The Rangers offense has been rolling along at a pretty good clip, 6th in G/Game (3.00) 5th in goal differential (+19), and the power play has even been a strength for the team (tied for 12th in league, scoring at a 19.3% clip). While those are some great numbers, the Rangers offense has been pretty top heavy as of late; Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis are leading the Rangers in scoring (43 and 36 points respectively) and the next four leading scorers are Derick Brassard (35), Derek Stepan (32), Mats Zuccarello (24), and Chris Kreider (23).
The Rangers Top Six is doing it's job to drive the Rangers offense and with Dominic Moore and Lee Stempniak holding down the Rangers defense as part of the 4th line there is a big inconsistency with what should be the Rangers depth scoring line in their third line. Centered by the big playmaking center Kevin Hayes, the Rangers 3rd line has been a revolving door of wingers and success seeing players from Ryan Malone and Chris Mueller on it's wings to the current look of Carl Hagelin and Jesper Fast flanking Hayes.
Last year, the Rangers found consistent success with their offense due to having an equal spread of offense throughout their top nine forwards, whereas this year there's a very obvious flaw in the way the lines are constructed, the Rangers have constructed their lines with a certain pattern, at least they've tried to as much as possible. Look at the Rangers line set up and you can see the pattern emerge quickly:
Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast
J.T. Miller-Dominic Moore-Lee Stempniak
and the Pattern?
Defensive Forward-Playmaker-Defensive Forward
Finisher-Defensive Forward-Defensive Forward
The Rangers have a stacked top six when it comes to offense, but that third line leaves a lot to be desired and lot of it rests on the big flaws of Carl Hagelin's game.
Before I get into the details, Dave Shapiro of Blue Seat Blogs already has a great breakdown on why Marc Staal's...misinformed...contract extension could mean Carl Hagelin is the odd man out salary wise. It's a good look at the business side of why Carl Hagelin is the most expendable soon to be free agent, let's take a good look at why Hagelin isn't a good fit on the ice.
This is from last Tuesday's game against the Senators and highlights why Carl Hagelin is such a frustrating player at times. Carl's aggressiveness in the defensive zone, as well as a poor pinch by Cody Ceci, leads to a rush up the ice with Hagelin's speed leading a 3 on 2 from the center line.
With Ceci going down very early the Rangers have, essentially, a 3 on 1 from the face off circles. However, instead of taking the puck to the net or forcing Craig Anderson to move laterally, Hagelin takes a low percentage shot that Anderson is clearly square to and hits him right in the crest. Hagelin clearly had more time to push the play but he didn't, and this is a big reason why he is expendable. Hagelin's offensive instincts and awareness just aren't good enough to sustain offensive pressure or create sustainable offense for his teammates.
Another moment from that Sens game, Hagelin is carrying the puck up on a 3 on 2 forcing the Sens defense back with his speed and he has Hayes and Fast on his wings, this should be a prime scoring opportunity for the Rangers except it quickly fizzles out.
This play here infuriates me, upon entering the zone Hagelin just flutters a shot harmlessly on net and the play is quickly transitions the other way. Hayes might be covered for a direct pass, but a quick chip and chase with Hayes lets the Rangers establish some kind of offensive zone pressure. For some reason Hagelin just doesn't recognize the play in front of him.
The issue is not only when Hagelin carries the puck, but when he's in the offensive zone he's not giving his teammates a viable target as an open man.
Another 3 on 2 for the Rangers 3rd line, Hayes carries the puck in with Fast and Hagelin on his wings. The Columbus defense, most notably Jack Johnson are playing Hayes very tightly with Johnson flat footed and lunging for the puck. Hagelin should have taken this moment to cut a burst of speed and head right for the net, giving Fast a nice open target. Instead, Haggy simply continues on his way while Fast winds up for low percent slap shot that is easily stopped by Bobrovsky.
So to sum all of this up, if the Rangers swapped a winger like J.T. Miller with either of Hagelin or Fast the Rangers 3rd line quickly becomes a more stable and potent offensive threat while the Rangers 4th line becomes an even better defensive force.
Now when it comes to whether or not the Rangers should trade Carl Hagelin, I feel that they should definitely explore the option...in the offseason. Right now the Rangers are playing all of their NHL wingers and trading Hagelin in season means (depending upon the return) inserting a pet rock as his replacement. In the short term, unless the Rangers get a skilled 3rd liner (Mike Santorelli?) in return or as part of a return package, I would hold on to the speedy Swede and look to shot his rights around the NHL Draft.
I really do like Carl Hagelin as a player, he's the down right fastest player in the NHL and is a pretty good PKer, but when it comes right down to it, Hagelin doesn't have the skill that this team is building itself around.