New York Rangers 2023-24 report cards: Grading the forwards

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
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A historic regular season and disappointing playoff finish are behind the New York Rangers, who scattered to their respective homes around the world a week ago. Though there’s plenty of offseason business ahead, including the 2024 NHL Draft on June 28-29 and the start of NHL free agency on July 1, it’s still worth taking a look back at each individual player’s performance in 2023-24.

We’ve graded the goalies and defensemen. Now let’s take a look at every Blueshirts forward who appeared in both the regular season and postseason.

Related: Why Rangers should pass on Patrik Laine trade

Grading Rangers forwards in 2023-24 regular season and playoffs

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Each forward (listed by regular-season grade) received a separate grade for the regular season and postseason.

Artemi Panarin

Regular season: A+

Playoffs: C

Artemi Panarin had one of the greatest regular seasons in Rangers history. His 120 points rank second all-time in a single season, shy of only Jaromir Jagr who put up 123 in 2005-06. Panarin surpassed the 100-point mark and the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career.

Panarin was not named one of the three Hart Trophy finalists as NHL MVP, but he did have a Hart Trophy-caliber season, finishing fourth in points (120) and fifth in goals (49) and assists (71).

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to have the same impact in the postseason. Panarin totaled 15 points across 16 games, third-best on the Blueshirts, and scored five goals, including four game-winners and one in overtime in Game 3 of the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes. But he just didn’t impact games in the same way he did during his historic regular season.

It was certainly an upgrade after Panarin was held without a goal and limited to two points in seven games against the New Jersey Devils in the first-round loss a year ago. He did score the shutout-breaking goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, cutting the Florida Panthers lead to one with 1:40 left in the third, and the attention he drew throughout the series opened up the ice for Alexis Lafreniere and Vincent Trocheck. However, the Rangers needed a lot more in the way of production from their superstar in the postseason.

Vincent Trocheck

Regular season: A

Playoffs: A

The 10-year veteran flourished in his second season in New York, quickly settling into a groove next to Panarin and Lafreniere. His 77 points set an NHL career high and ranked second on the Blueshirts. His 58.7 faceoff-win percentage ranked fourth across the NHL (minimum 700 face-offs taken).

Trocheck played an important role in all facets of the game, centering their most effective line at five-on-five as well as the top power-play unit, and playing a key role on the penalty kill.

His consistency translated to the postseason, where he led all Rangers skaters with 20 points and tied for the team lead with eight goals.

As much of the Blueshirts’ offensive production dried up in the conference final, Trocheck led the way with six points in the series, including their lone power-play goal. He was also at the forefront of one of the most electric moments of the postseason, jamming in the game-winner in 2OT in front of the home fans, when the Rangers took a 2-0 series lead in the second round against the Hurricanes.

Alexis Lafreniere

Regular season: B+

Playoffs: A

Lafreniere blossomed before our eyes this year, posting NHL career highs in the regular season with 57 points and 28 goals.

Switching over to the right wing to play alongside Trocheck and Panarin proved to be an immediate spark as the trio led all Rangers lines with a 55.6 expected goals for percentage (minimum 200 minutes).

Lafreniere elevated his game to the next level in the postseason, scoring eight goals to tie for the team lead and 14 points overall. Like Trocheck, he continued to have success even as the ice tightened against Florida. His four goals against the Panthers were the most of any Ranger in the series.

Plus, he had a tendency to show up in big spots, as seven of his eight goals either tied the game or gave the Rangers a one-goal lead.

Chris Kreider

Regular Season: B+

Playoffs: A-

The longest-tenured players on the Rangers set an NHL career best with 36 assists and finished the season one goal short of 40. His 75 points were the second-most in his career, two shy of the 77 he put up two years ago during his 52-goal season.

Kreider was excellent on special teams once again, pacing the team with 18 goals on the power play and adding two shorthanded as he and Mika Zibanejad ironically gelled the most on the penalty kill.

His postseason was inconsistent, falling into similar struggles that plagued Panarin and Zibanejad as he mustered one goal (shorthanded) and two points in six games against the Panthers. However, he still scored eight goals, tying Lafreniere and Trocheck for the lead, and put on one of the best single-game postseason performances in Rangers history.

He didn’t hoist the Cup this season, but Kreider single-handedly sent the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final, scoring a natural hat trick in the third period of Game 6 to overcome a 3-1 deficit and eliminate the Hurricanes. It was a heroic performance that likely guarantees his No. 20 will go up in the rafters of Madison Square Garden, if that wasn’t a sure bet already.

Will Cuylle

Regular season: B

Playoffs: C+

After a cup of coffee in the NHL with four games in 2022-23, Will Cuylle earned a spot in the regular rotation during the preseason and never looked back. Playing in 81 of a possible 82 games during the regular season, Cuylle enjoyed a very strong first full season in the NHL, scoring 13 goals and 21 points, and playing an important role on the Rangers third line.

Above all else, Cuylle brought a needed physical element, leading all rookies and finishing seventh in the NHL with 247 hits.

