Thanksgiving Break: Rangers Grades


With Thanksgiving finally here on Thursday with all the trimmings (why do they say that), the Rangers have completed the first 23 games of an 82 game season. At just over the quarter mark, it’s time to take a look at where the NHL’s youngest roster is at this point of the ’19-20 season.

So far, it’s been a mixed bag for David Quinn in Year Two of the rebuild. Even with the great addition of electrifying Russian forward Artemiy Panarin, this was expected. It’s a relatively young roster with few true veterans. Only Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal are in their 30’s playing key roles as longtime Blueshirts. They’re the unquestioned team leaders along with Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast and Mika Zibanejad.

Without further due, let’s take a look at how the roster has performed. We’ll break it down by position to make it easier for readers. Here we go:

CENTERS

93 Mika Zibanejad (5-7-12 in 10 GP): Before the mysterious upper body injury sidelined him for 13 straight games, the 26-year old top center was off to a good start. His 11 points in the first nine games was highlighted by a hat trick and assist in a win at former team Ottawa. He put up eight points over the first two games. Both wins. Due to the injury, it’s too early to hand out a grade. He just returned on Turkey Eve vs Carolina and scored a power play goal in a 3-2 win. Welcome back!

Grade: Incomplete

16 Ryan Strome (6-16-22 in 23 GP): When Zibanejad went down, it was the versatile 26-year old former Islanders first round pick who stepped up. In fact, he formed good chemistry with top scorer Panarin on a unique line flanked mostly by responsible two-way forward Fast. Strome was a point-per-game in the first quarter. More than anyone could’ve expected. Quinn fully trusts him in any situation. He is making a strong case to stay.

Grade: A

72 Filip Chytil (7-2-9 in 14 GP): It was maybe a little too much to expect the 20-year old to slot in as the second center right away. Maybe he put too much pressure on himself. However, the way the talented Czech responded by performing well at Hartford and then scoring goals in his first two games was a great sign. He’s playing with poise and confidence by using his skating and shot to generate scoring chances. Things are back on track.

Grade: A

21 Brett Howden (3-4-7 in 23 GP): A young pivot with a high IQ and good skating should be able to produce at a better clip. However, the 21-year old Howden is young and only in his second year. He centers the third line and had chemistry with Kaapo Kakko, who’ll now play with Chytil. He is trusted at even strength and on the penalty kill. Not bad in the face-off dot. Currently the team’s fourth line center.

Grade: C+

38 Micheal Haley (1-0-1/40 PIM in 12 GP): The 33-year old veteran doesn’t have a major role on the roster. However, even after passing through waivers following a couple of very undisciplined games in ugly losses, the club decided to keep Haley around. Maybe they like his physical presence. He’s a good team guy as most fourth line part timers are. Not much else to say.

Grade: C-

28 Lias Andersson (0-1-1 in 17 GP): Following an impressive camp and preseason, the 2017 seventh overall pick found himself on the fourth line in purgatory. Given inconsistent minutes by Quinn, it didn’t work out well. What’s best for his development is staying in Hartford and regaining his confidence. For that reason, I can’t give a true grade.

Grade: Incomplete

15 Boo Nieves (2 PIM in 2 GP): Recalled for injured McKegg. He took a ill advised penalty and did little else. He played again on Wednesday night. Given the center depth, it looks like he’ll eventually wind up elsewhere.

Grade: Incomplete

Left Wings

10 Artemiy Panarin (12-20-32 in 23 GP): When he signed the big contract last summer that pays him an AAV of $11.6 million, there were great expectations. Like the brilliant novel by Charles Dickens, the Bread Man has been nothing short of sensational. Or basically in Russian terms, Очень хорошо! The 12-game point streak in which he couldn’t be stopped was a reminder of how good he is. A very intelligent player who opens up the ice and is unselfish. The best Rangers addition since Jagr!

Grade: A+

20 Chris Kreider (6-7-13 in 23 GP): At 28 going on 29 into unrestricted free agency next summer, it could be ending for the hard-nosed power forward, who gives an honest effort. He also has taken on a leadership role. Win or lose, he’s at his locker answering questions. This is a smart guy. It would be nice if he finished more. Never seems to be a fast starter. He’s coming on and helped turn the Montreal game around. Expect him to heat up over the winter.

