What should the New York Rangers do with Nils Lundkvist?
The New York Rangers and Nils Lundkvist have already found themselves at a critical juncture. After anxiously awaiting the 2018 first-round pick (28th overall) to come over from Sweden last summer, it took just one season to begin wondering if he even fits into the team’s plans.
Prior to Lundkvist making his way to the Rangers, he was considered one of the top prospects in the organization. In his final SHL season, he won the Salming Trophy as the league’s best Swedish born defenseman. Lundkvist notched 32 points which included 14 goals in 52 games. That was the most goals from a defenseman as a 21 year-old player or younger in the SHL’s history.
Lundkvist then competed at training camp winning the 2021 Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award as the top rookie. A smooth skater with a great shot, he was also positionally strong in all three zones. His ability to quarterback the Rangers second power play unit was the key differentiator as to why he beat out Zac Jones to win the 6th defenseman spot.
“It’s been an adjustment,” Nils said after his first exhibition game. “You need to play more at the central of the ice. Back home (in Sweden) when you’re in the dots you have a lot of space. When you’re out there, you’re close to the boards – so it will be an adjustment. It’s getting better and better.”
That adjustment was coming too slowly and eventually led to him being occasionally scratched. Lundkvist went on to play 25 games with the Rangers last season, recording 1 goal and 3 assists before being sent down to the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Where does Nils Lundkvist fit with the New York Rangers
The 22 year-old defenseman struggled to adjust coming over from Sweden and things didn’t get much better for him in the AHL. He went on to score 15 points in 34 games with the Wolf Pack but had long stretches of ineffective play.
“We’re starting to get to know Nils,” Wolf Pack head coach Kris Knoblauch said. “He does possess those traits (Zac) Jones has, perhaps not as dynamic. Nils is a threat because his shot is dangerous and we saw that on the power play.”
Despite being on the small side at 5-11 and 187 lbs, Lundkvist is excellent at making a good first pass and has an elite level shot.
The real issue for him is he’s another right-handed shot defenseman sitting behind Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, and Braden Schneider.
Fox is the team’s top defenseman after winning a Norris Trophy in his sophomore season and earning a 7 year extension ($9.5M AAV). Trouba is the Rangers most physical presence on the ice with a contract that runs until 2025-26.
The emergence of Schneider, who was selected in the first-round of the 2020 Draft after the Rangers traded up to make the pick, has been a find. The 6-2, 202 lbs defenseman is a physical presence on the blue-line that likes to hit and can chip in with offense.
The Blueshirts are basically set on the right side for the next few seasons, it’s also why Lundkvist could be on the outs.
What should the Rangers do with Nils Lundkvist
Lundkvist, 22, signed his ELC last summer and has two years remaining before the Rangers are forced into any move.
This preseason, Nils is expected to compete for a spot on the Rangers defense. But if he wants to make the team it will have to be a Schneider’s partner on left defense. Which means the right-handed Lundkvist will need to beat out lefties Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson, and Libor Hajek for that position.
Lundkvist certainly has the talent to do it, but Jones has been really good and is the most likely to claim it.
Jones, 21, is in the final year of his entry-level deal that comes with a low cap hit of $925,000. He’s shown he has the ability to play in the NHL using his high hockey IQ to compensate for his size at 5-11, 185lbs.
In his first full season as a pro with the Hartford Wolf Pack, he was their leading scoring defenseman with 35 points in 52 games. This past season, he played in 12 games with the big club and tallied two assists receiving praise from both his head coaches.
The Rangers need to know what they have in Jones before opting to trade him.
As for Lundkvist, the Rangers may very well include him in a trade deadline deal this upcoming season. He’s already been rumored to be on the block, and could be a key piece in trying to acquire either J.T. Miller or Patrick Kane for the playoffs.
If the team doesn’t decide to trade him, a full season with the Wolf Pack will benefit his development. Lundkvist needs to get stronger but also make the appropriate adjustments to the smaller ice rinks in North America.
Lundkvist’s contract expires in 2024 and he will still be a restricted free agent which keeps the Rangers in control. That also coincides with Trouba’s full no-move clause becoming a modified no-trade.
Should the Rangers look to trade Trouba and his $8 million cap hit that summer, Schneider will move up to the top four to play with K’Andre Miller. That would open up a huge opportunity for Lundkvist on the third pair.
The good news for the Rangers is they have options with Lundkvist, but if he sits in the minors too long his trade value will only diminish.
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