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Blueshirt Banter First Quarter Rangers Roundtable

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Florida Panthers v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As the 13-9-3 New York Rangers have passed the first-quarter mark of the 2019-20 season, we put together a roundtable to analyze their play so far.

What has been the highlight of Quarter 1?

Mike

On a team where most are hoping to find encouraging play from youngsters, the play of Artemiy Panarin has undoubtedly been the story of the first quarter of the 2019-20 season.

Panarin chose to play in the spotlight when he signed with the Rangers and he’s been a runaway hit. It’s hard to believe how little anxiety Rangers fans and analysts feel about Panarin’s contract, but with the quality of his play thus far his giant cap hit — which is sure to limit the team’s options in the near future — has been an afterthought. Panarin has been a magician through the first quarter. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the power play or even strength, or with Ryan Strome or Mika Zibanejad; he just makes magic happen.

Tom

The play of Artemiy Panarin. As others have said, statistically he’s been very impressive, and the Rangers haven’t had a player of his caliber upfront in a very long time. He’s currently among the top 10 in league scoring, and is a threat to make magic every game he takes the ice.

Adam

There were many ways to answer this, but sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. Artemiy Panarin has been everything the Rangers could have possibly wanted and more. He’s been an elite offensive force. Not only in terms of the insane point production, but also in how he drives offense by himself. He’s pretty much singlehandedly restored Ryan Strome’s confidence. He’s a possession monster. His combination plays with Kakko on the power play have been dynamite. What’s more, he’s been defensively sound. I haven’t seen many players come through the Rangers who are better at reading plays in the neutral zone and timing stickwork correctly. I think there’s also a lot to be said for his attitude. He got his payday for a rebuilding team. The fact that he’s so enthusiastic is a hell of an example for everyone else around him.

Kevin

Artemiy Panarin and Adam Fox. Panarin has been worth the price of admission through the first quarter of the season and he’s been the kind of player the Rangers have been waiting for for over a decade now. As for Fox, he’s been a revelation on a blue line that has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. I think Fox’s play has also been a big surprise, at least to me, as I thought he would struggle a bit to adjust to the NHL game but his smarts, skating, and vision have been wonderful to watch so far.

Matt

Hard to not put Artemiy Panarin as the highlight. He was a player I knew was exceptional, but getting to watch him on a nightly basis makes me appreciate just how good he is. I’ve also enjoyed Filip Chytil’s success since getting called up. We harp on demotions often, but this one seemed to be the right move.

Jack

Adam Fox’s emergence as one of, if not the single best defenseman on the roster has been a major boon for the Rangers. With it appearing like he’d find his way to Broadway eventually, the decision to give up what will become two 2nd round picks for him seemed questionable at the time the trade was consummated. With ECAC, Fox’s college conference at Harvard, not exactly being a wellspring of NHL talent, it was tough to make it out what kind of player Fox would become. It’s only a quarter of the way through his rookie season, but Fox appears to be well on his way to cementing himself as part of the Blueshirts’ core.

Bryan

Artemiy Panarin. We all knew he was good, but being able to watch Panarin on a nightly basis just makes you appreciate his game so much more. The Rangers made a massive commitment to Panarin over the summer, and while it’s still early, I don’t think the Rangers will regret a single penny that was spent on him. At the 20 game mark, Panarin is currently sitting at well over a point per game and just continues to produce on a nightly basis.

Shayna

It has to be Artemiy Panarin. The Rangers haven’t had too much elite talent, besides Henrik Lundqvist, over the years. They have that with Panarin, and he’s put that skill on display almost every night. The scoring is fantastic, but there’s much more to it — he’s such a strong player and a puck hound. How he battles for possession, when the puck isn’t already on his stick, really helps him play a more complete game. And then when the puck is on his stick... just watch and enjoy what he can do.