Grade: C

48 Brendan Lemieux (3-6-9/52 PIM in 22 GP): Following an early benching, the second-year Blueshirt is quickly becoming one of the fan favorites as I predicted when they acquired him from Winnipeg. Due to his hard agitating style and consistent work ethic, Lemieux adds that tenacity and toughness this team needs. The two goal breakout highlighted by the shorthanded goal at the Habs in front of proud Dad Claude was something else. So too was his gutsy scrap with Tom Wilson. A old school player who’ll do anything to help the team win. The new Grate One.

Grade: B

14 Greg McKegg (1-1-2/46.9 pct on draws in 14 GP): The Keg Man is a hustler who brings energy due to an honest effort. His one goal came shorthanded. He can shift to center and take face-offs. Unsure why he didn’t play more earlier. Definitely not a bad guy to have on your fourth line.

Grade: C

21 Tim Gettinger (0-1-1 in 2 GP): A forgotten prospect who has size and decent skating ability for his age (21), he came up for Andersson and filled in on the fourth line. Gettinger even picked up his first NHL assist. What was his reward? Sent back down due to a minimal role. I wonder if we’ll see him again.

Grade: Incomplete

Right Wings

89 Pavel Buchnevich (4-14-18 in 23 GP): The 24-year old is a gifted playmaker who loves to involve his teammates. That’s why he has 14 assists and only four goals. I’d like to see him be a little more selfish in looking for his shot, which is good. Has the capability to score 25 goals if he shoots the puck. At times, he can be a little inconsistent due to not being overly physical or strong defensively. But the production is good. Let’s see where he takes it.

Grade: B-

24 Kaapo Kakko (6-4-10, -13 rating in 21 GP): Started slowly due to the adjustment period from European game to North American style. As evidenced by plus/minus, the 18-year old rookie has had some defensive struggles. However, the confidence is building for the future star who possesses great offensive instincts, good shot and effective forechecker. Very effective on power play. It should be exciting to see him play with Chytil.

Grade: C

17 Jesper Fast (2-6-8 in 22 GP): The perfect complement to any line due to his strong compete level. At 27, Fast is one of the team’s trusted two-way players at five-on-five along with the penalty kill. Didn’t rip it up with Panarin and Strome, but always was in the right spot. The question is will he be re-signed? He turns 28 on December 2.

Grade: B-

42 Brendan Smith (2-3-5 in 23 GP): A well respected vet has successfully turned himself into a converted fourth line forward who’ll draw penalties and also take a few. You cannot question the effort from the guy who doubles as a penalty killing defenseman. Funny that his production is about right. Smith deserves a lot of credit for being a great team guy. Helping Kakko too off ice.

Grade: C+

90 Vladislav Namestnikov (0 Pts in 2 GP): Hard working 27-year old Russian wasn’t long for NYC due to a numbers game. Has found a home in Ottawa where he’s 6-6-12 with three shorthanded points including a shorty. Never gonna be too productive, but could be a valuable secondary player who gets moved at the deadline. Best of luck to Vladdy.

Grade: B (due to Senators)

Defensemen

8 Jacob Trouba (3-7-10, 66 hits, 48 blocks in 23 GP): The big acquisition from Winnipeg for the same first round pick they got for Kevin Hayes involving Lemieux, has been a warrior on a young back end. Struggled with consistency following quick start in which he torched former team. However, the 26-year old is tough and has had to balance multiple partners including Hajek. His game-winner over Habs was a nice reward. Back with Skjei for now. I would like to see him hit the net more and not the corner advertisement. 😂

Grade: B-

76 Brady Skjei (3-6-9 in 22 GP): At 25, the skating has never been a problem for the American blueliner. The issue is finding consistency defensively. They invested a lot of money ($5.25 million AAV) on him by taking a risk that he’d improve. He still had to be benched a game and is up and down. Frequently caught out of position. He’s gotta make it work. If not, K’Andre Miller is knocking on the door. Offense has picked up due to skating. Much more effective when he’s aggressive. We’ll see if Skjei can make strides.

