It’s that time of year when rumors run rampant while the front office staff of the 32 NHL organizations crunch numbers and pore over options for the next season. With days slowly ticking down until free agency and the start of development camp, the New York Rangers are in one riveting situation. As one of the notoriously youngest teams in the league, the club will have to evaluate their many options, especially when they take into consideration their salary cap circumstances.
Due to a multi-season project to rebuild and acquire players, the team now owns a stockpile of assets they can dip into. Whether or not the front office answers for one or more prospects knocking on the door or decides to include them in a trade package is still up in the air and could go either way.
The Blueshirts don’t have a ton of freedom as they are working against the cap, further complicated by their lack of depth at center. Regardless of how or when the organization decides to dip into its pool, they sure have gathered an impressive inventory of prospects.
One of those top prospects is Brennan Othmann. The Rangers selected him in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft as their first-round selection (16th overall). But the left-shooting forward is not the only young, early-round prospect in the Rangers’ pipeline. The team’s success this season offers plenty for general manager (GM) Chris Drury and coach Gerard Gallant to consider when it comes to youth and their forward lines.
Drury and Gallant are both headed into their second season with the Rangers but have high expectations going forward, as the team was one of three left standing for the 2022 Stanley Cup. With a successful season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) under his belt, could it be time for Othmann’s shot in the NHL?
Why Othmann Appealed to the Rangers in the 2021 Entry Draft
To the surprise of many, the Rangers selected the now 19-year-old despite several attractive names still to be called and the defense still appearing thin. Regardless of the choice, the team made their selection and signed him to a three-year entry-level contract on Aug. 12, 2021.
The front office staff saw a player who had size (compared to the other New York prospects) and displayed a forceful two-way game. As the sport transitions more and more towards speed, the Rangers are trying to stay ahead of the curve by seeking fast and skilled young skaters. Othmann’s extensive upside aligns with those sought-after qualities.
His shot, speed, and puck possession are among his most highly-praised attributes, though he can also reliably block shots, and his positioning is widely recognized too. He will be given a shot to prove it at camp this season, but that is asking a lot, given he has yet to skate with the Rangers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack.
He was with the OHL’s Flint Firebirds before the draft and continued to play there off and on. In his first season in 2019-20, Othmann scored 17 goals and 16 assists in 55 games. The winger also spent some time in the Swiss League with the EHC Olten team during the 2020-21 season. His 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 34 games made him the team’s top-scoring left-winger. He was awarded the Firebirds’ captaincy role in his 2021-22 campaign as well.
In his second season in Flint, he collected 97 total points in 66 games, and 50 of those were goals. A month ago, he was distinguished as one of the OHL’s best, as he recorded a goal and five assists in a four-game string. He concluded his season ranked seventh in the OHL in point production and second in goals scored.
Needless to say, he led his team in goals, assists, and points, as he racked up 13 power-play goals, four shorthanded goals, and 290 shots on goal – all team categories he led as well. Of course, these numbers are great for the OHL, but it’s tough to know how this will translate to the NHL, especially with the team on a time crunch.
Though Othmann is on the younger side among prospects, he should not be dismissed. The organization is clearly not afraid to yank up the young players they spent years rebuilding for. This season we saw the team pluck 20-year-old defender Braden Schneider, who had a fabulous NHL debut and scored his first goal. He went on to have a solid rest of the season, playing too well to be sent down to the AHL.
Indeed the staff liked what they saw from their “grit guys” this season, particularly Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Lindgren, and Ryan Reaves, who provided some of the edge the team lacked in previous campaigns. This quality is also a part of Othmann’s game and will help him stand out to those he intends to impress.
Othmann’s leadership qualities can be used to his advantage as well. The 2021-22 Rangers, who were able to keep their spot in the postseason for so long, enjoyed an extended season because they are a close-knit group that oozed with chemistry.
Othmann’s Time to Shine
The stars might align for Othmann, but this offseason is going to be somewhat of an unfamiliar one. For the first time in a long time, the Rangers will not have a first-round pick in the upcoming 2022 Entry Draft, and only have four selections at the moment.
While this does not inherently harm the Rangers, the front office may further tread toward unfamiliar territory by making a bold move with their 2022-23 roster, which will inevitably cause a butterfly effect. Fellow forward prospects like Vitali Kravtsov and Will Cuylle will impact the final decisions of the staff, while established Rangers won’t be excused from trade talks.
Of course, the organization won’t be interested in rushing their young player, but the team does have several pressing matters to address with their lines. However, this season’s playoff run proved the team can lean on their youth for success. The “Kid Line”, which consisted of Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko, was very dependable in crucial moments.
During the next few seasons, the organization will have to get creative as they work under the salary cap and other restrictions, and may have to focus on developing their players. Though the cap is set to increase for the first time in a handful of seasons, it won’t bail the team out much. On the bright side, it will be enjoyable to watch these young players develop in front of our eyes as the seasons go by, just as we saw this past season.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.