Rangers got better from the ground up at the NHL trade deadline

Just as the Big Ten have 14 schools in the conference, the Rangers’ bottom six have about 10 forwards for head coach Gerard Gallant to choose from after maneuvering Monday’s trade deadline.

But the top six may only have five strikers who legitimately fit into that category, a fact made worse by the news that Kaapo Kakko will be out for at least the rest of March before the Finn can potentially return after suffering a wrist injury paused him since January 21.

At best, Kakko could have a three-week runway leading up to the playoffs where he can get into hockey shape and fine-tune his timing while trying to hit playoff pace. This will be a challenge for him.

And it will be a challenge for the Rangers, who are so dependent on their names on offense but have the fewest five-a-side goals of the 16 teams currently in the playoffs.

So for the immediate future, what you’ve seen in the last three games is probably what you’re going to get: Mika Zibanejad between Chris Kreider and Alexis Lafreniere with floating free agent Ryan Strome skating between Artemi Panarin and Frank Vatrano .

Is this the place to mention that Panarin has scored once in five-a-side in his last 19 games and twice in his last 28 competitions? Or that Strome has not played five-a-side with three goals in nine consecutive games in his last 23 games? Or that Kreider has scored at full strength once in his last seven and that Zibanejad has played without one and with three in his last 26 games in eight consecutive games? Is this the place to reiterate that the team have scored two or fewer goals in 10 of their last 16 games?

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Chris Drury
Getty Images

When Vancouver made it impossible for the Rangers to get JT Miller and then escalated Anaheim’s price for Plan B (or C) Rickard Rakell beyond GM Chris Drury’s comfort zone, that was the inevitable outcome. The top six will need as much support from the bottom six as possible.

Drury was able to add that support to the roster by walking away from his first Deadline rodeo with Winnipeg’s coveted center six Andrew Copp and Vancouver under sixty Tyler Motte up front and with Philadelphia’s veteran right-back Justin Braun at the back end. And Drury did so without giving up any of the organization’s blue-chip assets in return.

A number of draft picks were sacrificed over the next two seasons, including two conditional seconds for the Jets in exchange for Copp, one of whom would become that year’s first-round pick if the Blueshirts reach the conference finals. That’s a compromise anyone would make.

Morgan Barron, the forward who just couldn’t quite crack the lineup, was sent to the Jets as part of the deal for Copp. This further dilutes the organizational pipeline down the middle, which appears all but empty. But let’s face it, if Drury and the hierarchy had perceived Barron as a legitimate candidate, they would have found a way to keep him.

Tyler Mott
NHLI via Getty Images
Andrew Copp
NHLI via Getty Images

Any mid-six-year-old who has moved by the deadline will be compared to the 2020 version of Blake Coleman or Barclay Goodrow. Copp, 27, has the versatility and potential to be that facsimile and a key component of a third lineage with, say, Goodrow and Chytil. Copp’s offensive game also has enough room for improvement to occasionally make it into the top 6.

There is that too. While Copp is on loan, he could become an option to become the club’s second-line center next season if Strome flees. A third party recently told me that negotiations for a contract extension had been “difficult”. So this will be sort of an audition for the University of Michigan product, which has scored 35 points (13-22) in 56 games while playing mostly with Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele. Copp was also in the Jets’ first penalty-kill unit.

If the top 9 aligns as previously suggested, Motte, Dryden Hunt, Ryan Reaves, Jonny Brodzinski, Greg McKegg and Julien Gauthier will remain in musical chairs until Kevin Rooney, who is also on hiatus for at least the remainder of the month, joins the crowd. At least there will be a handful of players at optional exercises.

Justin Brown

It’s unclear if Braun will encounter Braden Schneider in street clothes for the third pair, or if the defensively focused 35-year-old, who has played at right for 12 years, would try to switch to left touchline and use it to knock Patrik Nemeth from the side relay a message.

There is one thing to note: Gallant usually bets Schneider for the last 10-12 minutes of a game. Nemeth’s time is also reduced in crunch time. Cutting the bench becomes a challenge in the postseason. Braun was also in the top PK unit of the Flyers. Gallant might want to use him instead of Adam Fox in certain shorthand situations to deal a punch to #23.

In terms of future protection, Drury did well on Monday. Maybe a standup double.

Bottom line! Rangers got better from the ground up at the NHL trade deadline


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