He may not have had a profound impact this postseason, tallying a goal and an assist in 16 games when his ice time dwindled, but Cuylle was still generally effective for the role he was asked to play. Cuylle continued to play his physical game in the postseason, dishing out 46 hits, which trailed only Trocheck and Jacob Trouba. He ranked second on the team with a plus-3 rating, and his 46.43 xGF% was fourth-best on the roster during the playoffs, behind only Lafreniere, Panarin, and Trocheck.

Jimmy Vesey

Regular season: B

Playoffs: B-

Jimmy Vesey has been everything the Rangers could ask for out of a fourth-line winger since rejoining the team at the start of the 2022-23 season. With his second-straight 10-plus goal, 25-plus point season, Vesey enjoyed his best offensive season since 2018-19, the final year of his first stint with the Blueshirts.

Finishing the seasons with 13 goals, seventh-best on the Rangers, he also continued to be a valuable defensive asset, ranking in the 80th percentile for his defensive play and playing a consistent role on a New York penalty kill that ranked third-best in the League. When neded, he played up in the lineup, as well.

Vesey’s postseason was cut to just 12 games, after he seperated his shoulder in Game 2 of the conference final on a big hit from Ryan Lomberg. Still, Vesey managed a goal and three points while maintaining solid defensive play.

Mika Zibanejad

Regular season: B

Playoffs: C-

Zibanejad had one of his worst regular seasons as a Ranger, averaging his lowest point-per-game pace since the 2017-18 season.

Part of that is a testament to the high bar he’s set for himself as a borderline Top 10 center in the NHL. After numerous elite years, this season feels like a bit of a step back from what we’ve come to expect.

Zibanejad still finished fifth on the Rangers with 72 points in 81 games and fourth in goals with 26, but lacked consistent production, particularly at even strength. Only eight of his 26 goals came at five-on-five, the lowest total since his first year with the Blueshirts, enduring a stretch for over three months where he went 30 straight games without a goal at five-on-five.

The inconsistency continued in the postseason. Zibanejad’s final postseason stats don’t look all that bad on paper, playing to a point-per-game pace with three goals and 16 points in 16 games. However, the bulk of that is due to a red-hot start as Zibanejad led the Rangers offensively through the first eight games with 13 points.

He was held to just three points in the final eight games and without a goal for the Blueshirts’ final 11 postseason games. He particularly struggled against Florida, with a two-assist night in Game 5 being the only time he found the box score in the entire series.

Even with his early production, Zibanejad ranked 10th out of 15 Blueshirts forwards in expected goals for percentage and expected scoring chances for percentage. The Rangers simply needed more production from their top-line center when the postseason matchups got tougher, and they didn’t get it.

Alex Wennberg

Regular season: B-

Playoffs: C+

One of the major midseason additions, coming over via trade from the Seattle Kraken, Wennberg added some important depth down the middle following the injury to Filip Chytil and saw time on both the penalty kill and second power-play unit.

He was a strong checking forward, helping to lead a line of Cuylle and Kaapo Kakko to an excellent stretch of dominant puck-possession hockey, but didn’t do much offensively, scoring a goal and five points in 19 regular-season games.

That carried into the playoffs where he only managed a goal and two points in 16 games. However, that goal was a big one, tipping in a Ryan Lindgren shot in overtime to win Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final and give the Rangers a 2-1 series lead over the Panthers. New York would drop the next three games, but Wennberg’s OT winner was one of the most electric moments this postseason.

That said, he was pretty quiet outside of that, even on the defensive end, where he was a bright spot during the regular season.

Matt Rempe

Regular season: B-

Playoffs: C+

Matt Rempe quickly became a fan favorite in New York, fighting Matt Martin on his first NHL shift in front of 79,000 fans outdoors at MetLife Stadium, and electrifying MSG with massive, sometimes controversial, hits.

Outside of all the fanfare, name chanting, and attention leaguewide, the 6-foot-8 rookie had a very solid first season. Averaging just 5:38 in the regular season, Rempe made the most of it by adding an intimidating physical presence on the ice and an active forecheck, and even scored a goal against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Rempe bounced in and out of the lineup during the postseason, playing 11 games with a 6:07 ATOI. He didn’t play in the final game after Laviolette limited him to just 2:43 of ice time in a Game 5 loss at home against the Panthers.

Despite that, Rempe was very solid when given the ice time. He scored the first goal of the Rangers postseason in Game 1 against the Washington Capitals and proved himself to be responsible in Game 2, logging over 10 minutes and seeing a shift in overtime during their 2-1 win. There are still plenty of improvements to be made, but Rempe was able to fulfill the role he was asked to play this season.

Jonny Brodzinski

Regular season: C+

Playoffs: C

It was a feel-good regular season for Jonny Brodzinski, who was finally able to translate some of his AHL success to the NHL, setting career highs with 57 games, six goals, and 19 points in his age-30 season.

His play earned him a two-year contract extension in New York. Brodzinski found himself out of the rotation down the stretch with the emergence of Rempe and the additions of Wennberg and Jack Roslovic. Nevertheless, Brodzinski’s play following Chytil’s injury was important to keeping the Rangers afloat.

