A look back at the top New York Rangers storylines coming into this season; where are we now

Back in November as we were preparing for what the NHL season would look like, I singled out some of the top storylines to keep your eye on. Now here we are at the midway point and it’s time to look back and look forward on where the Rangers are.

Where to play Alexis Lafreniere in the lineup?

What was written in November:

The Rangers have a good problem. Where should they play #1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere next season? Here’s the safe play, start him on the third line with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier. Let the rookie ease his way into the NHL and give him PP minutes. Now if Lafreniere looks like he can handle more, that’s when David Quinn will need to be creative. One option can be to move Chris Kreider to the right side. What does that mean for the rest of the lineup is unclear, but one of either him, Kaapo Kakko, or Pavel Buchnevich will be demoted to the third line.

At the midway point: This one was fairly accurate. Lafrenière has played almost everywhere in this lineup but has been mostly used on the top two lines. He has also switched to right wing in some games as well. Currently, he’s on a third line with Filip Chytil and sometimes either Kaapo Kakko or Julien Gauthier. With Vitali Kravtsov just a week away, it will be fun to see where and who he plays with.

Cap situation, is there room to improve?

What was written in November:

After signing all their RFAs the New York Rangers have $4.8 million in cap space. I know what you are saying, “go out and get someone!” Well you need to remember they will have to reserve about $3.5 million of that for performance bonuses. That leaves about $1.3 million for emergency call ups. So no, the Rangers are not going to be signing anymore free agents. Now, they may offer a few PTOs for camp, but I wouldn’t expect anything too big. Also, if you think they are buying out Brendan Smith, I have it on good authority they are not.

At the midway point: This was basically spot on. The Rangers didn’t add a soul after locking up all their RFA’s and they didn’t opt to buyout Brendan Smith either.

Tarmo Reunanen and Libor Hajek

tarmo reunanen
Mar 15, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Tarmo Reunanen #51 of the New York Rangers skates in his first NHL game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on March 15, 2021 in New York City. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

What was written in November:

The Rangers are hoping at least one young defenseman claims a spot on left defense next season. As of right now, Libor Hajek has the inside track to win the job, but Tarmo Reunanen is going to get a hard look too. K’Andre Miller will be a top four lefty for the Rangers defense. However, he would only add to the cap woes caused by so many performance bonuses. It would also be smart not to rush him and give Miller one season in the AHL.

At the midway point: This is one of those that seems right, even though I didn’t want Miller rushed. However, as I said in November; K’Andre was destined to be a top four defenseman and that’s where he is. Libor Hajek has solidified his place in the 6 man d-rotations and Tarmo Reunanen impressed in his one game of action.

Tony DeAngelo move to the left side

What was written in November:

There has been a lot of talk about moving Tony DeAngelo to the left side for next season. The 25 year-old defenseman is no stranger to playing his offside as he did for many years in the OHL for the Sarnia Sting. New York’s highest scoring rearguard is also on record with being open to moving to the left side. The primary reason for moving DeAngelo to the left is a simple one. They want to get him into the top four without dropping Adam Fox to the third pair. Also, beyond Ryan Lindgren the Rangers don’t have a left defenseman that can play top four minutes. Newly signed Jack Johnson was meant to stabilize the third pair on the left side, not replace Marc Staal. I would not be surprised if Johnson is in a rotation with with a young defenseman as well.

At the midway point: Tony DeAngelo moved to the left outside on this defense. After a tumultuous offseason, an early healthy scratch, and then an altercation with a teammate last year’s top scorer was sent home. He will likely be bought out this summer.

Trading Pavel Buchnevich?

What was written in November:

The topic of trading Pavel Buchnevich is going to be one that grows as the season progresses. He is entering the final year of his contract that comes with an AAV of $3.25 million. When the deal ends he will be an RFA with arbitration rights. What Jeff Gorton needs to decide is where he sees Vitali Kravtsov in this lineup. If the answer is in the top six, then Buchnevich becomes expendable and could be used as a trade chip at the deadline.

At the midway point: This one is yet to be determined, and won’t be at this NHL trade deadline. Pavel Buchnevich has played extremely well this season and is blossoming into a reliable scoring threat. He may have one of the best shots on the team. Still, you can’t have Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko, and Vitali Kravtsov all get top six RW minutes. The Rangers need a center, and if Jack Eichel is available one of them will be moved in that deal, the least likely being Kakko.

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