Blueshirts run it back with Strome, re-sign Lemieux

Amidst all the chaos of the election, the Rangers have been busy. They basically decided to bring back Ryan Strome. After some uncertainty surrounding the second line center who posted a career high 59 points (18-41-59) while teaming with Artemi Panarin, they settled before arbitration by giving Strome a fair two-year deal worth an average of $4.5 million.

It was always going to be the most likely option. The two sides met in the middle to avoid arbitration. Besides, if it had gotten there Strome would’ve had a strong argument for an even higher salary. This worked out well for the Blueshirts.

Earlier today, they re-signed Brendan Lemieux for two years at $1.55 million per season. It’ll be up to Lemieux to prove himself. He can be an effective secondary forward due to the energy and physicality he provides. But he’ll have to avoid taking undisciplined penalties. It would also help if he could score a few more goals. At the moment though, he’s projected on the fourth line which likely will include Brett Howden.

As for Strome, the 27-year old has been a good fit since coming over from Edmonton for the forgotten Ryan Spooner. One of GM Jeff Gorton’s best trades. The other being stealing Mika Zibanejad from Ottawa for Derick Brassard. In that same deal, they picked up a second round pick for a seventh. That second round pick became Brendan Smith, who is still here in the team’s top six defensemen.

What will be interesting to see is what happens with the upcoming 2021 season. They are still targeting early January. But I feel the middle of the month is more likely due to the pandemic along with a bubble and training camp. I would project Jan. 20 as the latest date if the season comes off.

My question is what can Strome do for an encore. He was so good with Panarin and former Ranger, now Hurricane Jesper Fast. It’s easy to forget that 15 of his 18 goals came at even strength. He also recorded 26 of his 41 assists at even strength, totaling 41 even strength points. Strome was also a fixture on the power play where he was more of a trigger man by posting 3-14-17 on the man-advantage. David Quinn counted on him for the penalty kill where he excelled.

With the arrival of much ballyhooed top pick Alexis Lafreniere, who joins Strome and Panarin on the second line? Kaapo Kakko is a likely candidate if he proves ready for a top six role. Especially if Pavel Buchnevich remains with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. They’ll have some interesting decisions to make with Lafreniere, who could break into the top six. There would be nothing wrong with him starting on the third line with Filip Chytil.

With Puck Pedia keeping track of how little cap space the team has following the signings of Strome and Lemieux, they’re unlikely to do much else. Especially with the rookie bonuses Lafreniere can earn. To quote Gene Hackman in Hoosiers, “This is your team.”

What it really is the same roster except Jack Johnson replaced Marc Staal, Fast is gone and the Rangers lucked into Lafreniere. The kind of impact player who could make an immediate difference.

The secondary players will come from Phil Di Giuseppe, Kevin Rooney, Julien Gauthier, Howden, Lemieux, Colin Blackwell and maybe Morgan Barron. Tim Gettinger might be the other player.

All I know is eventually, they want Chytil to replace Strome as the team’s number two center. For that to happen, he has to improve with consistency and become better defensively. If he can’t, maybe he shouldn’t be a center. He does have good skill as we’ve seen him score some highlight reel goals. They need to know what he is in Year Three.

Don’t forget Vitaly Kravtsov should be coming if everything improves following the KHL season. In 16 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk, he has eight goals and two assists for 10 points. The 20-year old Russian’s eight goals lead the team. The 2018 first round pick turns 21 on December 23.

There’s a lot of reasons for fans to get excited. The future is bright. As for the present, we have to have realistic expectations. This team is likely not ready for the playoffs. Something Team President John Davidson reminded the media during a Zoom conference call. He understands what it takes to build a successful team. He did it in St. Louis and Columbus.

However, moving forward with new starting goalie Igor Shesterkin and backup Alex Georgiev bodes well. But they’ll have more pressure to perform now that Henrik Lundqvist has moved on to Washington. It’ll be interesting to follow the goalie tandem in their first year together.

Eventually, Tyler Wall will begin his first pro year in Hartford. The AHL might not start until February. The Rangers are in great shape in net with so much depth.

It’ll also be interesting to see if K’Andre Miller can crack the blueline. They should remain patient and do what’s best for his development. Keep an eye on Tarmo Reunanen and Libor Hajek. Both will get chances to make the roster.

That’s going to do it for now. I’ll have more soon.

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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