After dealing away key veterans at the trade deadline this past February and sitting back during the July 1 free agency period, it remains clear that the New York Rangers have come to terms with the franchise’s first rebuild in over a decade. New York still has many key pieces to build around, but the one thing on everybody’s mind entering the 2018-19 season is scoring. Who is going to light the lamp offensively and advance the rebuilding process altogether?
Chris Kreider has been a proven goal scorer for the Blueshirts over the past four seasons. With the exception of his rookie year in 2013-14, he has eclipsed the 20-goal plateau in three of his past four seasons in New York. Last year he was on pace for 23 goals, but had his 2017-18 campaign cut short due to a blood clot.
Since 2014-15, the Boxford, Massachusetts native has finished inside the top six in both goals and overall points for the Rangers. In 2016-17 he led New York in goal scoring with 28 tallies, a career high. The biggest thing that has kept him from leading the organization in scoring on a consistent basis is health.
When healthy, Kreider is one of the most productive forwards on the Rangers roster. His game is prided on both speed and physicality as he is easily one of the best two-way forwards in the organization. Although, when you play the game this way injury is always a concern. He has never played in a full 82 games in any season since entering the league in 2013 and has missed 31 games over the past two seasons combined.
The Boston University product has two more years left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2020 and is due for a bounce-back performance this fall.
The Oslo, Norway veteran has been a consistent playmaker at Madison Square Garden for the past several seasons. Not only is Zuccarello a prominent figure on the top power-play unit, but he is arguably the most skilled player on the roster. Standing at only 5-foot-8, height has not been an issue for him. His elusive, gritty playing style has posed many problems for the opposition throughout his entire pro career.
The eight-year veteran has led the Blueshirts in scoring in each of the past three seasons, but is known as more of a setup man than a goalscorer. He has been New York’s third-leading scorer with the man-advantage over the past three seasons combined as well.
Since 2013-14, Zuccarello has scored 15 or more goals, tallied over 34 assists and totaled 49 or more points during that span. These numbers are not staggering but are consistent. The Rangers know what they are going to get out of him from year to year and health has been on his side during his career.
The biggest reason that Zuccarello might not be the main offensive guy for the Rangers this season stems from the rebuild. He is in the final year of his contract, and, depending on how the year shapes out, the Rangers will likely shop him during the year, if not by the 2019 trade deadline.
Zibanejad led the Rangers in goal scoring in 2017-18 with 27 goals, including a team-high 14 tallies on the power play. He finished second in total points with 47 and eighth in assists with 20.
The former 2011 first-round draft pick clearly made his living last year on the power play. He set a career high in goals as his previous high was four with the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15. Over the past four seasons he has recorded 20 or more goals three times, the only exception coming in 2016-17 after he missed 26 games with an injury.
As already mentioned, health is a huge factor for the Rangers. Over the past two seasons, Zibanejad has missed 36 games, including 26 in his first year in New York. He has been criticized for his defensive capabilities throughout his entire career, and he finished the 2017-18 campaign with a career-worst minus-29 rating.
After signing Zibanejad to a five-year deal last summer, New York has clearly invested in the European native for the foreseeable future. All criticisms aside, he is a proven goal scorer in the league and can provide some much-needed scoring for the Rangers as they enter the rebuild.
New York agreed to a one-year, $5.1 million deal last week to keep Kevin Hayes in the red, white and blue. The four-year veteran has been a key piece for the Rangers on the offensive side since turning pro. Over the past four seasons, he is averaging a point every other game while scoring in double figures in goals.
Since 2014-15, Hayes has tallied 14 or more goals in every season. Last year he recorded a career-high in both even strength goals (25) and power play goals (six). He is seen as a strong two-way player within the organization, but unlike Kreider, his health has never been in question. He has missed only 18 games in his career, which is impressive for his style of play.
Even though he is not a flashy player by any means, he can still produce around the net. If the Rangers utilize him the correct way in 2018-19, expect the Boston College product to sustain his double-digit scoring again for New York.
New York’s Prospects
Consistent goal scoring has plagued the Rangers organization for several years. New York has not had a player break the 30-goal threshold since Rick Nash in 2014-15, but even that didn’t last as the franchise traded him away in 2018 after his offensive output drastically tailed off.
The direction of the franchise looks promising after New York’s 2018 NHL Draft, but time will tell if their prospects pan out. Who knows? Maybe one of the younger prospects within the current system such as Lias Andersson or Filip Chytil will take the reins and expedite the rebuilding process after gaining some crucial NHL experience last spring.
Former Division 1 hockey player at Colgate University. Covering the New York Rangers for THW and isportsweb.com.