On Saturday Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported that the Rangers and pending UFA Mats Zuccarello “are not remotely close on a contract extension” . While the idea of loosing a sound player for nothing is scary; The Rangers quick developing core of prospects could allow the team to move on this off-season.
Going into the season the Rangers knew that they would have to make decisions on players like Mats Zuccarello, and Martin St.Louis. As the year has progressed the Rangers situation has become even more convoluted as prospects like Anthony Duclair, Oscar Lindberg and Pavel Buchnevich have grown their games and shown the Rangers they could push for a spot as soon as next year.
Yes I know, Duclair hasn’t dominated the QMJHL since returning from the world juniors (18 points in 15 games), but that doesn’t change the fact that he cracked the opening day lineup on this Rangers club. Duclair has a sound 18 games of NHL experience and was able to post 7 points in his abbreviated stretch. If he continues to grow his game and add some beef the Rangers may be inclined to let a free agent walk to give Duclair the chance to prove he’s ready.
Pavel Buchnevich has also taken a step this year. So far he has posted 29 points in 47 games in the KHL. The numbers are less striking than Duclair’s, but that has a lot to do with the fact that the KHL is a much more competitive game with grown men playing; a stark difference from the QMJHL which has players as young as 16.
Hockey’s Future says Buchnevich is “A fast skating forward with a good set of hands, Buchnevich is a very interesting prospect with an impressive ceiling. Not so big at 6’0″, 170 pounds, the Cherepovets, Russia native makes things happen with his speed and skills.”
Leslie Treff of Hockey’s Future says in a separate article that the Rangers expect Buchnevich to be in North America next season.
Also a prospect and already in North America is Oscar Lindberg. Lindberg has been centering the Hartford Wolf Packs top line and has posted 35 points in 53 games. He competed in training camp at the beginning of the year, but was beat by Kevin Hayes for a roster spot. Hockey’s Future says Lindberg, “has an excellent work ethic and plays well in all zones. A true center, with very good on-ice awareness,” If Lindberg continues to improve he could be a bottom 6 option by next season.
I’m not saying that these three are locks to make the Rangers to start the 2015-2016 campaign, but they are certainly in a position to push for a spot. Now the Rangers will weigh their options against players like Mats Zuccarello and Martin St.Louis asking price.
Darren Dreger said on NBCSN that Zuccarello is looking for around 5 million per year and may want a contract longer than 5 years. The Rangers will consider the fact that Zuccarello is currently on pace to finish the year with 49 points and decide if the price matches the production. The same goes for St.Louis who is currently on pace to finish the season with 60 points. The fact is, the Rangers will need to be worried about getting RFA’s Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, and J.T. Millers contracts settled on, which pushes the Rangers to go for younger cheaper options. The only way the Rangers keep both St.Louis and Zuccarello is if one or both players take a pay cut. (Spotrac.com)
I think the Rangers will employ Duclair full time next year and let Martin St.Louis walk. I see Lindberg bouncing back and fourth next year between the Rangers and the Wolf Pack. As for Buchnevich; I doubt he cracks the full time lineup, but I could see him being called up for short stretches.
Below are some highlights of Duclair, Buchnevich, and Lindberg.
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