Is Third Time the Charm for Rangers and High-Stakes Draft Deal?

Back in early November, coming off a miserable 4-7-2 start to the year, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted in his 31 Thoughts column that the Rangers weren’t just ready to restock but apparently were ready to do it the right way. They feared “the dreaded middle” – that no man’s land of mediocrity that spans between a playoff contender and a lottery squad. After dealing Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes for the seventh overall pick (Lias Andersson) and Tony DeAngelo, they wanted more. Picks and prospects, that is.

Their ship’s course has righted since that awful start, but not so much as to instill a sense of hope that this roster has what it takes yet to compete for hockey’s ultimate glory. In fact, as of the time of this writing, they’re not even in the Eastern Conference playoff picture as their All-Star game break begins, trailing the final wild-card spot by a single point.

But this is a problem that a high-risk Draft day gamble might solve rather quickly. One the Rangers have attempted twice in the previous two drafts, ultimately coming up short. Perhaps the third time’s the charm?

An Alternative, Youthful, Trade Deadline Approach

With poor play over the last few weeks and a brutal West Coast trip before the All-Star break, the Rangers are trending towards deadline seller territory. It’s too early to definitively say that, especially in a weak Metropolitan division, but it’s getting harder to see Alain Vigneault’s squad buying at the deadline. But regardless of this season’s aspirations, moving to get younger and more talented without giving up premium assets should be a goal.

Fortunately for General Manager Jeff Gorton, there may be a few young guys needing a change of scenery, so to speak, who could contribute to his “rebuild on the fly” mantra without costing premium picks. Around the league, there are a handful of guys, like Anthony Duclair, who are young but either haven’t reached their potential or may be expendable to their current organizations who could contribute to the Rangers immediately while providing more building blocks for the future.

Hayes Excels in New Role as Shutdown C with Upside

When New York Rangers’ general manager Jeff Gorton chose to trade away his long-time top center Derek Stepan, it was with the expectation that Kevin Hayes—the former first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks—would build on last year’s 49-point season and take ownership of a top-six role.

“He’s going to get the opportunity,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “I’m very confident that he’s going to prove us right, that we had every reason to have faith in him.”

Unfortunately, perhaps as a consequence of New York’s lack of center depth, Hayes’ role hasn’t grown like we might have thought. He’s being used as a defense-first center, which limits his ceiling. With Stepan no longer taking any offensive-zone faceoffs, a larger, more production-oriented role should have been available for Hayes. So, while he has stepped into the top-six, his role probably isn’t what was envisioned when he got the vote of confidence from Vigneault.

Kevin Shattenkirk Out Indefinitely With Meniscus Tear

The Rangers made big news on Friday by announcing that their big, summer free agent acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk, would be out indefinitely following knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee. Larry Brooks of the New York Post shed some more light on the matter, indicating that he will be having the surgery on Monday and that he was playing with the injury throughout the season:

The Rangers called up Tony DeAngelo from Hartford Wolf Pack to fill his spot in the lineup. The offensively gifted defenseman had one point in eight games with the Blueshirts before being sent down to the Wolf Pack earlier in the season. This is as big a chance as any for DeAngelo who has had trouble sticking in NHL lineups so far in his career.

Rangers Lose D Marc Staal to Lower-Body Injury

The New York Rangers snapped their three-game losing streak, thumping the Flyers tonight by a 5-1 final, but the victory may have been a Pyrrhic one, as they appear to have lost another key roster player. This time, veteran defenseman Marc Staal:

Though not an analytics darling by any stretch, Staal has been a calming, steady presence this season. In fact, Mike Valvano recently wrote about how his return to reliability has helped to stabilize the Blueshirts’ defense group that despite the Kevin Shattenkirk signing, could best be categorized as “in transition”.

“Marc Staal does not post solid offensive numbers and does not sparkle on spreadsheets. Where he shines is in the subtleties of playing defense and his incessantly underrated athleticism.”

