Rangers will need more depth and grit for stretch run
The New York Rangers superb record to this point in the season is masking a glaring issue that must be addressed by this year’s trade deadline. The Blueshirts are getting elite production from the usual suspects, which has carried them offensively in the absence of a few important forwards.
Unfortunately, the production starts and ends with the top-six, as the bottom-six forwards, other than 30-year-old Jimmy Vesey and 21-year-old rookie Will Cuylle have been absolutely stagnant offensively to this point.
As the past decade of Cup-winning teams show, having relatively productive and gritty third and fourth lines is crucial to achieving the greatest trophy in all of sports. This season, Barclay Goodrow seems to have lost any sort of offensive touch, only notching one goal almost halfway through the 2023-24 campaign. Even more concerning with Goodrow is the three years left on his contract after this season paying him $3.6 million each year.
Meanwhile, Nick Bonino is also frequently absent from the scoresheet. The veteran leads all forwards in blocked shots, however, lack of production from your third-line center will get a team nowhere in the playoffs.
Although Tyler Pitlick hasn’t been bad on the team’s fourth line, his production is also abysmal to this point in the season. With all of this in mind, what is the answer to these problems? There are a few potential solutions and Drury along with the rest of staff have already explored one of them.
Rangers need more depth and grit for stretch run
After an impressive 23 points in 28 games in the AHL this season, Brennan Othmann was called up to replace Pitlick after he was listed as week-to-week prior to the Rangers’ Jan. 4 matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks. The 20-year-old Ontario native shined in his debut, shooting the puck several times and creating havoc around the net.
While there was some hope that he may be the answer, Othmann was sent back down to Hartford after the Rangers’ lackluster effort on Jan 8 against the Canucks. After being sheltered for three games, he is likely not the answer to the Rangers’ depth issues at this time. Despite an impressive debut, it appears Laviolette isn’t ready to thrust the rookie into big situations. Placing Othmann on the team’s fourth line also does little for him or the Rangers to succeed.
Filip Chytil returns this season
It would be ideal for the Rangers to have Filip Chytil return and play like he did to start the season. This seems like a stretch, as the 24-year-old went home to Czechia in order to recover from suspected concussion issues. If Chytil remains out indefinitely, making moves to fill holes at center and wing for the time being may be the only option left for Drury.
Make a trade
As Kaapo Kakko appears imminent to return, the 22-year-old Finn will have a chance to redeem himself with the Rangers after a lackluster start. If Kakko puts it together, Drury may intelligently play conservative when looking at wingers at this year’s deadline.
This year’s set of likely available unrestricted free agents is where Drury may look, and the list features some intriguing and familiar names. The most notable of them are Anthony Duclair, Vladimir Tarasenko, Steven Stamkos, Jake Guentzel, and Elias Lindholm. All appear to be realistic acquisitions for a depth-starved Rangers’ team.
Getting more than one name on this pricey list is unlikely, so making the big splash followed by a sneaky good trade may have to be the move for Chris Drury. Loading up on center depth with players like Lindholm or Adam Henrique could be useful, but Drury will have to prioritize a certain role or position to fill this coming deadline.
In a recent interview with Forever Blueshirts, Peter Baugh of The Athletic provided some insights for the Mar 8 deadline.
“The center depth in this trade deadline class isn’t super great,” he said. “There’s Elias Lindholm, then there’s a pretty significant drop off after that.”
That fact alone may tie Drury’s hands if the asking price for Lindholm is too high. In that case, Drury might have to think winger instead. It wouldn’t hurt to find one to play with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Someone who can do it as well as Frank Vatrano did in 2022 would solidify an already scary Rangers’ offense. Drury could also add to the team’s grit with some skilled sandpaper guys like Sean Monahan of the Montreal Canadiens.