The Rangers need to trade Chris Kreider at the draft
The #2 Pick
Unfortunately, Chris Kreider may have played his last game as a New York Ranger this past season. There have been outcries and debates on what to do with the Rangers roster going forward once the news broke that they will be picking second overall in the upcoming draft. The player they can select, assuming the Devils don’t do what they did two years ago, will be Kaapo Kakko. Many analysts, coaches, GMs, and anyone else who pays attention to NHL prospects will tell you that the top two picks are locked right in place; Jack Hughes for the first overall and Kaapo Kakko for the second.
Why is this important for an article about Chris Kreider? Well Kakko is a winger, unlike Hughes who is destined to become the next best center in this league. Assuming Kaapo is picked by the Rangers and not by the Devils, the Rangers can see a huge overhaul in the locker room before the team reconvenes for training camp. Kaapo Kakko will most likely make the team right out of camp, and there really shouldn’t be any scenario that Kakko ends up going to the AHL to start the season.
The Russian Revolution
With Vitali Kravtsov’s imminent arrival next season, it is hard to imagine him not starting at the NHL level. The 19-year-old, who turns 20 on December 23rd, was initially not a very popular pick among Rangers fans. Being picked ninth overall while his projections were all over the place was a shock to say the least, and definitely not a safe pick. Fortunately for the Rangers and their fans, Kravtsov is now ranked as one of the top drafted prospects in the world and has turned heads for his offensive production and overall game.
Now how does Kreider fit into this narrative? With Kravtsov coming in, throwing him into the AHL on a rebuilding team is not a good way to get the ball rolling. Even if he does have to play some time in the AHL to get acclimated to the pace and the rink size, his stint will most likely not be for the whole season. Kravtsov will eventually earn top-six minutes, and with Kakko most likely being apart of this team as well, the top-six is starting to look a little crowded.
The Key Offseason Addition
Let’s face it, Artemi Panarin isn’t a lock to be a Ranger next season, but there is a very strong possibility that it becomes a reality. The Russian left winger is currently battling with the Blue Jackets in the post season and putting up some significant numbers. 4G/5A in seven games so far during this postseason, showing that he can perform in the playoffs. Panarin is a natural scoring talent that has been linked to the Rangers all season. Some people say he actually wants to play for this club, others say his girlfriend just wants to live in NYC. Either way, if he is indeed becomes a Ranger in offseason, that is one step closer to ending this rebuild a lot quicker than all the fans expected and it means bad news for Kreider.
Building on the last two portions of this article, with Kakko, Kravtsov, and Panarin being potential additions to the lineup, Kreider will realize how scarce playing time will be for him and revert to the second line, at best. Let’s also not forget the cap hit Panarin would bring with him. No matter how much he may eventually sign for, it will be a large chunk of this season’s cap hit and Kreider’s $4.625M hit isn’t looking all that worth it.
Impressive New Additions
This rebuilding season saw many new faces in the Rangers lineup such as Brett Howden, Ryan Strome, and Brendan Lemieux. All three of these players have shown why they belong on this team either by Howden’s huge upside, Strome’s resurgence as a solid NHL player or even Lemieux using his increased ice time to showcase the kind of player he really can be. All three of these players should be in the starting lineup next season as a solid third line. With Strome’s $3.1M cap hit and Lemieux due for a significant raise from his $840K ELC, we start to see why Kreider is the odd man out in this situation.
Why Now Is Better Than Later
Kreider, as good and as explosive as a player he is, really doesn’t seem to be the player the team needed him to be these past few years when the Rangers were competing. With all the new additions coming next season, along with the younger wingers starting to showcase their talents, Kreider is the odd man out in this lineup. And with a large cap hit and unrestricted free agency looming next season, trading him now may be the best option for Jeff Gorton.
One strong argument that can be used for keeping Kreider for next season is the Mats Zuccarello situation. Zuccarello wasn’t traded during the offseason, and because Jeff Gorton decided to trade Zuccarello when teams needed him the most, he potentially pulled out two separate first round picks for the Norwegian winger; but how many times can he really pull that off?
Now, Krieder is younger, larger, and stronger but he isn’t the playmaker Zuccarello is, and therefore, inserting him into a lineup isn’t as easy as it seems on paper. Kreider needs time to adjust to a new team – we saw how long it took him to reach 50 points with the same team and when he hit it again this year on a losing team, that’s cause for celebration. Now, because his value has never been higher and this upcoming season is his contract year, clubs that may be all in for next season may want to start off on the right foot with a speedy winger, especially if picks or prospects don’t add into their offseason plan.
What The Rangers Can Get Back For Kreider
Trading Kreider now can bring the Rangers back some significant assets, especially if you compare him to what Milan Lucic got in the trade that sent him to the Kings during the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Lucic, who shoots the same, plays in the same position and is the same size as Kreider was also on the last year of his contract before hitting unrestricted free agency. The Bruins traded Lucic during the 2015 entry draft for the 13th overall pick, Martin Jones (the current goalie for the San Jose Sharks) and Collin Miller (Las Vegas Golden Knights defensemen). Now, trading Kreider alone may not bring back exactly two high-level prospects and a top-15 pick, but stating the Rangers cannot get any one of those three is just ludicrous. The Rangers can have three first-round picks in this year’s draft, assuming Dallas reaches the western conference finals, and bundling the other late round pick (traded from Winnipeg) can have the Rangers moving up on those two alone. Chris Kreider can bring in a pick ranging from 10-20 depending on the team, so trading for a top-10 pick isn’t unrealistic if you combine him and that pick. Teams that need an extra push to make them contenders such as Buffalo (#7) or Vancouver (#10) or a team that has a top pick from someone else (Colorado, #4) may be more inclined to trade for a proven forward with tons of experience, especially playoff experience. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there is another draft day route the Rangers may be able to take.
A large portion of Rangers fans have been longing for Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba. Currently sitting on restricted free agency for this offseason, Trouba is the top offensive defenseman for the Jets, but unfortunately for them, they might not be able to pay him. This situation has led many to believe that Trouba’s rights will be traded away sometime this offseason and that Chris Kreider, having a reasonable cap hit of $4.625M for next season is perfect for the win-now Winnipeg Jets. Even if it takes coupling the pick the Jets traded during the deadline with Kreider, the Rangers would be acquiring a 25-year-old RHD to reinvigorate the dying blueline of the New York Rangers. This, along with Adam Fox, the newly acquired defense prospect from Harvard, would go a long way to bringing the Rangers back to contention much earlier than expected.
Bringing It All Home
Now that was a lot of information, but let’s make sense of it. With the assumptions that the Rangers pick Kaapo Kakko, that they acquire Artemi Panarin and that Vitali Kravtsov starts in the NHL next season, there are three spots in the Rangers lineup that are filled with new players. This pushes the current players down such as Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Vlad Namestnikov, Jesper Fast, Ryan Strome, and Brendan Lemieux. If the Rangers decide to re-sign Buchnevich and Lemieux for $3M for four years and $1.8M for two years, respectively, then the cap starts to really take a hit. Trading Kreider before July 1st would give the Rangers significantly more cap space and they can focus on signing Panarin to the large contract everyone will regret in four years. Trading Kreider would either increase the Rangers’ already impressive prospect pool or help accelerate the rebuild even more with potential blue line acquisitions.