The Rangers have not yet provided any details on the nature or extent of his injury, so it’s probably safe to presume him as day-to-day until they say otherwise.

For now, Staal joins a growing list of injured [key] players including Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes.

Halfway There Report Cards 2017-18: Defense & Goalies Edition

Last Saturday night’s 2-1 shootout victory over the lowly Arizona Coyotes represented a bit more than a hockey game. The game itself was another two points, unnecessarily struggled for, but two more points nonetheless. By the sound of the final whistle, it also officially marked the halfway point for the New York Rangers for this 2017-18 NHL season.

RELATED: Halfway There Report Cards: Forwards Edition

As has become customary, we’re going to take a look at individual player performances, broken down into five grading groups, as of the halfway mark of the season. Those groups break down as follows:

1. “Excelling” — A+ to A-
2. “Succeeding” — B+ to B-
3. “Treading Water” — C- to C+
4. “Drowning/Failing” — D to F
5. “Incomplete”

In the interest of not making things overly complicated, players will be graded in these groups so we don’t get too caught up in the minutia of arguing the differences between an A and an A-minus. Additionally, any player who has played in fewer than ten games, or has been re-assigned to the AHL, Junior hockey, or overseas (despite playing more than ten games, if possible) will receive an Incomplete grade given the lack of games played to adequately judge their play.

So, without further ado, I give you the 2017-18 ClearedForContact Halfway There Report Card — Defense & Goalies Edition:

Halfway There Report Cards 2017-18: Forwards Edition

Last Saturday night’s 2-1 shootout victory over the lowly Arizona Coyotes represented a bit more than a hockey game. The game itself was another two points, unnecessarily struggled for, but two more points nonetheless. By the sound of the final whistle, it also officially marked the halfway point for the New York Rangers for this 2017-18 NHL season.

RELATED: Halfway There Report Cards: Defense & Goalies Edition

As has become customary, we’re going to take a look at individual player performances, broken down into five grading groups, as of the halfway mark of the season. Those groups break down as follows:

1. “Excelling” — A+ to A-
2. “Succeeding” — B+ to B-
3. “Treading Water” — C- to C+
4. “Drowning/Failing” — D to F
5. “Incomplete”

In the interest of not making things overly complicated, players will be graded in these groups so we don’t get too caught up in the minutia of arguing the differences between an A and an A-minus. Additionally, any player who has played in fewer than ten games, or has been re-assigned to the AHL, Junior hockey, or overseas (despite playing more than ten games, if possible) will receive an Incomplete grade given the lack of games played to adequately judge their play.

So, without further ado, I give you the 2017-18 ClearedForContact Halfway There Report Card — Forwards Edition:

Analytics and Eyeballs: Marc Staal is Bringing the D

Marc Staal is a good hockey player.

His performance late last year and in the playoffs shouldn’t undermine the resume he’s built over the last decade or, like the jettisoned Dan Girardi, how valuable he’s been to the Rangers organization as it’s transitioned from expensive also-rans to perennial playoff squad. This year, motivated by a desire to rebuild his legacy and, perhaps, the fear of not having a role locked down, he’s been one of New York’s best defenders.

As Katie Strang mentioned in The Athletic, “He knew that the player that was on the ice against the Senators was not how he wanted to be remembered. He wanted to come back as a leader of this team, so he knew he had to play like one.”

Ahead of Bye Week, Rangers Re-assign Vinni Lettieri to Hartford Wolf Pack

With the Rangers’ beginning their Collective Bargaining Agreement-mandated bye in which they aren’t scheduled to play again until Saturday’s tilt against the New York Islanders, Vinni Lettieri has been assigned to the Wolf Pack.

Rangers Lose Kevin Hayes to Lower-Body Injury

So, the Rangers will probably be without Kevin Hayes for a little while.

Early in the first half of the first period, Hayes was slow to get up after Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt rode him hard into the boards: