Despite being a top team, the New York Rangers have mishandled their top-six
By Jordan Laroche
The New York Rangers have had a great start to the season, however, the revolving door of right-wingers in the top-six needs to stop and the fix may not be that complicated. The right-wing position has been an issue since the Pavel Buchnevich trade, but one of the top prospects of the last few years, Alexis Lafreniere, is rotting away on the third line.
The first line is not the issue as Kaapo Kakko looks to be a much more competent player than in his first two years in the league. His two-way game has earned him some respect in the league, but he needs to find more consistent production to beef-up the top line. With 10 points through 26 games, Kakko has shown he can keep up with linemates Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, he just needs to be more involved in the offense.
However, the biggest gap on this team right now is the second line spot that is currently held by Dryden Hunt. Hunt joined the Rangers this offseason after appearing in 26 games for the Arizona Coyotes last season, and through 30 games this year he looks out of place in the top-six.
The 26-year-old signed a two-year deal with the Blueshirts, and Gerard Gallant has given him numerous chances to succeed, but the experiment needs to end. His style of play could benefit the bottom six and could make an effective third line and the penalty kill, but Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin are adept playmakers and need someone with a finishing touch to skate with them.
In Panarin’s short absence Filip Chytil has moved from the third line center into his left-wing spot, but Panarin is expected in the lineup after the break and the Rangers should move Alexis Lafreniere or Chytil to the right-wing.
Lafreniere has struggled this year with eight points, but he hasn’t had consistent teammates. He’s had games with Chytil and Julien Gauthier, but neither of them are proven scorers and are having struggles of their own. Then putting someone with massive potential with grinder Barclay Goodrow just doesn’t make sense. This forces Lafreniere to be a checking player, which is a role he has never played and is handicapping his development.
Putting Lafreniere with Panarin and Strome will give him the best chance to develop but forcing him out of the top-six is only going to hurt his chances at becoming a star. The whole argument of wingers not being able to switch between the wings is a bit of a joke, they’re the same position and I’m sure Lafreniere can play on the right-wing.
All of this is tough to say with Sammy Blais out for the season with an ACL injury as he was putting up decent numbers at the start of the year. But the Rangers need to either put Lafreniere in that spot or trade him and acquire a right-winger for the top-six.
Some of the options linked to the Rangers thus far include Phil Kessel, and David Perron. Either would make the Panarin-Strome line an elite force moving forward. Both Kessel and Perron are in the last year of their contracts, and both have been putting up consistent numbers, either player would be a great choice.