Grade: C-

77 Tony DeAngelo (7-11-18 in 23 GP): The more I watch and listen to DeAngelo, the more I like him. The 24-year old right D is blossoming into a good player who leads all Rangers defensemen in scoring. Very good at reading the play and jumping in. His overtime winner Monday night was a beauty. He is very good at assessing things too. Stood up for Strome on Twitter. He’s a great teammate. Defense is an area he wants to improve. But a keeper in my book.

Grade: A

23 Adam Fox (4-9-13 in 23 GP): Watching how cool and under control the former Harvard standout is with the puck in both ends gives me reason for optimism. The skating is smooth and his ability to make quick decisions under pressure is impressive for a first-year defenseman. The points are coming due to how good he is at jumping into the play. Had a goal and assist in the 3-2 win on Turkey Eve. Knows when to shoot and pass. Smart transition player. Best young right D this team has had since Hall of Famer Sergei Zubov. What a great addition.

Grade: A

25 Libor Hajek (0-5-4 in 23 GP): The left defenseman is a good skater who can transition the puck quickly. I’m surprised he doesn’t have a goal. It seems like he has more offensive potential. He had a interesting stint with Trouba for a while, but that’s now over. The defense is an issue like it is for most young rookies. Is a positional D who doesn’t hit. Will block shots as his 35 attest. Right now, he’s a work in progress.

Grade: C

55 Ryan Lindgren (1-5-6/+4 in 13 GP): Perhaps the most overlooked deal by Jeff Gorton was the one he made with Boston in getting Lindgren with a first round pick they turned into Miller for Rick Nash on Feb. 25, 2018. The former Bruins second round pick in 2016 is developing into a solid and steady physical defenseman who has improved his skating. Another 21-year old rookie who looks to have supplanted Staal. Good at even strength and penalty kill. Also tough.

Grade: B+

18 Marc Staal (1-1-2 in 11 GP): At 32, the well respected veteran has been through the wars for this team in better days. All the incredible sacrifice he’s made delivering hits and blocked shots have taken its toll. Due to ankle surgery to repair an infection from blocking a shot (of course), he isn’t expected to be ready until December. So, he could be a week away. However, the question is what’s his role. Outside of Hajek, there’s not another D I’d put Staal in for. It is what it is. As much as I’d like to see him retire a Ranger, he’d probably be better off elsewhere. There are teams out West who are so defensively challenged that they could use an experienced player like Staal on a third pair.

Grade: Incomplete

Goalies

30 Henrik Lundqvist (7-5-1, 3.17, .914 in 15 GP): As much as it’s hard to justify rebuilding around the prideful 37-year old franchise leader, who’s now up to fifth all-time on the wins list (456), Lundqvist deserves credit for how he’s handled the recent games. On Wednesday, he was brilliant turning back the clock for 41 saves to preserve a 3-2 win over Carolina. He’s stopped 86 of 90 shots in two wins over them. By now, he understands that it’s not going to be perfect. His play has steadied lately, which is a big key for the team. Will give up the occasional bad goal. Is he going to break down again? Not playing as frequently.

Grade: B-

40 Alexandar Georgiev (5-4-1, 3.42, .903 in 10 GP): The 23-year old is in his second year in the NHL. Like any young netminder, the Bulgarian is going to have ups and downs. Especially given the situation. His numbers aren’t that much different from Lundqvist. He deserves a ton of credit for hanging I there after some bad goals in the epic comeback from 4-0 down at Montreal. Made timely saves to get the win. It’s about finding consistency. If not, top prospect Igor Shestyorkin is a possibility.

Grade: C

Coach

David Quinn is in his second year behind the Rangers bench. With that comes more responsibility. Having Panarin definitely helps him with the lineup. Ditto for Trouba, who he’s ridden in some spots. However, he’s gaining more trust in Fox, DeAngelo and Lindgren. While there have been some questionable decisions I’ve critiqued him for, he made a smart move keeping Kakko down on the third line for more favorable match-ups. It hasn’t been perfect. It’s not going to be. He’s doing alright so far. Don’t forget no Zibanejad and the team stayed afloat. They play for him. That’s why they are 12-9-2 at Thanksgiving.

Grade: B-

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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