Rangers Gain Roster Flexibility Through Trade Deadline Moves

General manager (GM) Chris Drury made trade deadline moves that benefited the depth of the New York Rangers. The acquisition of Frank Vatrano gives the Rangers an option to put on either the top- or bottom-six. Justin Braun will be used as a depth defenseman and will play on the third pairing with Patrik Nemeth, though head coach Gerard Gallant may decide to switch up the pairings in order to see whom Braun plays the best with.

Once Kaapo Kakko (upper-body) and Kevin Rooney (upper-body) return from their respective injuries, the Rangers’ lineup will have more flexibility. The trade deadline additions of Vatrano, Braun, Andrew Copp, and Tyler Motte give Gallant further options to explore where they each fit with the Rangers, as the Rangers needed veteran options to put in their bottom-six, and they have plenty after the deadline.

Copp and Motte represent good additions for the Rangers as Gallant can mix and match each of them on the third and fourth lines. Both have been successful in their individual roles with their former teams. Let’s look at how the Rangers’ additions during the trade deadline period will give the lineup versatility.

Copp’s Two-Way Game Will Benefit the Rangers

Copp has developed into a useful two-way player during his time with the Winnipeg Jets. He has contributed to the penalty kill and is a good option at center in regards to winning faceoffs; the Rangers rank 26th in faceoff win percentage (FOW%). Improving at winning faceoffs will help the Rangers create more scoring opportunities.

Copp has further developed his offensive game, as he will set new career-highs in goals and assists this season. His numbers are not worthy of putting him in the top-six on a regular basis, but he is capable of contributing offense when needed for the Rangers. If Gallant wants to have Goodrow and Chytil remain at center in the bottom-six, Copp can play left wing on the third line.

Andrew Copp Winnipeg Jets
The New York Rangers traded with the Winnipeg Jets for forward Andrew Copp at the trade deadline (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His total minutes on the Jets’ power play (PP) and penalty kill (PK) have been nearly identical this season. Copp and Motte will make the Rangers’ PK unit even better due to the abilities they possess as defensive forwards.

Drury believes Copp’s versatility will benefit the Rangers, “Copp does a lot of different things. He’s on PK, PP, faceoffs, can play center, can play both wings. I think he can be used in a lot of different ways,” (from ‘Rangers acquire Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte at NHL trade deadline, New York Post, 3/21/22).

Related: Rangers’ Strong Play Made Drury’s Deadline Decisions Easy

During his first game with the Rangers, Copp had two assists, led New York in short-handed time on ice (SH TOI) at 3:32, and finished with a faceoff percentage (FO%) of 53 percent. One of his faceoff wins in the loss to the New Jersey Devils led to a goal by Adam Fox. He is a multi-skilled player who will contribute in a secondary role for the Rangers.

Vatrano, Motte, and Braun Add Depth to Rangers Lineup

Vatrano has been on the second line with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin since his trade from the Florida Panthers to the Rangers. Once Kakko returns, the former Panther could be on the third line but also play in the top-six occasionally. Motte will be featured on the fourth line as Gallant will utilize his reputation as a defensive forward. The former Vancouver Canuck has a $1.225 average-annual value (AAV), and Drury may offer him a new contract if he has success with the Rangers. His low AAV is team-friendly, and the Rangers’ GM should be able to re-sign him during the offseason.

Braun made his Rangers debut during the game against the Devils and paired with Nemeth. The addition of the former Philadelphia Flyer increases the defensive depth, as Braden Schneider was a healthy scratch. It remains to be seen what the role of the 20-year-old defenseman will have going forward this season as the two veterans have more experience, which works in their favor come the postseason.

Justin Braun Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers traded defenseman Justin Braun to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The recently acquired Rangers defenseman describes himself as a defensive defenseman, which is significant in regards to the ability to block shots. Braun is another option for Gallant to use on the Rangers’ PK, as he played a lot on this unit for the Flyers in 2021-22, and he increases the depth of the defense in case of an injury to one of the Rangers’ defensemen.

Rangers New Additions Are Familiar With Trouba

Newcomers Copp, Motte, Vatrano, and Jacob Trouba have known one another since their early playing days before the NHL. Copp and Motte played college hockey together for two seasons at the University of Michigan. Trouba and Copp played for the same college also. Trouba, Copp, and Motte also know Vatrano from being a part of the U.S. National Development Team Program (USNDTP).

Copp and Trouba were members of the Winnipeg Jets together until the latter’s trade to the Rangers before the 2019-20 season. The former Winnipeg Jet commented on his friendship with the Rangers’ defenseman, saying, “the last three years were the first years without each other. He takes credit for me being in the NHL, to begin with. Now, it’s like I’m following him around. It’ll be awesome, though. Obviously, really close friends, stood in his wedding last year. It’ll be fun to spend some time together again.” (from ‘Rangers trade deadline additions Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte a familiar fit, New York Post, 3/22/22).

Despite the latest loss to the Devils, the Rangers are in a better position for success due to the added depth on their roster after the trade deadline. Drury acquired several players with defensive abilities in Copp, Motte, and Braun. Defense becomes more significant in the playoffs in terms of blocking shots and disrupting the opponents’ offensive chances, and Gallant has more options to use in the bottom-six to pair with players such as Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves. Once Kakko and Rooney return from injured reserve (IR), it will be interesting to see how the Rangers head coach puts the lineup together. The Rangers are an improved team now in comparison to before the deadline due to their added depth.

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