The New York Rangers have relied heavily upon their veteran forwards to carry them this season. The bulk of the Blueshirts’ offensive production has come from their top two lines, offensive defensemen and top power-play unit. However, with Chris Kreider expected to miss an extended period of time with a fractured foot, the team needs their young forwards to start producing more offense.
The Rangers will miss Kreider’s physical play, ability to win battles, and commitment to screening opposing goalies. His injury means younger forwards with similar strengths should get more playing time.
Brendan Lemieux is a candidate to replace Kreider on the power play, but he has struggled lately, with just one goal and three assists in his last 27 games. Still, like Kreider, he has the strength and fearless attitude to screen opposing goalies and has scored a few goals on deflections earlier in the season. His playing time has increased in each of the Rangers’ past three games. Getting more playing time with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin should give him more opportunities to chip in offensively.
Newly acquired winger Julien Gauthier should also play a bigger role on the team because of the injury. Like Kreider, he has excellent size, strength, and speed.
While Gauthier lacks NHL experience (he has only played 11 games), he has played well when he has gotten ice time. Since being traded to the Rangers, he’s averaging less than eight minutes of time on ice per game, which should now increase.
Brett Howden is another forward who now may get more ice time and scoring opportunities. His ability to play center or wing means he can play up or down the lineup, and even though he has been used primarily as a defensive forward and penalty killer, he has scored nine goals this season.
Howden has yet to consistently produce offensively in the NHL but he managed to score a goal in two of his last three games. The Rangers forwards lack depth, and a hot streak offensively along with his strong defensive play could earn Howden a big increase in playing time down the stretch.
Filip Chytil is still just 20 years old and has played much better than last season. He has 13 goals and 9 assists in 55 games and has been stronger on the puck. He’s made a few dazzling individual plays but has still struggled to play well consistently.
Chytil was recently given an opportunity to play on a line with Kreider and Zibanejad, with Pavel Buchnevich recovering from injuries he suffered in a car accident. Despite playing with top linemates, he failed to impress, often struggling to make accurate passes and whiffing on shots.
Chytil has been a streaky scorer though, and the Rangers desperately need him to start scoring now. He has just five goals in his last 40 games but many of those games have been spent centering the Blueshirts’ third line. David Quinn may try to play him as a winger on a line with Zibanejad and Buchnevich to try to get him going again.
Another talented forward who has struggled to produce lately is Kaapo Kakko. After a hot streak early in the season, he has gone ice cold. He has just two goals in his last 44 games.
For a long time, Kakko looked lost and repeatedly passed up great shooting opportunities, but lately, he has played better even though it hasn’t led to production. He has been more aggressive and effective on the forecheck and isn’t passing up shooting opportunities anymore.
Kakko has also looked more comfortable in the defensive zone in recent games. Despite scoring more early in the season, he was a defensive liability.
Now, his improved defensive play, along with the struggles of other forwards means Kakko will continue to get opportunities as the team battles for a playoff spot. He hasn’t had much puck luck lately, but he is due to start getting some bounces.
The Rangers don’t have an individual player who can do all of the things Kreider can. He has a unique and valuable skillset, which is why the Blueshirts signed him to a seven-year contract extension a few days ago.
While he is out, everyone else will have to step up for the Rangers to make the playoffs. The young forwards all have an opportunity to deliver much-needed secondary scoring.
Eight years ago, Kreider made his NHL debut in the playoffs. He delivered, scoring 5 goals in 18 games. Perhaps another young forward can deliver down the stretch, and help the Rangers make it to the postseason.
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I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.