There is a lot to like about the 2021-22 New York Rangers. They seemingly found the right head coach in Gerard Gallant, star power is evident up and down the lineup, and they sit in third place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division at the Christmas (and COVID) pause. But like any good team looking for sustained success, an intelligent trade deadline is looking to be a defining moment for general manager Chris Drury’s squad.
Both a top-six right-wing and shut-down defenseman are high on the Rangers’ wish list, but acquiring those types of players is much easier said than done. The Blueshirts will have to part with their young talents to bolster the current roster. This day was inevitable, as every team that stockpiles the talent cupboard must pick which prospects remain and which are best suited as assets.
Four names are seemingly attached to the trade deadline and could be utilized as ‘trade bait’ to put the Rangers closer to a playoff run. Filip Chytil, Julien Gauthier, Alexandar Georgiev, and Vitali Kravtsov all have bright futures in the NHL. Drury will have to decide if one or multiple of these pieces are worth more as pieces in a trade.
Several factors will weigh into the decision, such as scout projections, impending cap-hit, and market value. But the bulk of the decision will come down to if the Rangers have a player on the market they believe will serve as a difference-maker in a playoff run.
Rangers’ Untapped Potential & Future Cap Constraints
According to Elite Prospects, the Rangers’ average age of 25.75 is the fourth-youngest in the NHL. For that reason, several young players full of potential have yet to receive legitimate opportunities or will cost too much to retain once their contracts expire.
Chytil is the definition of a player full of talent who has yet to make strides as quickly as hoped. Now in his fourth full season, his projection and faceoff ability, coupled with how good Ryan Strome has been, put him in that in-between role. Arguably their most attractive trade piece, Chytil is a player that could very well develop into an elite offensive talent.
Similarly attractive but surrounded by questions is Russian first-rounder Kravtsov. The 22-year-old had a very public dissent with the Rangers’ decision to keep him off the opening night roster and is now back in the Kontinental Hockey League playing for Traktor. His talent is evident, but his personality raises questions. If he’s shopped, countless teams will be interested in acquiring a top-six caliber winger.
Both Gauthier and Georgiev are similar stories. Flashes of brilliance, young players with skill, but inconsistencies have marred their chances at sustained success. The latter is unlikely to return next season, with an expiring contract and Igor Shesterkin emerging as an elite goaltender in front of him. With Keith Kinkaid in the AHL, moving Georgiev and getting some value now may make sense for the Rangers.
Gauthier is also on an expiring contract but is a much more affordable player to keep. He likely stays if Kravtsov gets dealt, but he could be used as a trade piece as well. His skill and speed are rare, but the finishing ability, which was so prevalent in the minors, has evaded the big forward at the highest level (from ‘How Rangers’ Julien Gauthier can fulfill his tantalizing potential,’ NY Post, 12/25/2021).
With a bulk of money tied up in Adam Fox, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Jacob Trouba, the Rangers will be pushing the salary cap limits as they continue to lock up young players. Thus, several players will likely hear their names in several rumors, including those mentioned above.
Pretenders or Contenders?
The NHL Trade Deadline is just under three months away (March 21, 2022), and a lot still has yet to be determined in the Rangers’ season. At 19-7-4, the Blueshirts are in a prime position to make the playoffs but have yet to prove that they can beat the league’s best consistently.
Once the league lifts its COVID pause, the Rangers will be tested, as they have the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning on their schedule. For what should be a fully healthy group, wins in those games could boost their confidence and change that narrative quickly.
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The Rangers have the foundation in place and are searching for the right mix of complementary pieces that separate good teams from great teams. The assets on the block give them the ability to buy and acquire that piece, whether it’s to bolster the forward core or solidify the third-pairing.
With a roster assembled to take a jump towards the playoffs, acquisitions in March loom as the difference between a quick one-and-done for the Rangers and a possible playoff run. A veteran winger to go alongside Panarin and Strome may be the most likely move, with Drury linked to names like Reilly Smith and Tomas Hertl.
Gallant and Drury both believe this group leans more toward the contender side, and their start does dictate that. With that mentality in place, look for the Rangers to be active at the deadline. And an active deadline will have implications on this year’s results and the future of the Blueshirts.