Treff: Rangers’ Youth Movement At the Season’s First Quarter

The youngest member of the Rangers’ roster, Filip Chytil, scored the game-winning goal in the third period of last night’s 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars, in one of the best games the Rangers have played since the start of the year. Now in second place in the Metropolitan Division, with at least one point in nine of the last 10 games, one would be hard-pressed to say that this “streak” is a fluke. Unexpected, yes,  but with the NHL’s best record since October 30, 2018, more than a quarter of the way into the season, this team is for real.

We all expected it to take time for the youth to come into their own and it will, but this team has enough talent to make it competitive on any night, and the team is working very hard on the ice. Where its talent is limited (e.g., on defense), the hard work is overcoming some of the Rangers’ deficits.

Last night Henrik Lundqvist was at his best—his vision, lateral movement , and glove are some of the best in the league, and they all were on great display against Dallas. And the young players on the team have really started to fall into place. The team has begun to have an identity. At the season’s quarter mark, let’s look at the “youth” (players that are under age 26) and grade their progress.*

Alexandar Georgiev, G (age 22, signed 7/18/17)  

In his second season in the Rangers organization, Georgiev won the backup job to Henrik Lundqvist out of training camp. He has played in only five games thus far this season, with three wins; Georgiev was particularly impressive in two of his starts. To get him playing time, the Rangers have sent Georgiev down to Hartford twice 2018-19; in three games, he has won two. Georgiev is still learning the position and only is expected to play about 20 NHL games this season as Henrik’s backup. It is still not clear that Georgiev has what it takes to be a number one netminder in the NHL, but under Benoit Allaire’s tutelage, it is very possible. Grade: B

Fredrik Claesson, LD (age 25, signed 7/1/18)  

A defensive defenseman signed as a free agent last summer, Claesson has done everything asked of him. He is not flashy and has been paired with Kevin Shattenkirk, which means both that often he is not noticed and his numbers are likely depressed, but Claesson is impressive. He blocks shots and his gap control is excellent—if he was paired with a player who had better defensive skills, you probably would notice him more. Grade: B+  

Neal Pionk, RD (age 23, signed 5/1/17)

Pionk is the team’s number one defenseman right now. It wasn’t meant to be this way, but he has done everything on both sides of the puck this season. He plays in all situations (last night he was on the ice for 25:15). Pionk shoots, he hits, he blocks shots, and he defends his own zone. I don’t really see him as a number-one defenseman long term, but he has earned that title with his play thus far. Grade: A

Tony DeAngelo, RD (age 23, traded 6/23/17)

 Of all the young players on this team, the biggest enigma to me is DeAngelo. There are times when his talent is so clear—DeAngelo could be a top six NHL defenseman for many years. Then there are other times when he just can’t seem to get the job done. His numbers are good (7 points in 13 games and the best plus/minus among all NYR defensemen), but there are times when he appears to lose focus (which is why he has been a healthy scratch in the other eight games). DeAngelo is still only 23 and, as the old saying goes, defensemen take longer, but it would be great if he could turn into a reliable blueliner. Grade: C+

Brady Skjei, LD (age 24, drafted 2012, 1st round, 28 overall)

Since Skjei’s outstanding rookie season, he has struggled to continue his development. Drafted as a mostly defensive defenseman, Skjei developed into a two-way blueliner in college, and showed outstanding potential during the 2016-17 season. After a disappointing sophomore season, it was hoped that Skjei would improve his game this year. In fact, it was hoped that he would become one of the key blueliners in the Rangers future. Although that may still happen, Skjei has had some terrible games this year, maybe the worst of which was the game on Thursday night against the Islanders. In the two games since then, he has not suited up. Grade: C

Ryan Strome, C/RW (age 25, traded 11/16/18)

Strome has only been with the Rangers for two games (so no grade), but he could fit into this team very well. He can play a physical game and, given his past performance, he has offensive talent. Strome is the kind of player that needed a change of scenery and, what better place to come into than where he can shine if he works hard. Thus far, he has worked very hard on the ice. Last night’s line of Strome, Howden, and Vesey seemed to click (the first goal was scored by the line). Hopefully, we will see more of the three of them together. Grade: N/A  

Brett Howden, C (age 20, traded 2/26/18)