He appeared in three postseason games and did not record a point, seeing some time as Laviolette searched for line combinations that would work. It was not a memorable postseason by any means, but few expected Brodzinski to even be playing in the postseason to begin with.

Blake Wheeler

Regular season: C

Playoffs: C+

Blake Wheeler was brought in on a one-year, League minimum deal with hopes that he could be a leader in the locker room and add some offensive depth to the roster. While Wheeler was certainly an impactful presence inside the locker room, he struggled to have the same impact on the ice in his age-37 season.

For the first time in his 16-year NHL career, Wheeler failed to surpass 10 goals or 30 points, finishing the season with nine goals and 21 points in 54 games. An ugly knee injury in mid-February looked like it would be the end of his season, and potentially his career.

Instead, Wheeler made a tremendous comeback and returned for Game 4 against the Panthers in the conference final. He ended up taking a hooking penalty in overtime after a Zibanejad turnover led to an Aleksander Barkov breakaway, but it’s hard to fault him for the resulting power-play goal by the Panthers, nor the loss.

That was the only game Wheeler played in the postseason, dishing out four hits and blocking two shots in his return. Like Chytil, the fact that he returned and was able to play at all is worth praise and acknowledgment.

Jack Roslovic

Regular season: C

Playoffs: C-

Roslovic was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets with the hope that he could spark some better play from Zibanejad and Kreider 5v5 as a top-line right winger.

He ended up being the best right wing option on that line during the regular season, as the line’s 54.7 xGF% trumped all other Zibanejad and Kreider line pairings outside of the 62 minutes they played next to Panarin.

Still, he didn’t exactly impress, scoring just three goals and eight points while averaging just 13:27 minutes in his 19 regular-season games with the Blueshirts.

After a solid start to the postseason, scoring two goals and four points in the first round against the Capitals, including a beautiful snipe on the power play in Game 2, Roslovic’s production fell off the map.

He managed one point in the six-game series against Florida and was bumped off the first line by coach Peter Laviolette, as Kakko, Chyti and Wennberg took turns as top-line right wing. Plus, his miss of an open net early in the first period of the deciding Game 6 is one that will haunt him for a while.

Barclay Goodrow

Regular season: C-

Playoffs: B+

Barclay Goodrow’s regular season was one of the worst in his 10-year career. After scoring 10-plus goals and 30-plus points in his first two years in New York, Goodrow’s production completely dropped off the table. He posted just four goals and 12 points in 80 games, easily the lowest point-per-game pace of his career.

Granted, his primary role isn’t to be a scoring threat, but he didn’t grade out well defensively either. Evolving Hockey’s charts placed him in the 44th percentile defensively and sixth percentile overall, making him one of the worst Rangers forwards this season.

However, The two-time Stanley Cup champion lived up to his reputation as a clutch playoff performer,.

Goodrow finished the 16-game run with six goals, which trailed only Lafreniere, Trocheck, and Kreider. If you’re making a list of electric moments from this postseason, Goodrow’s OT winner in Game 2 of the conference final to even the series at one has to be in the top three.

It was a remarkable scoring output from someone who struggled to find the back of the net all season long. Plus, his grit and edge made him a valuable presence against a physical Florida team.

Kaapo Kakko

Regular season: C-

Playoffs: C

This was not the season envisioned for Kakko when Laviolette came in with hopes of sparking the Lafreniere and Kakko. While Lafreniere surged, Kakko stumbled out the gate, managing just two goals and three points in his first 20 games, despite playing mostly alongside Zibanejad and Kreider.

An ugly-looking leg injury in late November sidelined him until mid-January, and though Kakko produced more after his return, finishing the regular season with 13 goals and 19 points, it was still a disappointing result after a promising 40-point output the year prior.

Kakko managed a goal and an assist in his 15 postseason games and was notably scratched for Game 2 against Florida. He returned to the lineup after Vesey’s injury and seemed to provide some semblance of a spark, as Laviolette rewarded him with time on the top six. Nonetheless, it was a postseason that felt disjointed. Though his future with the Rangers remains cloudy, Kakko did sign a one-year, $2.4 million contract to avoid becoming a restricted free agent.

Filip Chytil

Regular season: N/A

Playoffs: C+

Evaluating Chytil’s regular season is a difficult task. While he failed to find the back of the net in his 10 regular-season games, he tallied six assists and was part of a line with Panarin and Lafreniere that generated a 56.7 xGF%, the best of any Rangers line all season with at least 100 minutes played.

Then, he sustained an upper-body injury Nov. 2, which spawned setbacks thought to be concussion-related that kept him out for the rest of the regular season.

Chytil made his return in Game 3 of the second round series against Carolina and played in five of the six Eastern Conference Final games against Florida. He did not register a point in his six postseason games, but he saw top-line minutes next to Kreider and Zibanejad and posted a 12:54 ATOI, including 20 minutes of ice time in a 5-4 OT win in Game 3 against Florida.

While some offensive production would’ve been a nice addition, the fact that Chytil returned at all is remarkable considering there were concerns that head-related injuries could force him into early retirement. Chytil took a little time to find his footing in the postseason, but was far from a liability, generating the fourth-best scoring chances for percentage on the squad.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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