Adam Fox also deserves a nod; his play was quieter to open the season since he wasn’t scoring as much, but he’s just been so effective on both ends. And Filip Chytil since his demotion to Hartford has been so impressive, from how he developed and earned a promotion, to how well he’s played at the NHL level this year.

What has been the biggest disappointment?

Mike

The biggest disappointment has been the handling of Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov. In both cases, it felt that the organization let down key prospects in pivotal years in their development. Obviously, things are in a far more uncertain and dare I say desperate situation with Andersson than with Kravtsov. It’s beginning to become a tremendous mental exercise to imagine a scenario that is both probable and has a happy ending for the Rangers and the former 7th overall pick.

Adam

Jacob Trouba. Given how many question marks the team has on defense, they need him to be a player they can depend on. Instead, he’s been one of the least reliable defensemen. He lost his job pretty quickly on the top PP unit. He’s on pace for under 40 points. He’s brought down Brady Skjei’s play when paired together. One has to wonder what the future holds for him and his large contract if Fox and DeAngelo overtake him permanently.

Tom

I echo the sentiments of the others when it comes to the treatment of Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov. I also agree with Adam that Jacob Trouba has been a bit of a disappointment, although I wonder how much that stems from how bad Libor Hajek is. It’s worth noting that Trouba’s former partner in Winnipeg, Josh Morrissey, has also struggled this season.

There’s time for him to turn it around, and hopefully his recent string of games is a sign of him turning the corner.

Kevin

When a team is going full bore rebuild, you expect them to try and put their young players into positions to succeed. With that in mind, how the Rangers have handled Vitali Kravtsov, Lias Andersson, and Kaapo Kakko thus far has been the biggest disappointment. Not giving Kravtsov a legit chance to make the roster, forcing Andersson to play with a defenseman and a couple of AHLers, and keeping Kakko away from the skilled forwards at even strength are big black marks against the organization in the early going. Honorable Mention: the Erosion of confidence in David Quinn.

Matt

By all indications, Lias Andersson did what he was supposed to in the summer and turned in a strong training camp, only to be stapled to the fourth line with players who did him no favors and then was relegated to Hartford without so much as a look even in a third line role. All players develop differently, and as stated with Chytil demotions can work, but this seemed unwarranted. He’s played well in Hartford since the assignment, but if (more than when) he gets recalled to New York, who can envision a scenario that’s any different from the one he had before the demotion? I’m unsure how this resolves itself.

Jack

The Rangers don’t have a good roster, primarily due to self-inflicted wounds. In spite of that, this roster isn’t one that’s so terrible that they should be on pace to be one of the worst defensive units as far back as shot attempt data goes. Shots on Goal against, Shot Attempts against, Expected Goals against, you name it. If there’s a defensive stat that doesn’t involve goaltenders, the Rangers closest neighbors are the Randy Carlyle Maple Leafs and tanking Buffalo Sabres of the mid 2010’s. For a team that swapped out six of their top eight defenders in terms of games played last season for an assortment of young players and expensive acquisitions, the on-ice results are unacceptable, and it falls on the coaching staff.

Bryan

The handling of Vitali Kravtsov has the be the biggest disappointment for me. Jeff Gorton did excellent work this past summer by bringing over the team’s prominent prospects from Russia, only to see one of them end of back in the KHL. Kravtsov didn’t exactly have a great training camp, but I also thought he did enough to at least warrant a spot on the opening night roster. The biggest thing with rebuilding teams is putting their young players in a position to succeed, and I think the Rangers could’ve handled the Kravtsov situation a little better than they did.

Shayna

I have to echo Matt with the handling of Lias Andersson. Andersson’s offseason training and preseason performance should have earned him a role as the third-line center — from there, it would have been up to him to maintain it. Instead, he landed on the fourth line. And even when he was playing well, particularly defensively, which the team needed, he didn’t move up. After a while, his play declined. At that point, it made sense why he wasn’t promoted, but it still didn’t justify why he wasn’t moved up sooner.

