Per usual, only seven games into the season, strife has stricken the Rangers fandom. And once again, this is all surrounding a top prospect of theirs. Whether you’re reading Arthur Staple’s take in The Athletic, Larry Brooks going to bat for Chris Drury in the New York Post, or our own Tom Dianora’s critique of the Rangers’ mismanagement of two of their highly-touted prospects, there seems to be more than one side to this story, which is still developing. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, even you have more likely than not formed some type of opinion on who is to blame: the New York Rangers or their disgruntled top offensive prospect, Vitali Kravtsov.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, the point of this article is to determine the top trading partners that would allow the Rangers to give Kravtsov a fresh start somewhere else while recouping some assets. But before we get into that, I would like to lay out a couple of small details that will most certainly impact the way this plot develops.
First off, it was discussed by Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman in a recent episode of 32 Thoughts that when Drury was the General Manager of the Hartford Wolf Pack, several players had requested trades; in all but one of these situations, Drury did not give in, and instead made a trade on “his timeline.”
Friedman continued to report that although Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant had called the young forward requesting him to return, Kravtsov was content with staying in Russia: “…sounds like Kravtsov has made a decision, he wants to start again, he doesn’t want to be in the KHL, he wants to be in the NHL. I think this will end up as a trade.” While a trade could very well happen, it is likely that it will not be in 2021. For context in this situation, we can unfortunately look to a very similar scenario between the New York Rangers and Lias Andersson. From trade request to trade, that situation took 291 days to end. The counter on the Kravtsov trade clock has only just hit 17 days.
While a trade seems to be nothing but eventual at this bleak point, this article is not intended to convince you it is the right decision. The other option in this scenario, although quite hard to have faith in currently, is through time, Kravtsov and the Rangers will come to an agreement. Personally, I am holding out hope for this outcome, especially since the trade request absolutely depreciates the value of Kravtsov as a movable asset. If the Edmonton Oilers can find a way to resolve their differences with Jesse Puljujärvi, who also at one point requested a trade, it is not hard to believe that the same can be done with Kravtsov and the Rangers.
Now let’s get to those trade destinations.
You had to have known that this team would be on the list. With the Jack Eichel saga still a hot topic in the NHL, why wouldn’t Drury at the very least kick the tires once more? To not do so could be argued as sheer incompetence on his part.
Eichel, when healthy, is one of the most effective centers in the NHL. There are a lot of hot takes in the Rangersverse regarding just how skilled Eichel is and whether he is or isn’t better than Mika Zibanejad, but let me confirm this for you: Eichel has been better than Zibanejad. Not including their rookie seasons, Eichel has produced at over a point per game, while Zibanejad sits at 0.74 points per game. The real question marks here are his health, and how the Rangers would fit him under the cap, especially with Buffalo going on record saying they do not want to retain any of his $10-million cap hit.
Questionable play or not, the Rangers have done more than just tread water in the absence of Ryan Strome. Would a deal containing a package of Strome, Kravtsov, another prospect, and a first-round pick get it done? Could the Rangers survive this season swapping their second-line center and have no replacement pending until 2022? Perhaps no to both questions, but there is something there, and Eichel’s skill level alone makes this worth looking into.
The ever-knowledgeable HockeyStatMiner on Twitter breaks down a lot of the reasons why a trade with Arizona could be the perfect fit. Who’s to say the Rangers are looking for an equivalent prospect deal? It’s possible they could look to upgrade their roster as the trade deadline approaches, and someone like Phil Kessel could improve their RW depth, at least on paper.
Arizona makes a ton of sense as a Kravtsov landing spot.— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) October 25, 2021
13/25 of ARZ's roster are outgoing UFAs (incl. Kessel, a RW). If Krav's trade value = a late 1st or early 2nd? You could use NYI's Palmieri+Zajac trade as a solid comparable.
And thats not even getting to Barrett Hayton.
However, Arizona fits the bill for an exchange of middling prospects as well. Barrett Hayton, taken fifth overall in 2018, has once again failed to make the Arizona Coyotes NHL roster. This could be due to an injury during preseason, but it’s safe to point out that Hayton was drafted well above where most experts had him ranked. He did change some opinions with his World Junior heroics, but the decision to draft him was ultimately decided by stats darling and former Coyotes GM John Chayka. Perhaps new GM Bill Armstrong is looking to move on from the past regime’s strategies and decisions. This is made all the more enticing with reports surfacing that Hayton’s agent had to talk him out of requesting a trade.
