Introducing Blueshirt Banter’s Weekly Power Rankings

This is a weekly series that will run during the 2018-19 season.

Power rankings are a topic that always generate a lot of interest, and usually focus on team performance. This season we are going to focus on individual performance and present a weekly ranking of each New York Ranger on the active roster.  Once a week, each player’s performance will be evaluated, and ranked accordingly.

Before I breakdown the initial rankings, here are a few housekeeping items:

  • If a player from the active roster is demoted to Hartford, every other player remaining on the roster will move up one spot by default.
  • The player joining the roster will sit at the bottom spot, and after a week of performance they will be re-ranked based on their play. In the event two players join the roster, I will use my discretion as to which player receives the higher spot. The same concept applies to trades./

This initial chart includes a simple ranking of spots 1 to 23. Next week there will be two additional columns, one indicating movement relative to the previous week, and a comment column with a short blurb explaining the switch if deemed necessary.

The idea here is to have a way to look back on the season, track the development and movement of each player on the team, and also to generate some debate. We all interpret and rank players differently, so I don’t expect there to be a ton of agreement.

I created the initial ranking and then asked for some feedback from the Blueshirt Banter team, and adjusted with their suggestions in mind. This is an introductory ranking, and therefore subject to opinion and opposition.

Factors that played a role in where a player was ranked included but was not limited to:

  • 2017-18 performance
  • 2018-19 preseason performance
  • Projected 2018-19 role/

With all of that said, let us get into the rankings!

1.) Mika Zibanejad: Zibanejad is the Rangers’ most talented offensive player, and someone I feel will be a driving force thanks to proper usage by David Quinn. He appeared in three preseason games and tallied two goals and three assists. He is set to pivot the first line with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. If all goes to plan, he could have an amazing year. Injuries are a concern for Zibanejad, primarily concussions, but as the team’s No. 1 center he will be in a position to produce.

2.) Chris Kreider: Kreider to me is the second most important offensive player to the Rangers due to his blistering speed and innate offensive ability. Last season a blood clot limited the Boxford, Massachusetts native to just 58 games in which he scored 16 goals and 37 points. He returned to the lineup in February, but it took him some time to get back up to speed. Once he did though, he tallied 14 points in 15 games played, and looked noticeably quicker on the ice. While sidelined, he dropped from 235 pounds to 220 pounds, and that’s the weight he intends maintain moving forward. If he hadn’t suffered an injury, he would have tallied his fourth consecutive 20-goal season. This season Kreider certainly is going to get a ton of chances to be a top-end contributor this season.

3.) Mats Zuccarello: I went back and forth between Kreider and Zuccarello for the No. 2 spot, and I gave Kreider the edge because of what I think he will do on the KZB line with proper usage. Zuccarello enters 2018-19 looking to rebound from a “down year” which saw him tally six fewer points (53) than he did the year prior (59). If you look at his history, you will see that he’s either led the team in scoring or been among the leaders while finishing with 50 points or more (except for 2014-15 when he tallied 49 in 78) in each of the five seasons he’s been an NHL mainstay. He’s in the final year of his contract, and as such I expect him to do everything he can to boost his value prior to free agency. He is slated to be on the second line with Kevin Hayes, and Jimmy Vesey will line up left of center. Zuccarello turned 31 on September 1, but don’t expect him to start slowing down. He remains one of the game’s better two-way, top-six wingers and I expect him to draw a ton of interest at the trade deadline.

4.) Henrik Lundqvist: Not much needs to be said here. He has been the team’s backbone for many seasons, and as Katie Baker pointed out in a wonderful column, a “magic eraser” for the Blueshirts for the entirety of his career. Lundqvist doesn’t settle for mediocrity, and he’s not happy with how the 2017-18 campaign ended. The media doesn’t expect the Rangers to be competitive this year, but I expect him to use that as motivation to prove that he’s still one of the game’s top netminders even at age 36.

5.) Kevin Hayes: This should come as no surprise if you’ve been a frequent reader here at Blueshirt Banter. I’ve written extensively on Hayes and his dominance at even strength since entering the league, and explained why he is on the verge of having an explosive season. His familiarity with Quinn, coupled with a one-year deal which will take him to unrestricted free agency, could be the perfect combination toward him displaying his utmost potential.

