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How the Offseason Changes the Power Play

The Rangers have some holes to fill on their power play units, let’s look at how the shiny new toys can do that.

Boston Bruins v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Six Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

This offseason has seen a tremendous amount of turnaround for the New York Rangers. Trading for and signing Adam Fox, securing both Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shesterkin by inking them to ELCs, trading for and extending Jacob Trouba, drafting and signing Kaapo Kakko, and of course signing Artemi Panarin. The team also said goodbye to players that played in some rather large roles, such as Jimmy Vesey, Neal Pionk, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, and Kevin Shattenkirk.

All of this upheaval means that the Rangers are going to look very different come October 3rd and that is especially true for the power play. Five of the Rangers’ top ice-getters on the man-advantage last year will be wearing different sweaters once the puck drops on the 2019-20 season (potentially six, with Chris Kreider’s status still hovering over everyone’s heads). So, the Rangers are going to turn to both their new arrivals and some of their returning players to fill that void.

Before we look into who’s going to slot in where, I want to take a look at how the Rangers power play fared last season. Based on power play conversion rate, the Rangers’ power play was the 17th best in the NHL last season, as they converted on the man-advantage a just a shade under 20% of the time. Comparatively, the league’s best power play down in Tampa Bay converted at close to a 30% clip, which is just mean. The Rangers were also tied for 22nd in power play opportunities in the league.

When the power play worked, it was thanks mostly to the Rangers’ top center, Mika Zibanejad. As part of his career season, the 25 year old Swedish pivot scored a whopping 22 points on the man-advantage, an aesthetically pleasing 11-11-22 on the power play over the season. Those marks, by far, led the Rangers as the second highest scorer was Chris Kreider, unsurprisingly, with 7 goals and 5 helpers for 12 points while a man up — although, Kreider’s contributions without touching the puck should still be noted.

The setup for the power play was pretty simple; gain the puck in the offensive zone, have Kreider park his mountain of a body in front of the net, and feed Zibanejad who’s locked and loaded from the Ovi-spot. If the initial shot didn’t work, Kreider was parked down low to clean up rebounds or to create havoc and win the puck back to the shooters in the faceoff circles.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz

You can see that displayed in the heat map above; the more concentrated the purple, the more shots taken from that spot on the ice. You’ll also notice those deep, swampy green areas in what is essentially the rest of the offensive zone. The Rangers power play became too one dimensional with most of the ice just funneling pucks to one or two areas and hoping it worked.

Another issue with the Rangers power play last season was quite simply a lack of talent. The first unit was oftentimes loaded up, as a team should do, with four forwards (usually some combination of Zibanejad, Kreider, Hayes, Pavel Buchnevich, Zuccarello, and Filip Chytil) and one defenseman (Shattenkirk, Pionk, or Tony DeAngelo). It made for an effective top power play unit, but unfortunately left the second power play unit a barren wasteland.

That second unit featured a couple of mainstays, like Jimmy Vesey and later in the season, Pionk, but oftentimes found itself revolving through the likes of Ryan Strome’s shooting percentage, Lias Andersson, Brett Howden, and Vladislav Namestnikov. No matter how optimistic you may be, that is not a murderer’s row of a power play unit.

With all of this turnover, expect the Rangers power play to look and act very differently next season. Let’s look at just how different it might be, starting with the two big known commodities.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Three Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

When the Rangers made Artemi Panarin the $11.6 million man, they got a lot better up front. The Rangers have not had a talent like Panarin since probably post-05 lockout Jaromir Jagr. He’s going to slot in right away on the Rangers’ top line and power play unit.

Now, there might be some concern that Panarin is going to be put on his off-side and rifle pucks, ala another Russian sniper we all know that plays in the Metro division. This would force Zibanejad into the bumper role between the two faceoff circles and could potentially lead to a dip in production for the center. However, that might not be the case, especially if we look at Panarin’s history on the power play.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz

It might be a bit hard to see, but this heat map showing where Panarin generates his shots from gives us a big clue as to how he’ll be utilized when on the man-advantage. Last year in Columbus, Panarin led the Blue Jackets in power play production with a 6-12-18 line with 218 minutes of ice time.

Looking at how Panarin positions himself on the power play makes the fact that he had twice as many assists as goals make more sense. The Russian forward puts himself on the strong side wall, giving him more ice to work with and making it harder for defenders to take the puck off his stick. He’s a multifaceted weapon on the ice and makes the Rangers power play that much more lethal and versatile.

St. Louis Blues v Winnipeg Jets - Game Two Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

On the backend the Rangers stol...I mean...traded for Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. The 25 year old American defender is a defender the Rangers have been trying to get for a long, long time. Trouba’s an offensive threat on the power play because of how he walks the blue line and moves the puck around. Last season in Winnipeg, the big defender had only two goals while on the man advantage, but he added 14 assists to go with them.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz

Trouba likes to shoot from the right side of the blue line instead of on the left, his off-side. This, like Panarin, allows for Jacob to facilitate more as a puck mover rather than the primary trigger option. His positioning will allow the Minnesota native to pull defenders with him up high, which will allow lanes and chances to develop down low. This will give the forwards on the power play much more time and space to do damage to opposing teams.

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

While the Rangers added two big known commodities, they also brought it a lot of very talented mystery boxes this offseason. Those young players are going to be tasked with picking up big minutes both at even strength and on the power play. Forwards Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov are going to find themselves with a whole bunch of power play time next season; Kravtsov will probably be feasting on opposing teams’ second penalty kill units. There’s also the addition of Adam Fox, the offensively gifted defenseman out of Harvard, who will likely find himself in what will probably be a power play rotation with Tony DeAngelo on the second unit.

All of these new additions and subtractions also mean more time for guys like Filip Chytil, Pavel Buchnevich, and Lias Andersson who will also undoubtedly see more time with the man advantage.

As of today I would expect the power units to look a little something like this:

First Unit

Artemi PanarinMika Zibanejad — Chris Kreider

Pavel Buchnevich — Jacob Trouba

Second Unit

Vitali Kravtsov — Vladislav Namestnikov — Kaapo Kakko

Filip Chytil — Tony DeAngelo/Adam Fox

Now that right there? That should be a whole lot of fun to watch.