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Hartnett: McLeod Trade Allows Rangers Once Again To Focus On Developing Youth

Sean Hartnett
February 07, 2019 - 10:29 am

Let’s make this absolutely clear. Cody McLeod should have never been re-signed by the Rangers last summer.

It did not make sense for a rebuilding, youth-trending team like the Rangers to retain the services of a 34-year-old enforcer who was never going to be part of the 2019-20 roster.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Rangers sent McLeod back to his former team, the Nashville Predators, in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. The Rangers were able to turn McLeod into a draft pick after Nashville lost tough guy Zac Rinaldo for the remainder of the season.

The problem with McLeod was magnified by the fact that his presence limited the opportunities for younger players with higher upside to enter the lineup. Competition is a good thing and McLeod was a tenacious worker during his brief stint with the Rangers. I don’t think anyone can question his effort, but nearly every available metric pointed to him being one of the least effective skaters in the NHL.

McLeod simply should not be in the lineup for any NHL team at this stage of his career. Sure, David Poile is gaining a familiar face, a ton of character and tenacity – but these intangibles count for little when McLeod’s shot generation and shot suppression statistics paint a clear picture. A quick look at HockeyViz will show you that he tanked the Rangers’ offense and was a heavy shots-against black hole for the limited time that he had been on the ice this season.

The Predators are chasing the Stanley Cup. Landing Brian Boyle from the Devils is an example of a veteran who provides plenty of intangibles plus excellent value through penalty-killing prowess, possession-driving and the ability to handle difficult assignments as a bottom-six forward.

Back to the Rangers, Vinni Lettieri was recalled from the minor-league Hartford Wolf Pack and took McLeod’s place on the fourth line for Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins. The Rangers pulled off a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the B’s, eventually winning a seven-round shootout.

Lettieri skated for 7:12 minutes in his return, recorded two hits and registered a single shot on goal. Though Lettieri is yet to record a point in 17 NHL games this season, he flashed his offensive potential last season under Alain Vigneault and this season in the AHL.

MORE: Hartnett: Is Zuccarello Part Of Rangers’ Plan For Future?

The 24-year-old recorded 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) with the Wolf Pack prior to his recall and his shoot-first mentality impressed Vigneault when he arrived on the scene last season after Chris Kreider was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm. Lettieri contributed one goal and four assists in 19 games in his first season with the Rangers, though it should be noted that he ran into some tough luck by ringing quite a few posts.

Now, it will be David Quinn’s task to turn Lettieri’s goal-scoring potential into production at the NHL level. A good run of games across the final months of the season could determine whether Lettieri has a future in the NHL or is one of those AHL-NHL tweeners that never figures it out at the top level. This is the time for him to prove his worth to the Rangers.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey.