Getting to The CENTER of The Rangers Issues

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The Rangers lack depth at the center position this season, and it is no secret. Mika Zibanejad was promoted to the role of number-one center after Derek Stepan was traded to The Arizona Coyotes. Zibanejad has 13 goals and 11 assists for 24 points and carries a 51.46 FO% in his 33 games played.

Kevin Hayes, who’s jumped from winger to center and back his entire career with the Blueshirts, was given the opportunity to secure the second line center position. At the season’s halfway mark, Hayes has produced nine goals and eight assists for 17 points and has gone 50% on faceoffs this year.

J.T. Miller, a true left winger, in my opinion, has seen plenty of ice time in the center position due to the lack of depth. He has eight goals and 19 assists in 42 games with a 54.08 FO%. This additional “fill in” was mirrored with the signing of David Desharnais. Desharnais, has gone above and beyond anyone’s expectations. With four goals and 15 assists in 39 games played, he actually leads all Rangers centers with a 56.1 FO%. And we’ve also seen promising, consistent performances from young gun Boo Nieves. His fourth line presence has been noticed. Going back to December 5th we’ve seen Nieves’ strong play when the Rangers were able to steal a win in the Steel City.

AP

“Nieves had the goal, a hit, a blocked shot, and was 60% on faceoffs. His strong play was rewarded by head coach Alain Vigneault, who had the youngster on the ice in the waning moments of the game, taking faceoffs against Sidney Crosby.” – ZC

To put it lightly, so far, we’ve been lucky. Halfway through the season, the Blueshirts have been able to work with this group of centers, even through Zibanejad’s injury.

Now or Later?

With the trade deadline coming up soon (2/26), there really hasn’t been much talk about trading for a true #2 or #3 center. Max Pacioretty has been mentioned, but we haven’t seen any real push or promise on the rumors. Why isn’t the Rangers Twittersphere buzzing about acquiring a true, top 6, goal scoring center? It’s simple. Acquiring one now would be too pricey. And the New York Rangers already have one or two waiting in the wings. If both Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil make the roster next year, it changes everything.

Potential 2018-2019 Center Depth:

Zibanejad

Andersson

Chytil

Nieves/Lettieri/other

Wing Strong

The New York Rangers have a plethora of Wingers. With Andersson and Chytil both down the center, it relieves both J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes of their center duties. This opens up a whole new list of line pairings and options. I personally would like to see both Hayes and Miller back at full-time wing Positions. Keep in mind that with the new and over-regulated face off rules in full effect, having wingers with extensive face-off experience can only benefit the team.

Kreider’s return?

Chris Kreider is still out indefinitely but has undergone successful surgery required after he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his arm.

Anthony J. Causi

The future depth up front will hang heavily on Chris Kreider’s healthy return. The 6’3”, 224-pound left-winger, who tallied eleven goals and eleven assists in 37 games played this season, has already been missed. His speed through the neutral zone and presence in front of the net, especially on the power play, are vital to this team’s production and game plan. We can only hope for a successful and quick rehab and recovery for Chris Kreider.

Looking Forward

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And here’s my point. Are both Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson ready for the big league come the 2018/2019 season? Yes, and this would give the Rangers Zibanejad, Andersson, Chytil, Nieves and/or Lettieri all down the middle. We’ve already seen Nieves play wing as needed, same with Lettieri, which means the depth chart is even deeper. Add this center depth to the already abundant winger selection, and Jeff Gorton and company may already be looking to next year. I’m not suggesting a tank but letting this season fizzle out with more of the same. While the fan in me wants to predict a deep Stanley Cup run, a wildcard playoff spot and a mediocre playoff run are more likely. But with the depth up front that I’ve suggested and a few tweaks on the blue line, I have confidence in the future.

Dead Trade Deadline?

If the return includes young speed and early picks, maybe selling a soon to be UFA like Rick Nash is worth it. But with the future looking bright, and quickly approaching, be patient and get excited. And, don’t expect any major moves between now and the trade deadline.

18/19 Projected lineup
(I know it’s early, but it’s the Bye week- let’s have some fun!)

Kreider / Zibanejad / Buchnevich

Miller / Andersson/ Zuccarello

Hayes / Chytil / Nash

Vesey / Nieves / Fast (Letteiri?)

That’s rolling four, strong and fast lines. Where’s Grabner? You don’t see the Blueshirts top scorer on my list, as right now his stock is VERY high. The right-wing, even strength powerhouse has a team-leading 18 goals and has also tallied four assists. However, he is a UFA at the end of the season and for those reasons, I think he’s the best piece to move at the trade deadline if the Rangers are selling, as I think they should be. I predict Nash signs back with a pay cut, and settles in with Hayes and a centering Chytil on the third line.

What Do you think?

What players do you think will hold the Center Position next season? Do Andersson and Chytil both make the cut? And what moves, if any, do we see at the quickly approaching Trade Deadline?

Post your comments below, and follow me @Face_Off_Forte on Twitter.

And, as always, LETS GO RANGERS!