Howden has fallen from the news a bit as the focus has been on Chytil, but Howden is producing at a magnificent pace (12 points in 20 games). He is taking fewer shots than he was very early on in the season and functioning more as a playmaker, but he has a good shot and is very effective when he crashes the net. The first year NHLer is tied for second in rookie scoring, is good on face offs, plays in all situations, and is reliable on the ice. Grade: A

Vlad Namestnikov, LW (age 25, traded 2/26/18)

Namestnikov is a fourth year NHLer, so not really a youth, but he is playing like a brand new player this last month (five of his eight points this season are since November 1). Early on, Namestnikov looked a bit unfocused—but now he hits, he goes to the net, he fights for pucks along the boards, and he makes plays. Head Coach Quinn puts him on the ice in all situations and Namesnikov has responded. If he can play this way all season, Namestnikov should put up 40-50 points. His grade is the average of his play thus far. Grade: C+    

Jimmy Vesey, LW (age 25, signed 8/20/16)

It was a coup to get the former Nashville third round pick after he graduated from Harvard. But, his first two seasons did not prove Vesey to be a top six player. Last season, he often languished on the fourth line and produced accordingly. Always more of a goal scorer than a playmaker, this year, with increased ice time, Vesey is producing about a half point per game. He is playing in all situations and has improved his defensive reliability. Grade: B-

Steven Fogarty, C/RW (age 25, drafted 2011 3rd round, 72 overall)

On Monday night, Fogarty played on the fourth line in his first NHL game this season. Called up because he was Hartford’s leading scorer, Fogarty skated well on the wing with Lias Andersson on the line. Several times, they might have had scoring changes had they had an offensively able linemate (Cody McLeod was on the other wing). It’s too early to grade him, but Fogarty made several nice plays on both sides of the ice. Grade: N/A

Lias Andersson, C (age 20, drafted 2017, 1st round, 7 overall)

After starting the season with Hartford, Andersson was called up earlier this month. After scoring at a little less than a point a game rate in the AHL, he has only one assist in seven NHL games. Andersson is excellent along the boards and looks like he will be a two-way playmaker over time. Right now, he is playing on the fourth line. The problem with that is, for the most part, he does not have the linemates necessary to help him. It brings up the chicken and the egg issue with forwards on the fourth line—he hasn’t played well enough to move up to the top three lines. It will almost certainly settle out over time, but thus far, Andersson has not been effective. Grade: D 

Filip Chytil, C/RW (age 19, drafted 2017, 1st round, 21 overall)

Chytil is the first Rangers rookie to score four goals in four consecutive games, but the season did not start out that way for him. The first 17 games, he posted only three points. Yes, he was an exciting player to watch—speed and no fear, with lots of offensive creativity. But it wasn’t clicking. Chytil even played on the fourth line. But last week, he got his first goal, and as Head Coach Quinn predicted, now the goals are coming in bunches. Chytil is a dynamic player, a “special” player, with incredible talent. It is exciting to watch him every time he skates onto the ice. But an NHL season is a marathon and not a sprint. This is a good run; let’s say that I am cautiously optimistic. Grade: B+

Pavel Buchnevich, RW (age 23, drafted 2013, 3rd round, 75)

Currently out injured with a broken finger, Buchnevich is expected back in about 4-6 weeks. Drafted for his offensive skills, Buchnevich started this season slowly. But before his injury, he recorded a point in each of his last three games and five points in his last six games. Buchnevich can be an up and down player and it remains to be seen where he will be when he returns. Grade: B- 

David Quinn, HC (age 52, signed 5/23/18)

No, he is not under 26 years of age. But, the Rangers whole youth movement this season is under the guidance of the team’s head coach, David Quinn. A straightforward former college coach has a manner that works for the younger players. He is very forthright about what he is looking for—and if the players comply, he rewards them. If the players do not, they know that they will be benched. Quinn told us when he was introduced last spring that he wants a team that is hard to play against. We were skeptical, but that is exactly what he has built. His strategy and communication skills have worked. So far, there is really nothing bad to say. Grade: A+

* Although Mika Zibanejad is under 26 years of age, he is considered a veteran and therefore is not included in this article.

About the Author

Leslie Treff

Leslie Treff is a contributor for NY Sports Day, covering NY NHL teams. She has been covering the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils for more than 15 seasons. Leslie is a recognized expert in hockey prospects and has served as a scout for several independent agencies. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, in her former life, Leslie was an attorney in the judiciary in New York City.

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