Realistically, what was expected of him in minimal minutes, with less than ideal linemates on the fourth line, and then no penalty killing time? What was the plan there?

What encouraging aspect from the first quarter do you hope to see continue?

Mike

I want to see Adam Fox build on his under-appreciated and altogether exceptional first 20 games of NHL hockey. Before the season began there was a part of me that felt that the Rangers may have overpaid for Fox. Those concerns are gone. It’s been a long time since we saw a defensive prospect make as smooth of a transition from college hockey to the pro game as Fox has. It’s been a delight.

Tom

The continued development and production of Fox and Chytil. Both are very important pieces of the build, and it is key that they are given the ice time and opportunities to produce and make mistakes. Both are off to good starts, and are showing there’s reason to be very excited about the future.

Adam
The play of Filip Chytil. It’s practically impossible to be a decent NHL team without two great centers. Given Howden and Andersson’s struggles, the Rangers are going to live and die, long-term, by Chytil’s development. He’s proving that he’s not only a bonafide top-six center for the future, but right now.

Kevin

I really want to see Adam Fox get a larger role both at even strength and on the power play. He’s looking like the future that the blue line will be built around and getting him as much ice as is humanly possible can only help things in that regard.

Matt

This team’s ability to shake off bad games has been impressive to me. Of course, you want to limit those bad games, but the team seems to be able to turn the page rather quickly. Losses against Boston and Ottawa (twice) were followed up with strong efforts that showed this team has a lot of character. Young teams will certainly have hiccups, but this doesn’t appear to be a team that sulks and feels sorry for itself.

Jack

Filip Chytil has looked great since returning from Hartford at the end of October. In spite of playing well enough to maintain the NHL roster spot he had for all of last season, he spent the first four weeks of the 2019-20 campaign riding buses around New England. If the Rangers are going to be a good team when the rebuild is complete, Chytil emerging as a legitimate top six center will be a necessity, and he’s off to a good start.

Bryan

Everyone expected that there would be a slight adjustment period for Adam Fox, like any young player stepping into the NHL for the first time. Not only did Fox completely bypass that adjustment period, he quickly soared up the rankings and became one of the Rangers best defenders during the first quarter of the season. Fox’s ability to read the play and find the open man coming out of the defensive zone is something the Rangers have been lacking for quite a while. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff rewards Fox moving forward.

Shayna

Agreeing with everyone on Fox and Chytil. Fox has been solid for the Rangers with every partner he’s played with, and he’s getting rewarded with ice time as of late. I thought he’d be an offensive catalyst, but I’m particularly impressed with how steady he’s been defensively so soon in his NHL career.

As for Chytil, he took his demotion in stride, and really progressed in Hartford. His skill is shining so far at the NHL level in a top-six role, at center, alongside other skilled players. Chytil’s usage last year was something I really disagreed with, so to see him earn this role and thrive in it is really encouraging.

What needs to change?

Mike

The short answer here is that the team’s defensive structure and tactics have proven to be utterly inadequate and they desperately need to change. However, it’s unlikely we are going to see any such change mid-season.

Tom

The team’s defensive structure and reluctance to ice a capable fourth line are things that need to change. Both areas are currently a drain on the overall team, and negate the positive strides that are being made.

Adam

The defensive structure. Lundqvist and Georgiev have done their best to cover up the blemishes, but this team is one of the worst defensive teams on record. Per Evolving Hockey, the 2019-2020 Rangers have the highest expected goals against average at 5v5 of any team since 2007-2008, and no other team is really even close to them. This team has defensive weaknesses on the roster but there’s no excuse for them to be THIS bad.

Kevin

Can everything be an answer? When every piece of evidence tells us that whatever the Rangers are trying to do isn’t working, the answer needs to be changing everything, starting with the coaching staff. Whether that means a change in personnel or tactics and strategy, something has to change there. This team cannot keep trotting out the same line combos and pairings, with the same “tactics” and expect different results. That’s insanity.

