Hartnett: Final Grades For Rangers Forwards

Sean Hartnett
April 16, 2019 - 2:01 pm
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Some Rangers took impressive strides forward during David Quinn’s first season behind the bench, while others met expectations and some struggled to play their best hockey. Tuesday’s column focuses on how the forwards fared in 2018-19. Defensemen will be put under the microscope on Thursday. Goaltenders and coaches will be graded next week.

Mika Zibanejad – The 25-year-old Swede summoned an incredible season on a rebuilding roster. Zibanejad was a near point-per-game forward for most of the season. He finished with a team-best 74 points (30 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games. Zibanejad’s excellence in man-advantage situations led to 23 power-play points. By any statistic you measure, he was outstanding. His zealous efforts on both ends of the rink stood out, and he’s pushed himself into pole position to be named captain. FINAL GRADE: A

Jesper Fast – The energetic Swede’s production was limited due to playing through injuries during much of the season’s second half. Even when pushing through the pain barrier, Fast was effective and responsible on both ends of the rink. FINAL GRADE: B+

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Chris Kreider – Lately, Kreider’s future with the Rangers has been a hotly-debated topic. Like Fast, his second-half production was hampered by injuries. The 27-year-old wing contributed 37 points in 48 games prior to the All-Star break. The Rangers will need to decide whether to extend or trade Kreider, as he’s entering the final year of his current deal. I’m inclined to believe that the Rangers should keep the faith in Kreider and reward him with a long-term extension. Goals are the most important form of currency in the NHL, and Kreider netted 28 times despite lingering hamstring issues. FINAL GRADE: B+

Pavel Buchnevich – With high expectations on his back, Buchnevich endured tough love from Quinn and was challenged to reach his potential. The 23-year-old wing responded with a strong second half (23 points in 32 games after the All-Star break) and demonstrated evidence of star potential. FINAL GRADE: B+

Pavel Buchnevich
USA TODAY Images

Ryan Strome – Strome turned out to be an excellent fit in New York after Edmonton ditched him following a slow start. His 33 points in 63 games after joining the Blueshirts was an unexpected surprise. FINAL GRADE: B

Brendan Lemieux – After arriving from Winnipeg, Lemieux’s energy and physicality fit perfectly with Quinn’s desire for in-your-face hockey. He quickly won over The Garden Faithful and demonstrated hints of offensive potential. FINAL GRADE: B

Boo Nieves – Nieves is a solid fit in the bottom-six because of his skating and two-way smarts. His instincts and versatility are reminiscent of Dominic Moore. FINAL GRADE: B-

Jimmy Vesey – Vesey’s numbers improved slightly in 2018-19, but he’s fallen short of the hype that surrounded him while teams courted him as a 2016 free agent. It’s clear that he’s a solid bottom-six forward – but time will tell if he can cement his place in the top-six. FINAL GRADE: C+

Filip Chytil – Chytil’s talent level is obvious. Fans saw flashes of his offensive potential during his first full season. At age 19, time is on his side to improve and sharpen his playmaking tools. FINAL GRADE: C+

Brett Howden – Howden showed early promise in his rookie season, but his production fizzled over the course of the season. The 21-year-old center finished strong with five points in the final seven games. It’s not easy to make the jump to the NHL. It’s clear that Howden possesses offensive upside, though his play in the defensive end requires improvement. FINAL GRADE: C+

Vladislav Namestnikov – Though he finished strong in April, Namestnikov has struggled to produce for the Rangers after benefitting from talented linemates in Tampa. The Rangers aren’t getting appropriate value from him at a $4 million cap hit. He’s a player that Jeff Gorton should add to the trade block. FINAL GRADE: C

Lias Andersson – Andersson recorded six points through 42 games. That’s not the kind of impact you’d expect from a former seventh overall draft pick. At age 20, there’s still time for Andersson to prove himself, but the Rangers’ decision to draft him that high is beginning to look costly. FINAL GRADE: C

Lias Andersson celebrates his goal during the first period of their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
USA Today Sports Images

Connor Brickley – Brickley has struggled to become an NHL regular. At age 27, time is running out. FINAL GRADE: C-

Vinni Lettieri – Lettieri has been productive at the AHL level but is yet to translate his scoring ability to the NHL. FINAL GRADE: C-

Steven Fogarty – Appeared in 10 games. FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE

Matt Beleskey – Appeared in four games. FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE

Timothy Gettinger – Appeared in four games. FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE

Forwards traded during the season: Kevin Hayes B+, Mats Zuccarello B, Cody McLeod D, Ryan Spooner D-

Check back Thursday for defensemen grades.

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