The NHL’s Trade Deadline is fast approaching, and the New York Rangers are poised to be buyers on March 21. They currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division, having amassed 77 points in 57 games. Not only have they outperformed expectations, but they have a Vezina frontrunner and Hart Trophy contender in Igor Shesterkin, the reigning Norris winner in Adam Fox, and a forward core that consists of Chris Kreider (38 goals), Artemi Panarin, and Mika Zibanejad.
First-year general manager Chris Drury has his sights set on improving the Rangers’ depth without depleting the prospect pool or draft capital they have gathered during their mini-rebuild. As I have previously written, the Rangers are far from a perfect team and are one of the worst statistical teams at even strength. Yet, because of star power and a goaltending run that hasn’t been done since Carey Price’s Hart campaign in 2014-15.
But have the Rangers learned from past mistakes enough not to waste another incredible talent in goal? That is the million-dollar — rather Stanley Cup-winning question — and one that Drury will start answering by how he handles this year’s deadline.
There is a resounding need for depth, primarily on the offensive side of the puck. Alexis Lafreniere has found another level on the top line, but with Kaapo Kakko still hurt, the Rangers’ wing depth has been lackluster. They have not had significant contributions from their bottom-six, and outside of Kreider, Zibanejad, Panarin, Adam Fox, and Ryan Strome, finding offense has been a struggle.
Need #3: Blue Line Depth
Every team entering the postseason could use more depth on the blue line. The Rangers’ core on defense is young and relatively inexperienced outside of Jacob Trouba and Patrik Nemeth. Although Nemeth has played better since his return, and Zac Jones and Nils Lundkvist await their turn in the lineup, adding more experience on the back end could help the Blueshirts.
Jakob Chychrun was a name linked to the Rangers for a while, but with the play of Braden Schneider, the Rangers could afford to go after someone whose price tag is not as hefty. Ben Chiarot of the Montreal Canadiens is someone Drury has also been linked to. He is a veteran presence with playoff experience. His numbers are not great, but a UFA at the season’s end makes this a low-risk-high-reward situation.
Head coach Gerard Gallant has shown a preference for more prominent defenders, something that will only be more prevalent in the tighter-checking games of the postseason. Adding another big, stay-at-home veteran defenseman will only help Gallant dress players he deems are more suitable for his coaching style at this time.
Need #2: Center Help
Several intriguing centers on the market could boost the Rangers’ depth down the middle. They currently sit 25th in the NHL with a 47.7 faceoff win percentage and could benefit from a strong center. Filip Chytil is now the third-line center, but his lackluster play and inconsistency in the faceoff dot have made his name one the Rangers will be shopping.
If he were to remain a Blueshirt post-deadline, adding a center would allow him to move to the wing, where he could play more freely and focus on the offensive side of the puck. J.T. Miller, Claude Giroux, Tomas Hertl, and Andrew Copp are all intriguing names that could slot in nicely on the forward corps.
Related: Rangers Would Be Taking Big Risk in Giving up on Kakko
Zibanejad is slotted as the number one center, with Strome a tough out at the two spot. The four players above would be able to play top-six minutes at the wing if needed and slot into the third-line center position, deepening the Rangers’ offense. Miller has been linked to the Rangers for some time, but Copp seems to be the fit that would suit this role the best.
Copp is a physical player with offensive talent and winning 53.76 percent of his draws. He would be a solid and affordable third center who would come off the books at the end of this season. If the Rangers are focusing on adding depth forwards instead of tinkering around in their top-six, look for Copp to be the guy.
Need #1: Scoring Wingers
The most significant need of all is help along with the wings. Kakko’s injury has shown a glaring weakness in the depth of the Rangers’ wingers, with little production coming from any wings not named Kreider, Lafreniere, or Panarin right now. The Rangers hoped Vitali Kravtsov would fill the scoring woes on the right wing, but dissent between the two parties makes that an unlikely scenario. If Drury can add scoring wingers to this lineup, the Rangers will become a significantly more dangerous team.
Rickard Rakell is a very intriguing option for the Rangers. The 28-year-old is having a down year for his standards, but with 16 goals in 49 games, he can still light the lamp. He can slot in the top-six and onto the third line, giving the Rangers a flexible wing option with scoring potential.
Vancouver, if selling, has two options that would greatly benefit the Rangers. Brock Boeser and Connor Garland would be great pieces to add; the latter is controllable for several years and would not be a rental. Boeser has 17 goals this season, while Garland has 14. Both have been effective this season and would add instant offense to the Rangers.
Again, if Drury chooses to go strictly for depth, Montreal could be on the other end of the phone offering Arttuti Lehkonen. Lehkonen is an excellent two-way wing with a scoring touch, with 13 goals and 28 points.
These three positions represent the Rangers’ most glaring needs, but I would not be surprised if they entered the goalie market as well. If Alexandar Georgiev is moved or continues to struggle, the Rangers may be forced to add a veteran backup. Regardless of what happens, adding scoring is paramount, and adding scoring wingers should be Drury’s number one priority this deadline.