Matt

It’s no secret the team’s defense needs a facelift. It’s been two head coaches that have struggled defensively with Lindy Ruff at the helm. Some can certainly be chalked up to youth, but other problems cannot. I don’t envision a change being made in-season, but problems must be addressed and there’s no indication that Ruff is the guy who can address them.

Jack

The coaching staff, more specifically the head coach. Staff changes this early into a tenure would be unprecedented for the Rangers, as Bryan Trottier as is the only Blueshirts’ head coach to get fired after less than 150 games since Ted Sator in 1986. Even that was the result of a general manager change of above Sator, so nothing that needs to be changed will be changed anytime soon.

Bryan

Whatever the Rangers are doing in the defensive zone isn’t working, and hasn’t been working for the last year or two. The only change the Rangers didn’t make behind the bench was Lindy Ruff, and surprisingly, that area of the team has continued to flat line. I would like to see the Rangers concede their blue line a little less and attack the play head-on before teams get a chance to gain the zone. Too many times the Rangers have been pinned in their own zone, and it all starts with the way the Rangers defend their own blue line.

Shayna

The defensive structure has to change. We probably sound like broken records citing the same issues over and over again, but the Rangers’ defense is that bad. The Rangers give up the blue line, don’t suppress passing lanes, allow numerous shots and quality chances against, and struggle to regain possession and push play up the ice. Through two head coaches and numerous defenders, the issues remain the same. The defensive tactics are failing them, and while the players also have to execute better, it’s up to the coaches to help pinpoint where players are struggling and instruct them on how to improve.

Via HockeyViz

What are your expectations for this team moving forward?

Mike

I expect this team to be a roller coaster with plenty of twists and turns that will eventually end up being out of the playoff picture and likely out of a lottery pick, depending on what moves are made before deadline day.

Tom

I expect the team to continue trying to win as many games as possible, but I think they are due for an extended losing streak that will all but put them in a situation where making the playoffs is a pipe dream. This will lead to the team having to address what they do with Kreider, Strome etc., and will give us an idea of what direction the team is looking to go in when it comes to rounding out the roster.

Adam

It’s hard to make predictions in terms of where the team will finish in the standings because there are many moving pieces and the team is clearly still trying to figure out what the hell they are right now. I think what really matters is that the top players (Panarin, Zibanejad, etc.) continue to play at a consistently high-end level and the majority of the young players finish the season better than they started it. As long as that happens, they will be in a good position to make some noise going forward.

Kevin

Pain. The team seems way too stubborn to admit their faults and actually try to implement changes at any level so I’m expecting a lot more of what we’ve seen so far; a lot of shots against, a lot of overworked goaltending, and some really fun flashes on offense. I do expect things to pick up in the “fun” department once Zibanejad gets back up to speed, but I don’t think it will make a big impact in the points column.

Matt

I’m curious to see how long they stick around in the playoff picture. They’re currently just a handful of games out of the second wild card, and while no one expects this team to qualify for the tournament, playing meaningful games in March could be a positive for both the players and the fans. With that said, the trade deadline is looming and there could — should — be moves made that will hurt the present roster.

Jack
Some combination of Micheal Haley, Gregg McKegg and Brendan Smith as everyday 4th liners while Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov are playing elsewhere for no particular reason. Three cheers for the rebuild!

Bryan

Much more of the same. We knew the Rangers were going to be an exciting team on paper, but being young also means inexperience. They have a lot of players still adjusting to the NHL game, so I expect that the roller coaster of emotions will continue throughout the rest of the season.

Shayna

Progress. I think through all of last year’s chaos, there was still some progress, which is an essential part of a rebuild. I expect the same this year. I’m not sure where I really see them ending up in the standings — maybe they fall just fall short of the battle for the wild card seed if their best players continue to be their best players, and goaltending remain solid.