Just as the Big Ten have 14 schools in the conference, the Rangers’ bottom six have about 10 forwards that head coach Gerard Gallant can choose from after Monday’s move.
But the top six may have just five attackers who legitimately fit into that category, a fact of life exacerbated by the news that Kaapo Kakko will be out for at least the rest of March before the Finn can return from the wrist injury that has sidelined him since January 21.
In the best-case scenario, Kakko could have a three-week run before the playoffs to get into hockey condition and perfect his timing while trying to hit playoff pace. It will be a challenge for him.
And that will be a challenge for Rangers, who are so reliant on their brand names up front but have scored the fewest five-for-five goals among the 16 teams currently in playoff position.
So right now what you’ve seen from the last three games is probably what you’ll get: Mika Zibanejad between Chris Kreider and Alexis Lafrenière with pending free agent Ryan Strome skating between Artemi Panarin and Frank Vatrano.
Is this the place to note that Panarin has scored once at five against five in the last 19 games and twice in his last 28 games? Or that Strome has gone nine straight without a five-on-five with three in his last 23 games? Or that Kreider has scored once in the last seven at full strength and Zibanejad has gone eight in a row without one, and with three in his last 26 games? Is this the place to repeat that the team has scored two goals or less in 10 of its last 16 games?
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Once Vancouver made it impossible for the Rangers to get JT Miller, then when Anaheim’s price tag for Plan B (or C) Rickard Rakell escalated beyond general manager Chris Drury’s comfort zone, c was the inevitable result. The top six will need as much support as possible from the bottom six.
Drury was able to add that support to the roster by walking away from his first rodeo with Winnipeg’s coveted Andrew Copp and Vancouver sixth Tyler Motte up front and with veteran Philadelphia right-handed defenseman Justin Braun at fullback. . And Drury did so without ceding any of the organization’s prime assets in return.
A string of draft picks over the next two seasons were sacrificed, including a pair of conditional seconds to the Jets in exchange for Copp, one of which would become this year’s first-rounder if the Blueshirts reach the conference finals. . It’s a compromise that anyone would make.
Morgan Barron, the forward who just couldn’t decipher the roster, was sent to the Jets as part of the deal for Copp. This further dilutes the organizational pipeline in the middle, which seems pretty much empty. But let’s face it, if Drury and the hierarchy saw Barron as a legitimate prospect, they would have found a way to keep him.
Every middle-six guy moved at the deadline is compared to the 2020 version of Blake Coleman or Barclay Goodrow. Copp, 27, has the versatility and advantage of being that facsimile and a key part of a third line with, say, Goodrow and Chytil. There’s also enough upside in Copp’s attacking game that he could crack the top six from time to time.
There’s that too. While Copp is a hire, he could become an option to become the club’s second-line center next season if Strome gets away. A third party recently told me that negotiations over a contract extension had been “difficult”. So it will be something of an audition for the University of Michigan product who recorded 35 points (13-22) in 56 games while playing mostly with Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele. Copp was also part of the Jets’ first penalty-killing unit.
If the front nine line up as previously suggested, that leaves Motte, Dryden Hunt, Ryan Reaves, Jonny Brodzinski, Greg McKegg and Julien Gauthier playing musical chairs until Kevin Rooney, also sidelined for at least the rest of the month, join the crowd. At least there will be a handful of players at optional practices.
It’s unclear if Braun will bump Braden Schneider to street clothes on the third pair or if the defense-focused 35-year-old who played 12 years on the right would try to move to the left side, jostling Patrik Nemeth in the process. ‘align.
There’s this to consider: Gallant typically sits Schneider for the last 10-12 minutes of a game. Nemeth’s time is also reduced to critical time. Cutting the bench becomes a playoff challenge. Braun was also part of the Flyers’ top PK unit. Gallant may want to use him instead of Adam Fox in some shorthand situations to give No. 23 a shot.
As part of the future protection policy, Drury did well on Monday. Maybe a standing double.