6.) Pavel Buchnevich: I legitimately think Buchnevich can be a superstar, but understand he is a divisive player. Part of that stems from the fact that fans often get too focused on what he doesn’t do instead of appreciating what he brings to the table. His puck skills, hands, and vision are tops on the team, but he needs a season where he shows he can put it all together on a consistent basis. He lost confidence under Alain Vigneault, but he’ll have a clean slate under Quinn. In many ways it is put up or shut up time for Buch, and he will look to build on a strong preseason that saw him score three goals and add four assists in four games.

7.) Kevin Shattenkirk: A knee injury robbed the Rangers of the true Kevin Shattenkirk, and the preseason gave him a chance to step back onto the ice and shake off the cobwebs. He appeared in just three games, including two back to back, and tallied five assists. He’s expected to start the season alongside Brendan Smith, and both will be looking to prove themselves, each for different reasons.

8.) Brady Skjei: Skjei is the future of the Rangers’ defense, as he was signed to a mega-extension in the offseason. There were mixed reactions to Skjei and his six-year deal with an AAV of $5.25 million. If you click the link you will see the argument I laid out defending the reasoning of his deal, so I won’t rehash it here. Simply stated, he is the Rangers’ second-best defender and will have every opportunity to prove his worth this season.

9.) Ryan Spooner: He may seem a bit high, but from an offensive perspective he has shown an ability to put up points. Last season saw him tally 41 points in 59 games, including 16 with the Rangers in 20 games. The year prior he had 39 points in 78 games, and the year before that he tallied 49 in 80. Spooner was given a two-year extension worth $4 million a season, and I believe the franchise will do everything they can to juice his number in order to turn him into a deadline asset. The Rangers’ cap situation gives them the ability to eat $2 million, the maximum allowed under the CBA, and the team shouldn’t have any trouble finding takers for someone who can play center and wing.

10.) Jesper Fast: I am a big fan of Fast, although I don’t like it when he’s in the top-six. Over the last few years I’ve dubbed him Ruslan Fedotenko 2.0, because he’s a plucky defensive forward who is better than average offensively. The last three season have seen him tally 30 points in 79 games, 21 points in 68 games, and 33 points in 71 games all while being a steady defensive player. He’s got a bargain contract, and is someone the Rangers are lucky to have.

11.) Vladislav Namestnikov: I think Namestnikov has potential, but I am not as high on him as I once was. It doesn’t help that he saw significant time in the bottom six after coming over in the Ryan McDonagh trade, but his play wasn’t exactly all that inspiring. There are some who feel he’s completely a byproduct of his linemates while he was with the Lightning, and there may be some truth to that. Vlad is a skilled player who can make magic happen when the puck is on his stick, and I am interested to see what he can do with consistent usage and linemates. He had a slow start to the preseason, but finally got on the board vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.

12.) Filip Chytil: I wanted to be somewhat realistic with the placement of prospects, but Chytil’s potential and performance last season in the AHL warrants him to be in the top half of the list. He looked pretty good in the preseason showing some flashes of brilliance like this takeaway vs. Thomas Hickey. He ultimately needs to prove himself at the NHL level, but the Rangers clearly have a plan for him otherwise he would have been sent to Hartford along with Lias Andersson.

13.) Tony DeAngelo: Phil recently wrote about DeAngelo (here). He’s a very talented offensive defender, although the defensive element of his game needs work. Personally I think he could extended his career by becoming a forward, but that’s just my opinion. Quinn and assistant Greg Brown, known for their defensive ability and mentoring, should be able to help DeAngelo with positioning and structure. This could very well be the last chance for him to prove himself, but his potential makes him one of the more interesting players on the Rangers’ roster. There are a number of players fighting for a job, and although he’s slated to be a healthy scratch on opening night, his potential is higher than the next man on the list.

14.) Neal Pionk: Pionk was a coveted free agent defender from college who signed with the Rangers at the last minute. Adding him was a major win at the time, because the team lacked meaningful defensive prospects. He spent most of last season with Hartford, and then received a 28-game stint at the end of the season in which he scored a goal and added 13 assists for 14 points. During this time period he was shelled with shot attempts and bled scoring chances. This could have been a byproduct of the team’s lack of structure post selloff, and he will get a chance to show what he’s capable of this season in a hopefully, better system. He’s likely to be an NHL defender, but at his peak I think he’s a No. 5 or No. 6 defender on your depth chart. There’s nothing wrong with that, but he doesn’t have a ton of time to claim a spot with a defenders like Yegor Rykov and Libor Hajek on the horizon, and K’Andre Miller further away down the road. There’s also DeAngelo who he is competing with currently, and there certainly will be a survival of the fittest mentality early on in the season.

