The start of the preseason is almost upon us, and soon fans will be getting a first look at the 2018-19 New York Rangers. The squad is going to be chock full of youngsters looking to make a name for themselves, and will be led by rookie bench boss David Quinn.
The primary objective of the upcoming campaign should be evaluating the talent within the organization and identifying what deficiencies exist. Once the haves and have nots are established, it will be Jeff Gorton’s job to bolster the team via free agency or the trade market. The coaching staff should have a better sense of what they have in prospects such as Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson after a season of play, and there are bound to be holes to fill if the team hold a second major deadline sell off. Artemi Panarin is the player that has been bandied about for some time, as he is far and away the best available option both via trade and the 2019 free agent market, but it is surprising that Mark Stone’s name hasn’t been mentioned a whole lot. It could be because there have been so many rumors linking Panarin and the Blueshirts, and the possible union has led to other players being disregarded and overlooked entirely.
Stone, like Panarin, is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He was scheduled to go to arbitration with the Senators, but they ultimately avoided arbitration as he signed a one-year deal worth $7.35 million. Stone, also like Panarin, is unlikely to re-sign with his current organization which suggests that he could be on the move at some point, which could impact whether or not he gets to the open market.
My colleague Phil Kocher wrote why the Rangers shouldn’t depend on next year’s free agency last month. In short, so few star players actually make it to market that teams can often hamstring their ability to improve by being reactive instead of proactive. What complicates things is the fact that the Rangers are in a rebuild, and although they eventually need to add elite talent to move into their next stage, it is hard to seem them doing it this soon into the process. But if a player like Stone, regardless of whether he’s traded to a Stanley Cup contender this year, tests the free agent market next summer, the Rangers should be prepared to make him a bona fide cash offer.
Stone made his NHL debut vs. the Blueshirts in Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and picked up an assist on the game-winning goal scored by Jason Spezza.
Since then he’s compiled 95 goals and 154 assists for 249 points in 307 regular season games. He’s been an NHL regular for the last four seasons, and has point totals of 64, 61, 54, and 62 respectively.
Stone is a player that most fans don’t think of when considering top wingers in the NHL, so in many ways he’s one of the league’s more underrated players. In the four years he’s been an NHL regular, Stone is 12th among all wingers in points with 241, eight points behind the reigning NHL MVP Taylor Hall.
Last season was Stone’s best year; he was limited to just 58 games but came within two points of his career-high despite appearing in 22 fewer games. He also was two points away from tying his career high in 5v5 points and four away for 5v5 primary points. In many ways his stock is on the rise, and he’s the perfect player for the Rangers to consider adding.
Here’s a look at his 5v5 production in the four seasons he’s been an NHL regular.
These numbers are impressive and show his ability to be an impactful player in terms of scoring and driving play. His scoring rates are very impressive, as is the way he directly contributes to the offense with a high rate of primary points. What makes things even better is that his PDO has consistently been around the 100 mark which suggests that he can be counted on to produce at this level going forward. His relative numbers also stand out, and when you cross reference them with his individual numbers it gives you an idea of how vital he’s been to the success of the Senators.
Anecdotally, Stone is a right-handed shot, which is something the Rangers lack throughout their lineup. The right wing is an area the team needs to address, and Stone seems to be a perfect fit. Mats Zuccarello currently is the Rangers’ No. 1 right wing, but he’s in the final year of his deal and there are no guarantees he will be with the club next season.
The left side currently features Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider, although the latter will have just one year on his deal come July 2019. When it comes to prospects, wingers are a bit of a shallow spot in terms of talent.
Vitali Kravtsov was Adam’s top wing prospect at No. 2 overall, and the next highest ranked wing prospect was Tim Gettinger at No. 15. This overall lack of depth means the team will need to look to the trade market or free agency, with free agency being the likelier option since it isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team like the Rangers to deplete the assets they’ve accumulated.
If he does make it to market, Stone will draw considerable interest, but will remain a secondary option to Panarin. By no means should the Rangers avoid Panarin if both are available, but Stone would represent a great value in the event Panarin signs elsewhere. If Panarin is expected to draw in the $10 to $11 million range, Stone could potentially garner at least $9 million, and he’d be more than worth that.
At the time of signing, Panarin would be 27 turning 28 whereas Stone would have turned 27 a few months prior. The slight difference in age doesn’t matter, but age is something that will be of importance as the team considers players worth adding. The Rangers assuredly have an internal window of when they think they will contend, and for how long, so players targeted will be identified accordingly. The team could hypothetically have him from 27 to 32 on a six-year deal, and that would align with the team’s contention plan.
While Panarin is the target the Rangers should strive for, if he were to be unavailable they shouldn’t treat landing Stone as a consolation prize. He is a very talented player in his own right who doesn’t get recognition for how good he is, and he could be a big piece for the Rangers as they take steps toward becoming a contender once again. Many fans are already contemplating the impact Erik Karlsson leaving the Senators will have. While that loss will be tremendous, the loss of Stone could be even more devastating in the long run.