The New York Rangers have been without Artemi Panarin for their last seven games which, combined with Mika Zibanejad’s slump, has forced the team to rely on other players for offense. Chris Kreider has been dominant, Alexis Lafreniere has broken out of his early-season scoring drought and the Blueshirts’ young defensemen have all played well. The Rangers have also gotten a big boost from the strong play of center Ryan Strome despite missing his star winger Panarin.
Strome’s Play Entering This Season
Last season was the best one of Strome’s career, as he finished with a career-high 41 assists and 18 goals, one shy of his career high in 70 games. While the numbers were very impressive, he was helped by playing on a line with Panarin, who finished the season with 95 points in 69 games. Still, he played with some grit, helped kill penalties and scored some clutch goals for the Rangers.
While Strome played alongside Panarin last season, he was also an effective player for the Rangers during the 2018-19 season, before Panarin signed with the team. New York acquired Strome from the Edmonton Oilers early in the 2018-19 season and he ended up with 18 goals and 15 assists in 63 games with the Rangers. He played up and down the lineup but didn’t get much ice time with star players.
Strome’s Play This Season
The Rangers signed Strome to a two-year, $9 million contract this offseason. At the time, he was expected to be New York’s second-line center. He was also expected to continue to play alongside Panarin and get ice time on the team’s dangerous first power-play unit; however, things have changed dramatically since then.
Tony DeAngelo, who was an integral part of the Rangers’ top power-play unit was released a few games into this season because of off-ice issues. Panarin has been out of the lineup since Feb. 20, as he took a leave of absence for personal reasons. There is currently no timeline for his return. On top of that, Zibanejad, who had 41 goals and 34 assists in 57 games last season has just three goals and six assists in 23 games this season.
All of these issues increased the pressure on Strome, but he has responded well so far. He had a quiet start to the season offensively, but has picked it up with the team relying on him. In his last nine games he has four goals and seven assists, which has helped the Rangers avoid falling too far out of the playoff race. Four of his seven assists have been on the power play and he has been an essential member of both the power-play and penalty-kill unit.
Overall this season Strome has eight goals and nine assists in 23 games. So far he has been the Rangers’ best and most consistent center. He has made smart accurate passes, capitalized on his scoring opportunities and been responsible defensively. Strome has also proven that even with Panarin out of the lineup, he can continue to contribute offensively.
Despite still being without their star winger, the Rangers have gotten a few key players back in their past few games. Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Jacob Trouba have all returned and Chytil already provided the team with a boost as he scored a goal and set up Kevin Rooney for another one in New York’s 6-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Additionally, Igor Shesterkin is expected to return from a groin injury at some point this week. Getting these important players back should help take some of the pressure off of Strome as well as Kreider, who has nine goals and two assists in his last eight games.
At this point the Rangers are sticking around in the playoff race thanks to the impressive play of Strome, Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich as well as the great play New York’s skilled young defensemen. They’ll need to get on a hot streak soon, though, in order to keep pace with the top four teams in the MassMutual East Division.
As for Strome, he has certainly shown his value to the team over the recent stretch and is proving that last season wasn’t a fluke. He will continue to play a big role on the team, and getting Panarin back should only help him. The key for Strome will be to maintain this level of play and if he can, it will go a long way towards helping the Rangers’ bid to make the playoffs.