While the first BEARD Hockey season was disappointing for the Rangers, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic going forward into the future.
The team started off the BEARD Dispersal Draft with the top player in the world in Connor McDavid but things didn’t click immediately and the team got an offer too good to refuse moving McDavid out for the well documented haul that resulted in the (in)famous trade tree bringing in a huge amount of talent into the organization.
The big knock on the deals is that a lot of the trade capital coming in was high end prospects and young players which did not have an immediate impact on the pro roster. However, a lot of this talent will come through in the near term future and the team finished on a high note staying in a mathematical playoff hunt for much longer than expected.
Reason to be Optimistic #1
Leon Draisaitl hit his stride after joining the Rangers and was on pace for a prorated season of 114 points with the blueshirts. He teamed up well with Timo Meier and Chris Kreider to be a true number one line that could light up the lamp consistently and drive play and possession. Draisaitl should have a high end rerate and the other two put in solid secondary scoring numbers but also had a ton of hits and good non-counting stats.
Reason to be Optimistic #2
There is a lot to like with the secondary young players. Nico Hischer had a solid 55 points as a #2 center with high end PO. Once Filip Zadina was moved off the line the trio including Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin played really well together. Zadina was better lower down in the lineup with less defensive responsibilities and paired well with some younger talent (more on that later).
The young defense was also a highlight with Mikhail Sergachev having a really strong underrated season with 35 points and a massive amount of hits, takeaways, and blocked shots. He looks the part of a true #1 defender going forward. Filip Hronek also focused on the D-end well and chipped in offensively, while Drew Doughty provides reason for optimism as an offensive bounce back option despite being solid defensively.
In conclusion, high end upside on offense and defense with the youth.
Reason to be Optimistic #3
Youth youth youth. Philip Tomasino, Connor Zary, Dawson Mercer, Alexander Holtz, and Kristian Vesalainen upfront all got significant pro time while Adam Boqvist, Victor Soderstrom, Noah Dobson, Philip Broberg and Cale Fleury got time on the backend.
Meanwhile Mavrik Bourque, Vitaly Kravstov, Ty Smith, Tobias Bjornfot, and Connor Ingram had very strong seasons in the the farm fulltime. While these guys may not make waves up among the league leaders lists next year they should be able to provide cheap depth while continuing to develop into quality NHLers down the road.
The Big Challenge #1
Goaltending was not good enough with Semyon Varlamov. Will he bounce back? Perhaps as his ratings are better than he played. Perhaps he had too many high danger chances with a young D in front of him but they should organically be better especially if there is a decent free agent added. They need less goals given up at the end of the day, whether that is with Varlamov or not.
The Big Challenge #2
Re-signing Kreider was expensive and leaves the Rangers with $12M in cap space which sounds like a lot but it is not compared to some of the other teams in the league they will be competing against. The good news? Not a lot of other contracts coming due which means that the Rangers can focus on one high end player that can put them over the edge.
There has been a lot of chatter in having too much locked up in Draisaitl and Doughty but that really is not hindering the Rangers if they get value from the contracts. The German looks to be good value but Doughty will have to perform up to expectations if his contract is going to be viewed favorably or even neutral.
Big Challenge #3
No idea how the rerates will work. Will farm players progress well? Will vets who had down years tank or will they get a bit of a years grace? Who knows.
Re-sign a couple of RFAs and look to free agency for an impact winger or, more ideally, a defenseman. The Rangers have a lottery first and a non-lottery first entry pick so look for them to continue to stock the cupboards to keep a pipeline of prospects and young players pushing through the system.
It was a pretty abysmal year for the Rangers as they finished second last in the East but they actually were in contention up until game 79 when they decided to dress Bernier for the last 3 games when mathematically eliminated. A full year of Draisaitl will certainly help as will the learning of dealing with a young roster and where to slot incomplete young players.
The roster doesn’t suck. There is a lot of star power and a lot of upside. Will the two blend together next year or will it be another year of frustration?
Time will tell.