The first half of the New York Rangers’ season is in the books and report cards are in order. The grades are all over the place.
Pavel Buchnevich: C+
Unfortunately, Buchnevich had a dismal December, in which the 24-year-old notched only two points across 14 contests. The result is a disappointing first half. If he wants to remain a Blueshirt, Buchnevich must regain his mojo in 2020.
Filip Chytil: B
Unlike Buchnevich, Filip Chytil’s campaign got off to a rocky start, as he was shockingly assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack. Since his return from the AHL, the 20-year-old has looked like a different player.
Not only is Chytil scoring with higher frequency, but he is also playing a responsible, well-rounded style. If the former first-round pick continues on his current trajectory, he will be a top-six forward for years to come.
Jesper Fast: B-
It’s been “business as usual” for Jesper Fast through the first half of the 2019-20 season. The 28-year-old continues to lead by example with his tireless motor, effective forechecking, and fearless shot-blocking.
Offensively, Fast has been unable to reap the statistical rewards that come with playing alongside Artemi Panarin. However, the defensive-minded winger consistently makes his presence felt across other areas of the ice.
Brett Howden: C
The growing pains that Brett Howden experienced last season haven’t gone away.
The 21-year-old occasionally shows flashes of potential, but too often he is a non-factor. He has proven he’s not ready for the responsibilities that come with being a top-nine center in the NHL.
This doesn’t mean he’ll never be able to assume this role. That said, Howden is currently better-suited as a winger.
If the former first-round pick can sustain the success he’s accomplished since his move to the wing, he has a chance to turn his season around.
Kaapo Kakko: C+
Halfway through his rookie year, Kaapo Kakko has provided plenty of reason to believe he’ll be a future star. Nonetheless, the 18-year-old has failed to live up to the unreasonably high expectations placed upon the rookie.
Considering his age and native country, it’s hard to render Kakko’s first-half-results a surprise. However, it’s fair to say that his play has been slightly underwhelming.
After a streaky start to the campaign, the Finn has looked lost for quite a while. To salvage his season, Kakko must get his confidence back in the second half.
Chris Kreider: A-
Amid all of the trade rumors, Chris Kreider is quietly cruising at his typical 50-plus point, 20-plus goal pace.
Kreider’s undeniable chemistry with Mika Zibanejad has been on full display recently. This dynamic duo continues to make Jeff Gorton’s looming decision regarding Kreider’s future on Broadway even more difficult.
Not only will it be hard to replace his speed, physicality, net-front presence, and scoring, but his leadership will also be dearly missed in New York’s locker room full of youngsters. The age-old question remains: What price are the Blueshirts willing to pay to retain his services?
Only time will tell. If Kreider is traded, he will leave behind a major void in the Rangers’ top-six.
Brendan Lemieux: B+
If the Rangers decide to move on from Kreider, Brendan Lemieux will play a major role in replacing the veteran. In Lemieux, Gorton found a diamond in the rough. The 23-year-old is skilled, physical, tough, and he plays with an edge that Rangerstown hasn’t seen since the days of Sean Avery.
It remains unclear whether Lemieux has a future within New York’s top-six, or if he is better-served as more of a third-line grinder. Regardless, Lemieux finds a way to impact every game by getting under the skin of the opponents. For that reason, management should look to lock him up to a long-term deal.
After suffering a broken hand, it seems that Lemieux will be sidelined for approximately three more weeks. The Rangers are in desperate need of a speedy recovery from the former Winnipeg Jet so that he can build on his successful first half.
Greg McKegg and Micheal Haley: Incomplete
These two journeymen have been in and out of the lineup through the first half of the season. Mckegg and Haley haven’t done much of note. That said, both of them have performed relatively well in their limited roles. Neither player has gotten a ton of playing time, therefore, it’s too early to pass judgment.
Artemi Panarin: A+
He’s been worth every penny. That’s all there’s left to say about Artemi Panarin.
Imagine where this team would be without “The Breadman”? Rangerstown hasn’t witnessed a season like this since Jaromir Jagr’s 2005-2006 campaign.
The 28-year-old is a bonafide superstar. Seven-year, $81.5 million contracts don’t always work out. Thus far, Panarin’s deal is looking like a bargain.