15.) Alexandar Georgiev: Georgiev looked great in the second half of his AHL season with Hartford, and solid in his mini stint at the NHL level. At the Rangers town hall, Jeff Gorton told a story of how he was a goalie who had been on the team’s radar for quite sometime, and how European scouting director Nickolai Bobrov lobbied him to select him at the draft. The Rangers ultimately passed on him, but signed him shortly after as an undrafted free agent. Igor Shestyorkin by all accounts is expected to assume the throne one day, but I wouldn’t count out Georgiev just yet. Adam recently interviewed Stephen Valiquette, who had a lot of nice things to say about the Blueshirts’ backup.

16.) Brendan Smith: Last year was a nightmare for Brendan Smith, and it looked like he was skating in a haze. Getting married, and being a guest at seven other weddings, will do that to you. Glen Sather spoke about Smith at the town hall, and how the defender showed up to camp in terrible shape last year. This season, however, Smith was in tip top shape and ready to make a difference. He needs to prove himself in regular season NHL games, and the Rangers are going to lean on him and Shattenkirk heavily to start the season.

17.) Vinni Lettieri: This might be one of the more surprising rankings, but Lettieri is a hard working player who was one of the best skaters for the Wolf Pack last season and one of the better Rangers in the preseason. There was significant competition in camp for a roster spot, and he did enough to make the team over imports like Michael Lindquist and Ville Meskanen, among others. At age 23 he has the opportunity to carve a role for himself, and he ultimately may be in competition long term with Jimmy Vesey who turned 25 in May.

18.) Brett Howden: This is another situation of potential being a contributing factor in terms of ranking. The jury is out on what type of player Howden will ultimately become, and I would advise checking out Adam’s assessment of him from the summer. He’s going to be deployed in a mix of a third and fourth line role if Quinn rotates ice time as expected. Howden has the opportunity to contribute, and he’s also expected to be deployed shorthanded to kill penalties. For the first time in a while, the Rangers will have a bottom-six center with some offensive ability. Traditionally the Rangers have had plucky checkers like Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and to some degree Oscar Lindberg in this role.

19.) Jimmy Vesey: Vesey had a horrendous preseason, but he’s being given an opportunity on the second line with Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello to start the season. He signed a two-year extension this offseason after tallying 55 points in 159 games on his entry-level contract. Vesey likes to go to the dirty areas of the ice, and is coming off a 17-goal season. At 25, Vesey is what he is at this point, and if he were to falter I could see him ending up back on the fourth line.

20.) Fredrik Claesson: Claesson is a modest No. 7 defender that can play the left and right side. He is fine defensively, and someone who should get a chance this season because he could be an upgrade over the next person on the list. He was insurance in case Smith wasn’t in shape, and still is for any young defenders who aren’t up to the task yet.

21.) Marc Staal: Staal is the only player who will serve as an alternate captain for 82 games, and the remaining leaders will alternate between home and away. He’s a player who has been on the decline due to injuries, and it is a shame because he was once a fine defender for the Rangers. He didn’t have a great preseason, and with two years remaining on his deal after this season, you wonder how much longer he’s going to be a main player for the Rangers. At this point, Claesson is a more efficient option in terms of ability and cost, and at some point this season Libor Hajek will be too. The Rangers may be forced to make a tough decision with Staal, and hopefully Quinn’s meritocracy philosophy is in effect on Broadway.

22.) Adam McQuaid: He was acquired for his toughness and grit, and has a spot in the lineup for opening night. He appeared in 38 games last season and turns 32 on October 12. For the moment he’s taking a spot away from Tony DeAngelo, and that is detrimental to the team. This season should be about development, and if he proves that he doesn’t belong it should result in him taking a seat in a skybox — even if he’s a great leader for this rebuilding.

23.) Cody McLeod: He’s on the team to be an enforcer.

Going forward the weekly power rankings will be briefer in terms of description, with a summary of moves in the above graphic. I think this will be a fun way to track the progress of the team throughout the season, and way to look back at an important step in the rebuild process.

Unless otherwise noted, stats via Salary information via Cap Friendly.