From blueprints to reality of the Rangers rebuild, Leafs style
Back in December I wrote a piece about how the Rangers need to model their rebuild after the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you read the piece, the stars have aligned beautifully over the past seven months.
Now here in July, I am going to re-visit the article I wrote in December and take a deeper dive into the comparisons that I made. Before I discuss these comparisons let me be clear about the most important thing – I am fully aware of the cap hell that Toronto is in, and I am writing this piece based solely on the players skill sets and comparisons. Also for what it’s worth, teams that are up against the cap like the Leafs are typically high end Stanley Cup contenders.
To start off, the “John Tavares” of my comparison for the Rangers was Artemi Panarin. Yes Tavares is a centerman, where Panarin is a winger, but they are both top end NHL talents. The Rangers landed the big fish on the market, inking him to a 7 year, $81.5 million deal (AAV of $11.624 million). Panarin is the elite, play making forward that the Rangers needed to add to the mix.
As mentioned before, he is the “Tavares” of the Rangers because he is a 27 year old, highly paid UFA that was added to a young core. Panarin will be a first line, offensive driving force for the Blueshirts night in and night out. He is extremely durable having missed only six regular season games in his four year career. Like Tavares, Panarin is a bonafide, proven stud forward that will compile 70-80 points on a yearly basis.
In 2016, the Leafs won the NHL Draft Lottery and were awarded the first overall pick in which they selected American phenom, Auston Matthews. Coming out of the USNTDP, Matthews was as surefire a pick there can be. He projected to be a top end NHL talent, and a offensive driving, number one center.
Three years later, he has become exactly that. Matthews has arguably the best release in the game, and is an absolute force on a nightly basis. When I wrote my previous piece in December, I talked about how the Blueshirts needed their own homegrown star and that the 2019 NHL Draft was the place to get him. After finishing with the 6th best odds to jump up in the lottery, the Rangers got a little luck one night in April.
With the help of Steven McDonald’s badge in Gorton’s pocket, the Rangers moved up in the lottery. They were not rewarded with the first overall pick like the Leafs were, but landed in a perfectly fine spot with the number two selection. As we all know the Rangers selected their “Auston Matthews” when they drafted Finnish forward, Kaapo Kakko.
Kakko, who has played with men the past few seasons in Finland with TPS, seems to be more NHL ready than number one overall pick, Jack Hughes. Kakko will be a cornerstone for this Rangers team for the next decade plus, and the Rangers organization is extremely happy to have him. No he is not a center like Matthews, but he is projected to be a top line, all situations type forward for years to come. Kakko is the “Matthews” of the Rangers because he is the highly drafted, homegrown talent for the club.
Next, we will look at the “William Nylander” of the Rangers. Nylander had a down year last year after dealing with some contract dispute, but he is still a top six player on all 31 teams in the NHL. Nylander, who as mentioned before had a bit of a down year, had back-to-back 61 point seasons in the two seasons prior to this past one. I expect him to get back to that level again this upcoming year. When I wrote the previous piece in December, I said that Filip Chytil was the “Nylander” of the Rangers. While I do not think Chytil will be as good a player as Nylander is/will be, I am going to stick to this comparison.
In his rookie year at just 19 years old, not to mention on a rebuilding club, Chytil finished the season with 23 points in 75 games. Chytil got some time at center in the bottom six, but spent most of his time at the wing in the middle six. Chytil showed some phenomenal flashes of talent. The coast-to-coast goal he scored against Boston was a full on display of what he can do with his size, speed, and skill. Yes he had some growing pains, but that is what is going to happen with a 19 year old rookie. I expect Chytil to take a bigger leap this year, with more responsibility, and playing more minutes for Head Coach David Quinn.
As mentioned before, I do not think that Chytil will be as good a player as Nylander, but I will keep him as my “Nylander” comparison because I do believe he will be a 50-60 point forward in the top six for the Blueshirts.
Now we will look at the “Morgan Rielly” of the Rangers. In my previous post I wrote back in December, I said that first round pick K’Andre Miller was going to be the “Rielly” of the Rangers. This comparison I am going to change. After the acquisition of defenseman Jacob Trouba, he has earned the right to be the “Rielly” of the Rangers. Trouba, who was acquired for pennies on the dollar, is a 25 year old (same as Rielly) right handed defenseman (Rielly is a left shot, but that does not matter) who compiled 50 points last year with the Winnipeg Jets.
Trouba will without question be the Rangers night in and night out number one defenseman playing against teams top lines. He will also play on both the power play and penalty kill. He is a bonafide number one defenseman who can compile points. I expect Trouba to anchor the Rangers d-corps and be the true number one guy they have been looking for since trading Ryan McDonagh. Is Rielly a better player than Trouba? Yes, but I would certainly not say by a country mile. They are both number one, all situation type defensemen which is why Trouba is the “Morgan Rielly” of the Blueshirts.
Finally, who is the “Mitch Marner” of the Rangers. For this piece we will ignore the contract situation going on with Marner and assume he will be a Leaf next season. For those of us that don’t recall, Marner was selected fourth overall by the Leafs in 2015. Just to recap his incredible season last year, Marner compiled 94 points in 82 games for Toronto.
Marner is an elite, homegrown, play making winger. He is as good as it gets in the NHL, and he deserves every dollar coming his way. As for who the “Marner” will be for the Rangers is tough, however. In the previous piece I wrote in December, I wrote that 2018, 9th overall pick, Vitali Kravtsov is the “Marner” of the Rangers, and I am going to stick with that comparison.
I will start by saying I do not think Kravtsov will be as great a player as Marner is/will be, but I do not think he will be far off. In his D+1 year, Kravtsov had a fantastic season with Traktor in the KHL. He was apart of 26.58% of the goals scored by his club. *Below is a chart of comparisons to Kravtsov’s point contribution.*
The 19 year old Russian showed up big time at Rangers development camp a couple of weeks ago, and is going to make the big club this year after signing his ELC this summer. I expect Kravtsov to be a top nine forward for the Rangers this season, with opportunities in the top six, as well as some power play time. Kravtsov’s development has been excellent over the past 13 months since being drafted, and it will only continue to grow. I expect him to finish the season with somewhere between 30 and 40 points, and most importantly, continue his development. Again, I do not think he will be as good a player as Marner, but I do believe he will be a 60 point, top six forward for years to come with the Blueshirts. Vitali Kravtsov is the “Mitch Marner” of the New York Rangers.
*Credit to the one and only StatBoy Steven for the chart*