The Rangers need to get more “right”
Too Many Lefties
Do the Rangers have too many lefties? Simply put, yes. But the issue is somewhat deeper than just that. The Rangers currently have 3 right-handed forwards and 2 right-handed defensemen. That in itself is bad, but a closer look at their top prospects finds just one righty, Sergei Zborovsky, in their top 7 skaters.
The Addition of Mika
The biggest problem this lack of balance creates is found on the power play. Mika Zibanejad found himself a sweet spot in the left circle on the Rangers #1 power play unit. This spot is sometimes called “the Ovechkin hole”, because Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has made a living blasting home goals from this place on the ice. Good right-handed shooters clean up scoring goals off cross seam passes from the left circle, or from middle point on the blue line. Though Zibanajad has some accuracy deficiencies, he has fluid, dangerous bomb of a shot.
When the Rangers traded Derrick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika, most pointed to getting younger, or getting cap relief as the prime reasons for the move. But, behind the scenes, swapping a lefty for a righty, was every bit as important. And one that could shoot like he does was a nice added bonus.
But What about Derek and Jesper?
The other two right-handed forwards are far less effective in this capacity on the power play. Derek Stepan plays in that left circle but is a pass first type of playmaker. The Rangers never set up their power play for a Stepan one-timer. He just isn’t good at it. Jesper Fast has never been used in man advantage situations.
In the past, fans clamored for Kevin Klein and the recently traded Dylan Mcilrath to get PP time because they both possess very hard shots. The problem there is that neither handled the puck well. Quick one touch passes and soft hands are a necessity on this unit.
Going forward the Rangers will have to go outside the organization to find more right-handed shooters via trade or free agency. I don’t see the Rangers trading young guys like Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, Jimmy Vesey, JT Miller or Pavel Buchnevich unless it’s for a clear upgrade.
The very unavailable Steven Stamkos would be one example. Stamkos was just days away from becoming a free agent this summer before re-signing with Tampa. Many top hockey insiders predicted to “watch out for the Rangers” if Stamkos hadn’t resigned. Don’t doubt it for a second. He was everything they lacked, and GM Jeff Gorton would have been all in on him.
Last week I wrote about the right-handed Kevin Shattenkirk becoming a Ranger next season. It has become an imperative move now. The best prospects, Boo Nieves, Ryan Gropp, Sean Day, Robin Kovacs, Ryan Graves, and Brad Morrison are all left-handed. Only Zborovsky is right-handed and has a decent chance of making it to the big club
Depending on how things work out in the expansion draft, Patrick Sharp and TJ Oshie are both unrestricted free agents , and also right-handed. But the cap would make it challenging and also finding a top 9 spot for either could be just as vexing.
A difficult conundrum
You can’t expect any team to draft a player depending on which way they shoot. So it’s luck more than anything that has led to this imbalance. Rick Nash has one more year left on his deal. If he were moved next summer, there may be room for a guy like Oshie. Otherwise, it will take enormous creativity for Jeff Gorton to correct this flaw.
To all reading this Happy Holidays!