Brendan Smith: B-
Brendan Smith has made the best of a bad situation. Many players wouldn’t respond well when asked to switch positions, but Smith has performed admirably given the circumstances.
The 30-year-old has done all that he’s been asked to do. He’s served as a valuable mentor to the Baby Blueshirts. It’d be interesting to see how he’d fare back on the blueline.
Ryan Strome: A
For years, the Rangers had a streak of successful “reclamation projects.” Guys like Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot, and Michael Grabner revived their careers during stints on Broadway. The newest revelation has been Ryan Strome, who Gorton acquired in a heist, sending just Ryan Spooner to Edmonton.
The former first-round pick has finally found his game. He’s producing at nearly a point-per-game pace. His running mate, Artemi Panarin, certainly deserves some credit for sparking Strome’s resurgence.
Yet, Strome’s been relatively effective all over the lineup. He’ll look to continue producing at almost a point-per-game pace in 2020. If he does, it’ll be hard for Gorton to let the 26-year-old walk this summer.
Mika Zibanejad: A+
While Artemi Panarin gets all of the hype, New York boasts another budding superstar: Mika Zibanejad. Any doubts about the 26-year-old’s ability to serve as a first-line center have vanished. Zibanejad is a young stud. The only knock on him is his ability to stay healthy.
Tony DeAngelo: A-
Following a strong finish to the 2018-19 campaign, Tony DeAngelo has continued to take significant strides. The 24-year-old has finally turned the corner, and he’s emerging as a quality offensive-defenseman.
Although he has played with many different partners, DeAngelo has consistently found ways to put up points. The only problem is that the former first-round pick might be playing himself out of an extension with the Blueshirts.
Adam Fox: A
There are plenty of questions surrounding the future of the Rangers’ defensemen. Adam Fox isn’t one of them.
The 21-year-old has been New York’s top defenseman since the get-go. He’s on pace to score almost 45 points as a rookie. That would be an impressive feat.
Fox’s uncanny vision, creativity, and playmaking-ability give him the chance to become a true star.
Libor Hajek: C
A knee injury has thrown a wrench in Libor Hajek’s season. The 21-year-old was a regular in New York’s lineup before his awkward collision with Emil Bemstrom, but he was visibly struggling on a regular basis.
In playing alongside Jacob Trouba, Hajek was thrust onto the first-pair to start the season and he was a little out of his depth. The experience should serve the youngster well, but Hajek may be due for a stint in Hartford.
Ryan Lindgren: B
Ryan Lindgren has been a pleasant surprise for the Blueshirts this year. After starting the season in Hartford, Lindgren has added some much-needed grit and physicality to New York’s back-end.
The Minnesota native shares great chemistry with Adam Fox. It looks like he’ll be a mainstay on the blueline for years to come.
Brady Skjei: B-
It’s been another frustrating season for Brady Skjei. The 25-year-old continues to provide glimpses of his rookie-year-self, but too often he is plagued by his tentativeness and indecisiveness.
Offensively, Skjei is having his best season since his freshman campaign. He’s on pace for more than 30 points. However, if Skjei wants to remain a Blueshirt, he must start consistently defending well.
Marc Staal: Incomplete
It’s been hard to judge Marc Staal’s season thus far. The alternate captain was sidelined for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, and he also spent a bunch of games as a healthy scratch.
When in the lineup, Staal has played like his usual self. He’s been fine in his own end but brings very little offense to the table. The long-time Blueshirt hasn’t spent enough time on the ice to receive a grade. His days on Broadway are likely numbered.
Jacob Trouba: B
Jacob Trouba’s New York Rangers tenure has gotten off to a decent start. While Trouba hasn’t consistently played like the No. 1 defenseman he’s being paid to be, he’s had a solid season.
Although he’s not playing on the Blueshirts’ top power-play unit, the 25-year-old is on pace for more than 40 points. Defensively, Trouba continues to adjust to being relied on as the team’s shutdown blueliner.
He’s spent the majority of the first half paired with Skjei or Hajek. It’d be interesting to see the former Winnipeg Jet playing alongside Tony DeAngelo.
Alexandar Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist: A-
This goaltending duo has been a bright spot through the first half of the season. Alexandar Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist have formed an excellent tandem. Both guys have frequently helped cover up for the Blueshirts’ defensive woes.
Overall, the two goaltenders have performed equally well. For this reason, they receive the same grade.