Rangers can’t ignore need for size and grit any longer; it’s time to go get some this summer

By Anthony Scultore
Feb 19, 2019; Raleigh, NC, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) takes a face off against Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jordan Martinook (48) at PNC Arena. The New York Rangers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers were bulldozed again by the Islanders. With their playoff lives at stake and a chance to cut their crosstown rivals lead in the standing to just one point, they fell flat. That was due in large part to heavy hitting by players like Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, and Casey Cizikas.

Heading into next season, the Blueshirts must finally take the painful lessons they learned in their qualifying round sweep to the Hurricanes, and manhandling by the Isles this year. It’s time to get big, mean, and strong on the bottom six.

Rangers may have a future grind line in the making

This is not a call to abandon the plan to continue to inject skilled players into the lineup. However; there are some skills that are better suited for those who can grind it out on the fourth line. Some of those tools include the ability to forecheck, hit with consequence, and own the boards every time you are out there.

The Rangers don’t have any of that right now. Morgan Barron who made his debut could be the center of that kind of line. On his wings are two prospect power forwards that I believe aren’t ready to make the jump to the NHL just yet, but will compete in camp next season.

Will Cuylle whom the Rangers recently signed to his ELC is 6-3 and weighs 212 lbs. He would be the most skilled forward on that unit, but can also play it big and mean. Another is a Swedish monster by the name of Adam Edstrom who is 6-6 and almost 220 lbs. He was suspended earlier in the season for absolutely crushing a player with an open ice hit.

This could very well be the future of the Rangers 4th line bangers, but Jeff Gorton can’t hope it pans out. He needs to address it this summer for next year while those kids develop.

Scouring the UFA market for the right players

Here’s my first piece of advice for the Rangers, go out and kill two birds with one stone. Sign Islanders center Casey Cizikas. Not a large player at 5-11 and 195 lbs, Cizikas can still be the lynchpin to a stellar fourth line and win key face-offs. Losing draws is something the Rangers desperately need to address this offseason as well.

new york rangers
May 1, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Morgan Barron (47) plays the puck against New York Islanders center Casey Cizikas (53) during the first period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Cizikas is 30 years-old and is coming off a deal that paid him $3.35 million. That seems expensive for a fourth line player, but maybe the Rangers should invest in shoring up that hole. The beauty about signing him away from the Isles is that it means creating a hole they need to fill and breaks up the best 4th line in the NHL of a division foe.

That being said, it isn’t enough. While Morgan Barron can easily play the wing on that line, Jeff Gorton needs to look at another veteran winger. Jordan Martinook with the Carolina Hurricanes is someone that fits the bill for me. He willl turn 29 in July but can play a high intensity style with an in-your-face attitude at 6-1 and 204 lbs. Martinook won’t come cheap as he’s coming off a deal paying $2 million, and looking for an increase. Another plus, Martinook can also take some draws.

Another option is 29 year-old center Riley Sheahan in Buffalo. The 6-3, 214 lbs pivot can win draws and help in a 4th line capacity. He’s coming off a deal worth only $700,000 and could be a more economical option.

All I know is that the Blueshirts can’t ignore this problem any longer. Aside from trying to land another star center and a veteran defenseman, they need to bulk up the fourth line. It’s great to have tons of skill, but you need to survive in the East Conference if you ever hope to compete for the Stanley Cup again.

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