New York Rangers 2018-2019 Season: Five Things To Keep An Eye On

The Jimmy Vesey Situation

According to the projected opening night lineup tonight, Vesey will be “rewarded” from what was a relatively dreadful preseason with a firm spot on the second line. At first blush it seems like a massive oversight, and further proof the narrative of “David Quinn is going to make this 25-year-old player something better because he was from college and Quinn was a college coach” is more than just media fodder. That said, I think there’s something a little more complex to this.

What, exactly, can you do with Vesey? You don’t want to put him with Filip Chytil (currently on the third line with Jesper Fast and Ryan Spooner) and you obviously can’t have him on the first line. The means the only other option is to swap him out with Vladislav Namestnikov, putting Vesey with Brett Howden and Vinni Lettieri.

There’s a few reasons why demoting Vesey to the fourth line doesn’t make sense.

On the podcast this week (Ep. 110), Mike and I discussed Vesey at length, and how he’s a one-way player. He’s a great depth player, who is going to give you 15-20 goals and 30-35 points a year, but that’s all you’re getting out of him. The defensive side to his game leaves something to be desired and, well, him sitting with Lettieri and Howden isn’t exactly a positive idea. I speculated Namestnikov might be a fourth-line player because Quinn might need him to be the blanket over the two young guns. I support that ideology, especially for now.

So, you see, the Vesey “situation” isn’t so much about Vesey, but what to do with him. Moving Vesey to the fourth (and creating a Vesey - Howden - Lettieri line) would mean that line would need to be sheltered heavily. That’s possible if a line is created with Fast and Namestnikov as the wingers, but in order to do that you’re forcing one of Kevin Hayes or Chytil into that two-way, defense-first center role. That’s something I don’t think works for anyone, especially not now while the Rangers are focusing on development.

It’s also not a situation fixed by Matt Beleskey returning, since he’s just going to slot onto the fourth line (if at all). So maybe Vesey has to be the second line winger for now. Unless Chytil moves to a top-six wing role, or they attach Namestnikov to the fourth between Fast and Vesey — sending down Howden. It can get really, really complicated — as you can see — so for now this seems to be the most simple solution. But if Vesey’s guns aren’t firing? We’ll see how Quinn adjusts.

The Henrik Lundqvist Workload/Alexandar Georgiev Workload

I have been a big proponent of using Georgiev at the NHL level for a string of starts (say two or three in a row), then sending him down to Hartford so he can get regular starts there until he’s ready to get more starts in the NHL. In my ideal world, it would turn into 20-25 starts in the NHL and roughly 30 in the AHL. I’m not sure if it’s logistically possible, but it’s something I think makes sense for everyone. They probably don’t care about Dustin Tokarski’s development, so they can call him up and down at will to be the emergency backup at the NHL level; the only real downside is that this could throw the Hartford crease into some form of chaos.

Steve Valiquette did an exclusive with Blueshirt Banter (which can be read here) in which he talked about the way Lundqvist ideally should be worked this year:

“This is one of the things I’m looking forward to seeing unfold under a new coaching staff,” Valiquette said. “[Lundqvist is] great on runs of games - you know it, I know it - so give him a run of games. Give him seven, then shut him down for three or four. (Alexandar) Georgiev is good enough. Give Hank seven more, maybe six. See where he is at, then give him another week with Allaire. Guess what; you’ll never see him so sharp.”

For full disclosure, there’s a fair amount of followup on goalies (re: Lundqvist and Georgiev) in Adam’s story linked above. Give it a read if you haven’t already.

The running joke last year was, ironically, that Hank was being run into the ground in a lost season. Georgiev took the opportunity handed to him last year and posted a .918 SV% in 10 NHL games. Unlike other years, Lundqvist and Georgiev probably aren’t going to be the biggest factors in a playoff hunt since, well, there’s probably not going to be a playoff hunt. That said, with Igor Shestyorkin expected to make the jump to North America next summer, this is as good of a chance as Georgiev is going to have to prove he needs to be in that conversation as well next season.

It should be fun!

Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo

I would have told you that based on preseason performances alone, DeAngelo would have been on your opening night program. I was, of course, wrong, and DeAngelo is expected to be the healthy scratch to make way for Pionk, Marc Staal, and Adam McQuaid.

