dominant force in the league right now, he has a lot of promise. Kakko is easily the biggest part of the New York Rangers rebuild and needs to play well in the coming years.
Vitaly Kravtsov figures to be a large part of the Rangers plan for the future. A top draft choice in 2018, Kravtsov stayed in Russia for a year before being signed to an entry-level deal. He spent time in the KHL and played on the U20 team. In the 2018-19 Worlds Tournaments, he suited up for 24 games and scored a highly impressive 22 points.
Since signing with the Rangers, Kravtsov was assigned to the Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL. In his first 39 games in North America, he registered six goals and nine assists. While he still needs to develop further, he is showing promise and could be a major player in the near future.
Arguably this season’s biggest surprise, Adam Fox was one of three rookie defencemen who made a huge impact on their team. A snub for the 2020 Calder Trophy, Fox is one of the team’s most important assets moving forward. The 22-year-old defender put up 42 points in 70 games with the Blueshirts this season. He is sure to grow in this area as well with plenty of time to develop into a top tier defenceman.
To understand how large of an impact Fox had on defence, we look at his relative Corsi. This is a measure of how many shots were taken on your opponent’s net vs on your own. Adam Fox had an outstanding 7.0 in this category. Anthony DeAngelo was the next closest on the Rangers roster. He only managed a 2.8. No other New York defenceman even managed a positive score. When Fox was not on the ice, the Rangers absorbed more shots on net than they took themselves. Fox had an even better year than Calder nominees Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes in his defencive impact. Makar registered a mere 2.6 and although Hughes our up a highly respectable 6.0, that’s not on the same level as Fox.
During his inaugural season with the Rangers, Jacob Trouba disappointed. He was expected to be a key element of the franchise’s rebuild. After trading away a first-round draft choice and promising youngster Neal Pionk for Trouba, New York was looking for a big return. Instead, he became a defensive liability. While he has time to turn it around, he needs to do it sooner rather than later. The potential is there, but he needs to capitalize on it.
Trouba’s relative Corsi was the lowest it’s been since his rookie year with the Winnipeg Jets. He had an awful rating of -2.7. Considering the cost of acquiring the promising 26-year-old, the return does not look good. His offence was not much better. Coming off of a career-high 50 point season, Trouba only mustered a meager 27 points. Neither aspect of his game has lived up to what the Rangers paid for. If he doesn’t improve next season, this trade could wind up looking like highway robbery. Although he was expected to be a large part of the New York Rangers rebuild, he could wind up on the wayside.
Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins, Ryan Lindgren was dealt to New York in the Rick Nash trade. In his first full year as a pro, Lindgren displayed promise and disappointment. On a team with relatively weak defenders, he cracked the starting roster but failed to surpass them. He had a respectable 14 points. While that does not jump off the page as impressive numbers, it matters less so long as his defence is strong. Lindgren failed to produce on the other end as well.
When we look at his relative Corsi numbers, Lindgren had a rating of -2.0. While it was his first full season at the NHL level, those are not strong numbers. When you consider that Lindgren also played on the same pairing as Adam Fox for most of the season, it becomes concerning. While he has plenty of time to step up, the NHL won’t wait forever.
The New York Rangers rebuild is concluding with one of the most promising goaltender situations in the league. A 6’2” Russian netminder, Igor Shesterkin looks to be the future of the franchise. While he only played in 12 games this year, he won 10. With a save percentage of .932, Shesterkin appears to be the heir to the Henrik Lundqvist throne at Madison Square Garden.
The small sample size is the only concerning aspect of crowning Shesterkin now. Playing only 12 games doesn’t make you a star in the NHL. He had a very good start but fans still need to watch his development into next season. If he can repeat his performance from this year over a larger sample of games, the Rangers may have another superstar goaltender.
Compared to Shesterkin, Alexandar Georgiev is a far more experienced goalie. He made his NHL debut in the 2017-18 season. While his numbers haven’t exactly been stellar, he has shown promise. Georgiev put up a career-high 2.91 goals-against average in 2018-19. He averages 3 goals against in his career and a .913 save percentage. While those are not exactly starter numbers, he has the potential to at least be a very solid backup. In a couple of seasons. with a better defence in front of him, his numbers could improve.
This roster is still very young, but the Rangers rebuild was a massive success. They have all the talent they need to be a force in this league. But now is not quite their time. Players like Fox, Kakko, and Kravtsov need to continue their development before they are able to win titles. Don’t be surprised to see them make a quick exit from the qualifying round this year. Next year might be a different story. Alongside established threats like Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers youth could become a dynasty.