With Arizona having the most picks in the 2022 NHL draft—twelve overall and an unbelievable total of eight in the first two rounds—a Coyotes/Rangers trade would surprise no one, as the two have been consistent trading partners.
There have been multiple sources linking Dylan Strome to the New York Rangers. Dylan, the 2015 third overall pick and the younger brother of the Rangers Ryan Strome, has never lived up to the prolific expectations that were surrounding him as he came out of the OHL. This season, he has once again found himself sliding down the depth chart, as he was a healthy scratch in five of Chicago’s first seven games. Examining his usage and decreasing time on ice in the two games he did dress for, one can assume he is not part of Chicago’s plans. While uniting the Stromes is a fun idea, he’s not the only player in Chicago who could still be labeled as a struggling prospect.
Henrik Borgström was acquired by the Blackhawks this year, and while he made the team, he has not been given a long leash by their coach, Jeremy Colliton. Borgström was a talented player who went 23rd overall in his draft year, as his slick puck-handling skills had him on many teams’ radars. Since then, his stock has been steadily dropping as he has bounced between the NHL and AHL, and per Matt Larkin, he was number one on “The NHL’s Top 10 Falling Prospects” earlier this year. While still a project, trading for the young player could improve the Rangers in the long run.
All that being said, an issue these options present is that both of these players are centers. Trading for either of them could overcrowd the Rangers’ depth at center even more. However, the Rangers gave away some skill this past offseason, betting on grit and toughness. I think the team can afford to take a gamble on skill every once in a while too.
Klim Kostin, the last first-round pick in 2017, has yet to have a breakout season. He has struggled maintaining production while in the Blues’ system, and in 2020, the Blues loaned the young power forward to Avangard Omsk in the KHL. He ended up playing an important role for his team that season, as they went on to win the Gagarin Cup.
Kostin, at 6-foot-3, could be a perfect compromise of size and skill, something that should in theory have the Rangers’ front office salivating. If he falters this year, especially with the Blues’ forward depth, it’s a real possibility the team begins looking to move on from him.
If the Blues do like what they see in Kostin this year, then they have several other highly-projected wingers who could subsequently slide down the depth chart and end up as the odd man out. Jake Neighbours, who initially made their NHL roster this season, is likely to be sent to the AHL upon Oskar Sundqvist returning. With a lot of players in front of him on the Blues’ roster, and their prospects’ projected development, Neighbours could theoretically be moved in a deal that could benefit both parties. While this is all conjecture, the Rangers’ initial demand of a top prospect in the return could certainly be filled by Neighbours. Besides, it’s arguable that the Blues owe the Rangers one.
Trade rumors have surrounded Eeli Tolvanen and the Rangers as far back as the Rick Nash trade in 2018. It’s still very much up in the air as to how effective he will be in the NHL, but Tolvanen does possess some high-end skills, particularly his shot. His release has now been proven capable of beating NHL-caliber goalies from a distance. Whether Nashville elects to move on from the prospect will most likely be fully determined this year.
The Predators’ prospect forward depth is a bit surprising, and it’s easy to forget they acquired Cody Glass this offseason. While Glass is currently playing with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL, it’s hard to imagine the team moving on from him so early after making him the centerpiece in a big offseason trade. But if there are any serious bumps in the road, the Predators could eventually look to make a move.
Another intriguing player is Gunnarwolfe Fontaine. Owner of practically the coolest name in hockey currently, the young prospect is playing well in the NCAA with the Northeastern Huskies. He has speed and immense skill, but the undrafted winger may actually be considered an underwhelming return for the Rangers due to his lack of pedigree.
The Senators are in the midst of their rebuild and, as the Rangers recently experienced, have quite a few talented young players who have successfully made the jump from prospect to contributing player. Due to Ottawa’s poor record the past few seasons, the club has had an excess of picks, which has pushed certain players further down the depth chart. One of those players is defenseman Erik Brännström.
Once a main piece of a major deal that sent Mark Stone to Vegas, Brännström was considered to be an elite defensive prospect. Despite this, the former first-round pick has never found a role on an underwhelming Senators roster, and has only played for the Belleville Senators so far this year. The clock is ticking on his development, and with a lot of other pieces on its roster quickly coming together, Ottawa could look to move on from him while he still maintains a certain value. Here’s hoping that Drury has both Pierre Dorion and McGuire on speed dial.