The New York Rangers shocked everyone when they let go of their president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton in one fell swoop with only a few games left in the 2020-21 season. They then promoted Chris Drury to both roles (from “Trumbull’s Chris Drury promoted to president and general manager of New York Rangers,” CTPost, 05/05/2021). Drury has been working office jobs for the Rangers since 2015 when he was hired as the director of player development and, from there, continued to rise in the ranks. He has played a big part in the organization’s recent acquisition of talent, primarily for the Hartford Wolf Pack, their AHL affiliate.
This summer will be Drury’s first offseason as the man in charge. He has already cleaned out the coaching staff save for the goalie guru, Benoit Allaire. He also re-signed tough young defenseman Ryan Lindgren to a three-year contract worth $3 million per season, and he hired Mike Grier as a hockey operations advisor (after franchise legend Brian Leetch resigned from the role).
Drury’s plate is full, and this summer will show the hockey world what he is capable of in a front-office role. Here are a few priorities he will need to take care of, in no particular order of importance.
Hire a New Coach
The David Quinn era came to an end after three seasons. The search for a replacement has already begun, and there are plenty of candidates. The Rangers have stated that they would like to interview Gerard Gallant and Rick Tocchet and that they will take their time with this decision but expect them to hire an experienced NHL coach.
On top of experience, they need someone who can develop young players. The Rangers had 15 players under 25 play at least one game this season, and 11 of them suited up for at least 10 games. Some are expected to compete for a roster spot next season. The Rangers are so still looking to sign their best prospect in Nils Lundkvist as well.
Most of New York’s roster is still growing. The continued development of players like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, and Zac Jones should be the team’s priority. They are the key to the Rangers becoming contenders again.
Pavel Buchnevich became one of the most important Blueshirts on the roster this season. He showcased his defensive skills and cemented himself as one of the best two-way forwards on the team. He played on the penalty kill, where he excelled and continued his strong offensive play. The 26-year-old winger might have proved himself valuable enough to remain a Ranger, even as Kakko and Kravtsov aim to take the next step in their careers.
Buchnevich has been underutilized for most of his NHL career. Now, he has shown he can succeed in all three zones and all situations. He had a career-high 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) in 54 games this season and was second on the team in even-strength scoring with 36 points (16 goals and 20 assists), also a career-high. His versatility makes him invaluable, with much of the roster inexperienced on special teams.
None of the forwards younger than him played over 100 minutes on special teams; the only player who came close was Brett Howden’s 85:37 on the penalty kill. In five career games, Morgan Barron got more ice time on the penalty kill than Filip Chytil, Kakko, Lafreniere, Kravtsov, and Julien Gauthier combined. The young players fared better with the man advantage: Lafreniere logged 71:13 and Kakko 63:19. From there, Chytil played 29:30, Gauthier 7:18, and Kravtsov 3:36. Quinn did not trust them, and until the Rangers can figure out if any of them can play special teams, the team needs someone they know can play there.
Sign Nils Lundkvist to an Entry-Level Contract
This offseason, the Rangers are hoping to sign their top prospect and one of the best defensive prospects in the world, Nils Lundkvist. The organization drafted him 28th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft with a pick they received from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the past two seasons, the Swedish blueliner has lit up the SHL with 25 goals and 63 points in 97 games. This season, he broke the SHL record for points by a defenseman under 20 with 14 goals and 18 assists, passing Victor Hedman and Rasmus Dahlin.
Lundkvist is a highly skilled offensive defenseman who can shoot as well as he passes. He put up excellent offensive numbers, and he has shown strong defensive play. He would be a great addition to the Rangers’ talented group of young defensemen, and as a right-hand shot, he would likely start behind Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba. There have been concerns about his size, he is 5-foot10 and 187 pounds, but he has not had issues so far, even laying a reverse hit on a much bigger Ranger prospect, Adam Edstrom.
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He has an excellent shot, a rocket of a one-timer, and great vision that should help him succeed on the power play. The Rangers’ second unit has struggled to establish zone time or create offensive chances in their given ice time, and Lundkvist would be a welcome addition to help. He has a very high ceiling, and the organization expects great things from him. Although the Rangers have until July 1, 2022, to sign him before they lose his rights, the sooner they sign him to his ELC, the better. They’ve signed five prospects since the beginning of the season; if they can add Lundkvist to that list, they should do so without hesitation.
It will be a busy summer for Drury, and he will have many chances to prove himself. He still has to deal with the team’s other restricted free agents, figure out who the seventh defender will be, add grit without sacrificing skill, and figure out who they will protect in the expansion draft. However, the items listed above should be the Rangers’ priority, and if Drury can successfully tread these waters, the Rangers should be in good hands for the near future.
Currently a writer for the New York Rangers, University of New Hampshire alumn