Panarin returns to Columbus tonight, Georgiev back in net, DeAngelo stuff and Kravtsov

Tonight, the Rangers visit the Blue Jackets in Columbus at 7 PM. It’s the big return of Artemi Panarin to a franchise he helped finally reach the second round last Spring.

During that postseason, he paced them in scoring with 11 points (5-6-11) over 10 games. It was highlighted by the sweep of President’s Trophy winner Tampa Bay. They lost to the Bruins in six games the next round.

Even though he only spent two years with Columbus, the electrifying Panarin was spectacular. After coming over from the Blackhawks in a trade for Brandon Saad and spare pieces, the playmaking Russian forward proved he didn’t need Patrick Kane to produce some magic. In two seasons, he had 55 goals, 114 assists and totaled 169 points in 160 games.

That included posting a career best 87 points, 28 goals and 59 assists in ’18-19. Even though he left to sign with the Rangers where he’s continued to perform at a very high level where his 33 points (12-21-33) pace his new team, Panarin should get a warm reception from appreciative fans in Columbus. He brought the franchise excitement and helped them finally conquer their first round demons.

You can be sure a nice video tribute will be shown at some point. Usually, it’s during a stoppage in the first period. Had he been there longer, who knows what kind of impact he could’ve had for former coach John Tortorella’s club. Without the Bread Man and former franchise goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, they’ve been up and down. They enter play in seventh place in the Metro Division with a 11-12-4 record for 26 points. The Rangers come in 13-10-3 with 29 points to rank sixth in the division. It’s an uphill climb for both teams due to the Caps, Islanders, Flyers, Hurricanes and Pens.

The goalie match-up for later is Alexandar Georgiev versus Joonas Korpisalo. The replacement for Bobrovsky (signed with Panthers) has been an iron man under Tortorella. He’s already played 21 games and is responsible for all 11 of their wins. Following a slow start, Korpisalo is 6-4-0 with a 2.42 GAA and .915 save percentage over his last 10 games. For the season, he’s 11-9-1 with a 2.84 GAA, .902 save percentage and a shutout. Elvis Merzlikins is the backup, who’s winless (0-3-3) in seven appearances.

This will be Georgiev’s 12th game of the season for the Blueshirts. The 23-year old Bulgarian last shutout the Devils on Saturday by stopping all 33 shots in a 4-0 win. It was his third career shutout. He’s stopped 55 of the last 56 shots. He brings a 6-4-1 mark with a 3.08 GAA and .912 save percentage into play. It will be his 55th NHL game. The reason I bring this up is because he’s closing in on the 60 game threshold. Once he reaches it, he’s no longer waiver exempt for next year’s Expansion Draft for Seattle. The organization has a hard decision to make regarding his future. Especially with Igor Shesterkin down in Hartford playing well. That’s a discussion for another day.

With Georgie going today, Henrik Lundqvist will make the start at home against the Canadiens tomorrow night. It looks like it’ll be Carey Price for the Habs with coach Claude Julien opting to start rookie Cayden Primeau tonight against Colorado.

As for any lineup tweaks from the unpredictable David Quinn, he will give rookie Kaapo Kakko another look on the first power play unit. This is good. Lately, it’s been too righty oriented with as many as four right shots. I don’t like that. Kakko can slide back in on the right side while Panarin and Mika Zibanejad are over on the left for one-timers. Tony DeAngelo has six power play points (2-4-6) due to doing a good job reading and reacting. Adam Fox also has half a dozen (1-5-6) to share the lead among NYR defensemen.

Greg McKegg should return after missing the past few games with a mysterious injury. Marc Staal was practicing with DeAngelo while Libor Hajek took turns. It looks like it’s the return of Staal after a month off due to ankle surgery to repair an infection. Everyone’s favorite defenseman won’t be in the lineup. We kid.

UPDATE: Scratch that. Both McKegg and Staal aren’t in. Hot tip to Colin Stephenson. It’s Boo Nieves on the fourth line with Brett Howden and Brendan Smith. Hajek on D.

Regarding Hajek, he’s young like Fox and Ryan Lindgren, who are both a little more polished. However, I like his skating and believe there’s untapped potential there. This is a rebuild. Obviously, even if I am a pro Staal guy due to how much respect I have for him, it’s probably better for the team to see if they can make a trade. He’s not going to be in the lineup every night. Hardly a fluid situation for the 32-year old veteran. Do I hear Sharks?

I want to address all this silly nonsense with DeAngelo. Another blog recently suggested trading him because he “doesn’t fit.” Whatever that means. What doesn’t he fit? Their biased criteria. I’m not going to make this blog political or turn it into the analytics and chart crap these people rely too much on.

Is DeAngelo perfect? No. But his 19 points (7-12-19) are tied for third in team scoring with their Russian God Pavel Buchnevich. A player allergic to physical contact who doesn’t shoot the puck enough. Until those two things change, I’m not sold on Buchnevich long-term. He may have 19 points (5-14-19), but remains inconsistent. Some games, you notice him due to his skill. Others, he’s hardly there. I thought he’d build off his strong finish last Spring by continuing to shoot more and finish. That’s not the case so far.

Getting back to DeAngelo. Even if he’s not the best defensively as these Corsi bloggers suggest, who is? Is Brady Skjei making anyone forget that he makes over $5 million on the cap and is a basket case in his end? Great song and video by Green Day off the Dookie album. Who’s to say Skjei doesn’t become the odd man out? He has the skating and offensive instincts, but for the money he makes, is replaceable unless we see improvement. It’s Year Five.

