New York Rangers still have roster needs, but no pressure to make a trade
One thing winning does for a good hockey team is buy them more time to fill holes in their roster.
Make no mistake about it, despite being tied with the Capitals at 48 points and in first overall by way of wins (22), the Rangers have holes. The biggest issue still remains a top six forward, preferably a right wing.
“Chris Drury has been looking for a forward to play top 9 or top six for weeks, if not months,” Darren Dreger said on TSN OverDrive. “Nothing is happening. That may speak to the parity, and we are a long way from who is a playoff team and who isn’t.”
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Rangers glaring hole at right wing
Kaapo Kakko is now a mainstay on the team’s top line and has performed well even though he only has one assist in his last four games. Barclay Goodrow has taken over for an ineffective Dryden Hunt on the second line and responded with five points in the team’s last three games.
Yet, the Rangers would be better suited with Goodrow on a third or even fourth line for balance.
Julien Gauthier for all his speed does not have the finishing touch to play in the top six. Alexis Lafreniére, who has been excellent in Artemi Panarin’s absence is admittedly not comfortable on the right side.
So Chris Drury at some point will have to make a move for a rental forward come the NHL trade deadline. He just doesn’t have to do anything rash now.
One player that the Rangers likely have targeted is Vegas Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith.
The 30-year old forward, has 11 goals and 26 points in 35 games. He will be a UFA this summer with a current cap hit of $5M. The winger played with Gallant in Vegas and should be available late this month or early February once Jack Eichel comes LTIR.
That was the plan, but with Max Pacioretty out indefinitely it’s conceivable that trading Smith isn’t the foregone conclusion it once was when Eichel returns.
Other possible rental forwards remain Phil Kessel, Tomas Hertl, and Filip Forsberg. Another potential target could be Tyler Toffoli in Montreal even though he has one more year left on his deal at $4.25M.
Is Zac Jones the answer on defense?
The Rangers have also been rumored this season to be in the market for a veteran left handed defenseman. While the team is pleased with Patrik Nemeth, he has not exactly been the definition of stability for Nils Lundkvist on the third pair.
According to Arthur Staple of The Athletic, one potential rental could be Ben Chiarot of the Montreal Canadiens. Although he isn’t sure that Jeff Gorton would be so willing to help his former organization after his abrupt dismissal last season.
Other candidates include Carson Soucy in Minnesota, Calvin De Haan in Chicago, and my pick Mark Giordano in Seattle. The Rangers had interest in landing Giordano this summer but it never came to fruition.
However, the recent play of 21 year-old Zac Jones has not gone unnoticed by his head coach.
“He looks confident out there,” Gallant said. “We want to see him a little bit. He played a good first game and tonight he was good again.”
Jones was late cut at camp and arguably outplayed several of his counterparts. He fell victim to a numbers game but it is his on-ice numbers so far that impress.
In two games he’s averaged 14:16, is a +1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 2 blocks. Mind you, this was against the likes of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl at times. He’s also shown his versatility by playing both the left and right side.
While it is likely that Drury may still add a player like Giordano at the deadline, it has to be comforting to know that Jones appears to be ready if needed.
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