The trade deadline is a few days away and rumors have swirled around Chris Kreider, Tony DeAngelo, and other New York Rangers. Thanks in part to contributions from players mentioned in those trade rumors, the Blueshirts have played well recently, winning five of their last six games.
Making the playoffs is still unlikely, given the strong play of other teams in the Metropolitan Division. However, being in the playoff race is still an accomplishment considering that just two seasons ago the team sent a letter to fans saying they were going to rebuild. A lot of factors have helped make the team competitive this season.
Young Players are Making a Difference
The Rangers are one of the youngest teams in the NHL and many of those young players are already helping the team. Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren are both rookie blueliners and they have become a strong defense pair.
Fox is a smooth skater and excellent playmaker, who has helped to improve the team’s power-play as the season has gone on. He has 6 goals and 25 assists. Lindgren is a gritty defensive defenseman, who is physical, blocks lots of shots, and has helped the team’s penalty kill this season. They are both just 22 years old and have bright futures on the Rangers’ blueline.
Forwards Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Brett Howden have all chipped in offensively. None of them have been dominant players yetm but all of them are younger than 22-years-old. They have all provided the team with much-needed secondary scoring. Chytil already has 13 goals, which is more than he had all of last season. Kakko has 20 points.
Young Goalies Have Impressed
Henrik Lundqvist is playing less and less but that is largely the result of excellent goaltending by Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, rather than his own struggles. Shesterkin was considered one of the top goaltending prospects in hockey coming into this season. He was assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack and dominated to earn a call-up to the NHL. He has won seven of his first eight starts despite being repeatedly peppered with over 40 shots per game by opponents.
Georgiev has also played well this season. He has two shutouts even though he has his split playing time with Shesterkin and Lundqvist. He also stepped up when he started in three consecutive games with Shesterkin out because of an ankle injury. He won the first two games and then stopped 31 of 33 shots in a loss to the Boston Bruins, who lead the NHL in points.
Panarin and Zibanejad are Producing
Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad have played like stars this season. Both are producing more than one point per game and each is on pace to set a career-high for points. Whenever they get a shift it seems like the ice is tilted in the Rangers favor.
Both have excelled on the Rangers’ power play, which has been one of the best in hockey over the last month. Both forwards are more than just scorers though. Panarin has helped the Rangers keep possession of the puck with his strength and quickness. He is a team-best plus-30 this season. Zibanejad has been stellar when killing penalties. Despite having different sets of skills, both have excelled at winning battles for loose pucks and have made their linemates better by repeatedly setting them up.
Kreider and DeAngelo have Played Well Despite Trade Rumors
Trade rumors have revolved around Kreider since the offseason and as the deadline approaches, they have picked up. If he is worried about the deadline, it hasn’t shown in his play.
Kreider has 24 goals and 21 assists. He is on pace to set a career-high in both this season. He has also stepped up against rivals with game-winning goals against the New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets late in the third period. He continues to use his speed and power effectively, blowing by opposing defenders and using his strength to prevent them from knocking him off the puck.
Like Kreider, DeAngelo’s name has been mentioned frequently in trade rumors. He is also having an outstanding season. He already has a career-high 45 points and has been one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL. He is quick, possesses great vision and has repeatedly gotten shots on goal through traffic.
Although he is best known for his offensive ability, he has done a nice job defensively as well. DeAngelo doesn’t shy away from physical play and has improved his defensive positioning over the past two seasons.
With the deadline just a few days away, the Rangers are in a good position. While it’s ideal to re-sign both players to extensions after the season, their excellent play has raised their trade value. If the Rangers do decide to trade Kreider or DeAngelo they should get a lot back in return.
Competing for the postseason just two years after beginning a rebuild is an excellent sign that the team is moving in the right direction. When last season ended, the team appeared to be years away from competing but they already are. It’s important to remember that the Blueshirts are still rebuilding but their ability to battle and find ways to win games has been impressive. They have a bright future. No matter what happens before the trade deadline, the Rangers have come a long way since last season.
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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.