The Importance of Depth Scoring
Towards the abrupt end of the 2019-20 NHL season the New York Rangers began to make an unexpected and exciting push towards the playoffs. Prior to the Trade Deadline there was a lot of talk surrounding Chris Kreider and whether or not the Rangers would trade him. Because he was so hot at the time and scored more and more as the deadline got closer, his trade value skyrocketed and got to a point where other teams were most likely not willing to cough up what the Rangers were asking for, which ultimately resulted in the Rangers resigning the forward. However, after Kreider got hurt on February 28th against the Flyers, the Rangers stopped scoring at 5 on 5 and it led to three consecutive losses. To put it in perspective, starting with the second of the home-and-home against the Flyers the Rangers next five goals would come on the power play; three versus the Flyers, one versus the Blues, and the first goal of the game versus the Capitals. It is obviously good that the team was producing on the man advantage, but the lack of scoring at even strength is what cost them games. Which brings up the need for depth scoring, and more specifically, a second line winger that shoots the puck and scores goals.
With the loss of Kreider, the top six looked extremely unbalanced, especially when trailing towards the end of the game. In the final game of the season before the league cancelled all games, Artemi Panarin had 25:59 TOI and Mika Zibanejad had 26:24 TOI. The next closest guys were Ryan Strome with 21:47 and Pavel Buchnevich with 21:02, who tied the game late in the third period. The point I’m trying to make is if you’re down a goal with five minutes left in the game you can’t just rely on Panarin and Zibanejad, even if they come through most of the time (with Mika scoring at a godly rate), because they will be gassed and fatigued. It is better to spread out the scoring so you have multiple options to cycle through for the rest of the game. Look at the Penguins during their cup runs for example. If they were ever down a goal, they could have put Crosby and Malkin together. If those two get tired, change for Kessel and possibly Hornqvist or Kunitz or Guentzel. They had so many weapons to choose from and cycle through, which was a big reason for why they won back to back Stanley Cups. The Rangers are still a young team and are developing their youth with the likes of Chytil and Kakko, but they also need more scoring options on the wing. One place they could look to acquire such a piece is the draft.
There are two players that stick out to me in this draft that fit what I think the Rangers need. Exhibit A: Lucas Raymond. Probably going to be gone within the first five picks, this kid is a stud. The Swede is a right handed shot and can play both right wing and left wing. For more information on Raymond click the link here: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/350702/lucas-raymond
It should also be mentioned that Karl Henriksson, a Rangers prospect, was once his line mate, so think of the chemistry these two could potentially bring to Madison Square Garden. Raymond clearly possesses a knack for scoring goals as seen in the 2019 U18 IIHF World Championship, where he scored a hat trick, including the OT winner in the Gold Medal Game. Here are some highlights from those games.
Since Raymond is most likely going within the first ten picks, and the Rangers don't have the best odds at winning the lottery, they will have to settle with someone else. Exhibit B: Noel Gunler. Now this kid is quite the polarizing player, according to many scouts. One thing that is constant across most scouting reports is that Gunler is a goal-scorer. Check out this clip here:
Gunler, number 8 in yellow, applies pressure to the defenseman, forces a turnover and creates a 2-on-1, receives the pass from his teammate and rips it over the goalie's shoulder. This clip says a lot of things about this player. The thing that stands out to me the most, is that instead of forcing a pass back to his teammate he keeps the puck for himself and takes the shot. Shooting on a 2-on-1? You love to see it. As a Rangers fan I am all too familiar with players passing up scoring chances, literally. By looking at his shot you can tell that he's a goal-scorer. For more information on the Swede click here:
Let's say the Rangers do draft Gunler. Is he going to be ready to play in the NHL next season? Probably not because he is only 18 and will be turning 19 at the start of next season. However, the Rangers are not yet in win-now mode, despite making a strong push towards the playoffs this season. The Rangers are still building for the future and it will be better if they have homegrown talent rather than trading for someone in his prime right now who fits the role of a second line goal-scoring winger. When the forward depth is as deep as our defensive depth, that's when we're ready to compete for real.