Don’t forget K’Andre Miller is in his sophomore year at Wisconsin. He could be ready next year. With lefties Lindgren and Hajek, once Miller is NHL bound, Skjei becomes movable. One of the justifications is DeAngelo will want too much money on his next contract at taking the $925,000 qualifying offer like rugged teammate Brendan Lemieux. Well duh. He only had 30 points last year in 61 games while being scratched a lot before Quinn got what he wanted.

At 24, the Sewell, New Jersey native is continuing to develop well. He’s on pace to shatter those marks. Nobody has put up this many points on the D this early since Brian Leetch. Most of it has come at even strength too. Something these possession nerds talk up unless it’s a player they irrationally hate for illogical reasons. Thirteen (5-8-13) of DeAngelo’s 19 points have come at even strength. Only the trio of Panarin (23), Ryan Strome (17) and Buchnevich (15) have more. Fox is 4-4-8 at even strength. Obviously, Mika Zibanejad would be higher if he didn’t miss all those games.

The point is this isn’t a high scoring team in terms of depth. It is improved due to Panarin carrying the load while Strome, DeAngelo and Filip Chytil (8 goals in 17 games) have surprised. This is without Chris Kreider going on a hot streak although he’s been doing a lot right. It’s without Kakko having recorded an even strength assist. Seven of his 11 points are on the power play.

To conclude that DeAngelo will want too much is misguided. He definitely took one for the team. So, let’s say he hits 15 goals and 50 points. You’re telling me that’s easy to replace. At the very least, if he continues to sustain his play offensively, he’s gonna get a bridge deal in the same neighborhood as superstar Buchnevich. If it becomes too much, only then can you be concerned. What I do know is he, Strome and Lemieux are all key contributors to this roster. It’s no coincidence. They bring the intangibles that are needed along with Kreider, Lindgren and Jacob Trouba.

There’s a good D prospect in Nils Lundkvist performing well back home in Sweden where his 16 points (4-12-16) and plus-15 rating lead Lulea HF. That’s all well and good. He plays on a roster that includes failed Rangers prospect Robin Kovacs. Talk about overhyped. There isn’t much talent.

They took him in the first round 28th overall in 2018 as part of the Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller trade with Tampa. A deal that also netted Hajek, Brett Howden, current Senator Vladislav Namestnikov and 2019 second round pick Karl Henriksson. On paper, it looks pretty good. Even if it doesn’t look like either Howden or Hajek are going to be stars. They’ll be serviceable NHL players. Henriksson looks like a steal. We’ll know more soon.

As for Lundkvist, he had a goal and assist for Sweden at the World Junior Championships last year. He can represent his country again, but he paces his pro team in scoring. So, that’s doubtful. He’s a good skating right defenseman, who’s undersized (5-10, 174) like DeAngelo. It’s hard to gauge what kind of player he’ll be. But labeling our team’s top offensive defenseman a third pair guy due to metrics is ridiculous. I’ll only say that if that’s true, what’s wrong with a top three right D of Trouba, Fox and DeAngelo? Nothing.

Jeff Gorton turned a once perceived weakness into a team strength. The GM deserves plenty of credit for this. He turned rental Kevin Hayes into a first round pick he used to acquire Trouba and land Lemieux, who’s the effective agitator this team needed. All Winnipeg has to show for it is Neal Pionk, who’s been solid so far. Plus first round pick Ville Heinola. That’s a huge win.

The only trade Gorton didn’t do well in was giving up on big left defenseman Ryan Graves to the Avalanche in exchange for Chris Bigras. Graves has gone on to become a key depth defenseman on Colorado who contributes offensively while blocking shots. Bigras didn’t last long in Hartford. He’s now Flyers property with Lehigh of the AHL.

One final point on DeAngelo and Lundkvist, who they’re already overhyping due to the desire to get rid of a good player, who also is very good at assessing things after wins and losses while calling out a biased blogger for their charts, which broke NYR Twitter. Lundkvist is young and only 19. He could need more time in Hartford to develop next season. DeAngelo has finally established himself and gotten it. He doesn’t take benchings personal either, but responds exactly how you’d like to see.

It’s time to put this issue to bed. It’s fake news.

Finally, it looks like Vitali Kravtsov made a foolish decision to leave Hartford for Chelyabinsk Traktor in the KHL. He has two goals and an assist in 10 games so far and hasn’t exactly been used the way he thought.

Love the commentary from Kevin DeLury. His Rangers podcast with Paul Cuthbert remains a joy to listen to. They have excellent chemistry and just the right gallows humor this fanbase desperately needs. There are far too many in social media and the blogosphere who take themselves too seriously. That includes that insincere reporter on The Athletic who’s nothing more than a Lundqvist fan. That’s the hard truth.

I’m going to take a listen to the new Rangers podcast featuring Ron Duguay, Mike Keenan and Larry Brooks, who probably is more in his element than suggesting bad trades like the one he threw out that had Buchnevich going to Columbus for Josh Anderson, who’s in Torts’ doghouse.

I actually made a good suggestion in the very comparable Oliver Bjorkstrand. Both were in the same 2013 Draft with Buchnevich going number 75 while Bjorkstrand went 89. The statistics are eerily similar with the even strength edge to Bjork and power play edge to Buch. The Rangers would save $750,000 on the cap through 2021.

I won’t be around until like 8:30 or 9. So, I’ll have to catch up on tonight’s game. Hopefully, they’ll respond well following the blah 4-1 loss to Vegas, who goes for a metro area sweep in Long Island.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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