Regardless of the fact that DeAngelo, right now, is a better defenseman than Staal and McQuaid, the juggling act of Pionk and DeAngelo is something to keep an eye on. The current situation is why I was so against the McQuaid trade when the news dropped, arguing the following:

Reality aside, though, Pionk deserves a shot to show what he has, and so does DeAngelo. Now it feels like a “one or the other” situation and that seems counter-intuitive to a team that’s “trying to be competitive” even though McQuaid might not be an upgrade over either of them. I’m also confused about where Fredrik Claesson fits in, since he was the original safety net in the event that Pionk and DeAngelo couldn’t cut it.

Mike and I also discussed the situation with Adam in Ep. 107 of the podcast.

The fear of McQuaid’s acquisition blocking off both from making the team is now confirmed, with the situation sitting in “either or” status until we see otherwise. You can call this the first major gaff of Quinn’s tenure behind the bench. Throw Jeff Gorton an “F” here as well for even getting McQuaid in the first place.

We can argue about the youth movement until we’re blue in the face, but the bigger issue here is, well, Staal. I’m not sure what he brings to the table aside from veteran leadership he can bring to the room without having to be on the ice. McQuaid, at the very least, brings the face punching Quinn seems to believe is necessary.

DeAngelo and Pionk can’t both be sitting around in alternating roles in the press box — not with Staal and McQuaid on the ice every night. If this situation devolves into a Dylan McIlrath situation where one of them is just rotting in a suit, it’s an enormous failure on this coaching staff. It’s one thing if a kid is given a chance and fails, it’s another when we’re making room for veterans at the expense of kids during a development year. This is a big one to keep an eye on.

Kevin Hayes And Trade Rumors

Hayes has had an... interesting few months. He signed a one-year deal with the Rangers, everyone speculated he was clearly trade fodder, he made comments about loving New York, the Rangers made comments about loving him, and Quinn sort of insinuated the one-year deal was a Hayes idea and the two sides want a new contract. We discussed this a bit during The Forum.

Hayes looks poised to have an explosive year, free from the shackles of the two-way role he was never really suited for. This is both really good and really bad, depending on how the Rangers (and really Gorton) want to move forward.

If Hayes explodes out of the gate, has 50ish points by the trade deadline, and looks like a guy who can help be the missing piece on a contender? The Rangers are going to have to think long and hard about moving him. The two-year window we keep talking about where money doesn’t matter is open now, so any further contract negotiations with Hayes — where he would be $1-3 million more expensive on the open market — need to take that into account.

If the Rangers are confident they can land Artemi Panarin this summer, does it make trading Hayes in February easier since they can move Chytil up to the 2C and know they have one of the best wingers in the game to put with him/push someone else off the first line to pair with him? It makes it easier for sure, but there’s a risk associated there as well since, you know, Panarin might not be as sweet on New York as we hope. (Although for what it’s worth, it’s been reported multiple time the Rangers are atop his list).

Or does Hayes play so well the Rangers feel the need to lock him up long term even though it’s going to be at a significant raise?

How Long Will Lettieri And Howden Last?

Ah, the magic question. The two made the team out of camp, helped (presumably) by Matt Beleskey hurting his shoulder this preseason and being out up to a month. Lettieri and Howden will be stapled to one another on the fourth line to kick things off.

Between the two, Howden feels like the safer long term bet in the NHL survivor pool, since I think he was making the team even if Boo Nieves didn’t get a concussion in September. The Rangers clearly like what they have in him, they are putting him on the fourth line knowing there’s going to be a defensive responsibility with that ask, and are currently pairing him with Namestnikov to help mitigate some of the defensive issues that will come from two kids playing on the same line.

On Ep. 110 Mike asked me who I thought would have more points at the NHL level this year, Howden or Lias Andersson. I said Howden, since I think Howden is going to play in far more NHL games than Andersson will this year.

Lettieri is a different situation. He’s similar to Vesey in that his main attribute is his volume shooting (of which the Rangers still have little of) and he has direct competition on the wing with Cody McLeod (potentially, but still yuck) and a returning Beleskey. It’s not unfair to say Lettieri needs to keep playing like he did in the preseason: for his NHL life. We still have yet to see how Quinn handles the ups and downs of a kid — fair to say it’s going to be far better than it’s been — but this will be one more thing to keep an eye on.