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Breaking down the Rangers forwards

Pavel Buchnevich of the New York Rangers celebrates

Pavel Buchnevich of the New York Rangers celebrates his third-period goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 6, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers’ offense produced 228 goals in 2017-18, which was 22nd in the league. None of the 16 teams that made the playoffs had fewer than 235 goals scored. Now, while you need to score more goals than you concede to win, Rangers forward Chris Kreider likes to point out that the more time you spend playing offense means the less time you spend playing defense.

So, when injuries and management’s decision to strip down the roster and go all in on a full rebuild left the team with a young and inexperienced corps of defensemen, the Rangers’ forwards could have helped the defense out by dominating possession and scoring more goals.

But they couldn’t do it.

Only two Rangers scored 20 or more goals in 2017-18 (not counting Vladislav Namestnikov, who already had 20 for Tampa Bay before he was traded to the Rangers in the deadline day deal that sent away captain Ryan McDonagh). After GM Jeff Gorton reshaped the roster at the trade deadline, the Rangers needed some guys to step up and replace the production that was traded out of town. Some were able to, and some not so much.

Here’s a detailed look at performance of the Rangers’ forwards in 2017-18. Advanced statistics provided by Corsica Hockey, and salary figures provided by Cap Friendly.

Lias Andersson

7 games, 1 goal, 1 assists, , 0 PIM

Cap hit $925,000; signed through 2019-20

Seven games was merely a glimpse of Andersson for the organization, and a taste of the NHL for him. But he did score his first goal (in his first game) and everyone is positive on what the 19-year-old’s potential is. The first of two first-round picks last summer (No. 7 overall), Andersson plays a mature game, one where he understands how to take care of business in his own end, work the dirty areas of the ice and generally make the right play. Right now, he’s got the look of a third-line center who can kill penalties and win faceoffs — a guy who won’t be spectacular, but one you’ll be able to trust in big spots.

Pavel Buchnevich

74 games, 14 goals, 29 assists, -3, 20 PIM

Cap hit $925,000; signed through 2018-19

So much more was expected of Buchnevich, playing in his second NHL season. A third-round pick by the Rangers in 2013, the 6-2, 191-pound winger was known to have great speed and a great shot, but he never seemed to gain the favor of Vigneault.

Buchnevich was a healthy scratch for a game in early January, and he suffered a concussion in early February that saw him miss seven games. Perhaps the concussion made him play a little more carefully when he came back. Prior to the concussion, Buchnevich had 13 goals and 19 assists in 50 games, which means he finished the season with one goal (though 10 assists) in his last 24 games.

To be fair, when Buchnevich left the lineup, the Rangers were still trying for the playoffs. When he came back, management had already announced its intentions to scrap the season, sell off some assets, and go into full rebuild mode. Thus, every game thereafter was, essentially, meaningless, making everyone’s numbers largely irrelevant.

At the end, Buchnevich was playing on the fourth line, though he still was getting power play time. Of all the players on the roster, he may be the one who stands to benefit the most from Vigneault’s departure.

Paul Carey

60 games, 7 goals, 7 assists, -13, 20 PIM

Cap hit $650,000; UFA

Say what you will about Carey, whose ice time and role diminished late in the season, but the Rangers got good value out of the 29-year-old journeyman. A two-time NCAA champion at Boston College, Carey had played just 32 NHL games, with one goal and one assist, over parts of four seasons with the Avalanche and Capitals when the Rangers signed him to a two-way contract last summer. He then proceeded to make the team out of training camp and stayed on the roster the entire season.

But did he do enough to earn himself another contract with the Rangers for next season? With the team in a full rebuild and committed to developing younger players, probably not.

Filip Chytil

9 games, 1 goals, 2 assists, 4 PIM

Cap hit $925,000; signed through 2019-20

A spectacular training camp earned him a spot on the roster at the start of the season and he played two games before being sent down to AHL Hartford. When he came back for the final seven games of the regular season, he seemed a different — and better — player than he had been six months earlier. He showed off some tremendous speed and great skill and he too, scored his first goal and made enough of an impression that he could be capable of doing big things in the not too distant future.

David Desharnais

71 games, 6 goals, 22 assists, -22, 18 PIM

Cap hit $1 million; UFA

Another guy whose ice time and role diminished later in the season, Desharnais did do a lot of little things for the Rangers that probably would have been more greatly appreciated on a winning team. One of those veteran guys who could play on a top line or a fourth line, Desharnais did things like draw more penalties (11) than he took (9), win battles in the corners, and block shots. And he won faceoffs at a 55 percent clip.

At 31, and with eight NHL seasons and 524 career games behind him, he’s unlikely to be back with the Rangers.

Jesper Fast

71 games, 13 goals, 20 assists, -10, 26 PIM

Cap hit $1.85 million; signed through 2019-20

A strong defensive forward, the 6-foot, 191-pound winger hit people and didn’t mind taking hits. He did dish out more (130 hits) than he took (104), which was valuable for a team which wasn’t especially physical. He also drew more penalties (18) than he took (13), an indication that he went to the dirty areas of the ice, kept his feet moving, and didn’t shy away from contact.

Vigneault was such a fan of Fast that at the end of the season he put the Swede on the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Fast himself said he thinks he’s best used in some kind of checking role, but it worked. Fast worked the corners, provided defensive cover for his linemates, and had 11 points (3-8-11) in 11 games on the line, including his first two-goal game in Philadelphia Mar. 22. He missed the last three games with a groin tear, and guess what? The team played soft in all three games and lost all three. Would Fast have made a difference in those games? Quite possibly.

Kevin Hayes

76 games, 25 goals, 19 assists, +1, 18 PIM

Cap hit $2.6 million; RFA

Hayes was one of the guys forced to step up after the Rangers stripped the roster down at the trade deadline. A 6-5, 217-pounder, Hayes became a second-line center counted on to produce — and he did, scoring 10 goals, with six assists in 19 games after the Feb. 26 trade deadline. He finished with a career-high 25 goals.

The problem, of course, is that those 19 games weren’t exactly high-pressure, desperation, gotta-have-two-points contests. So the numbers can tell only so much. Analytics show that Hayes had more giveaways (63) than takeaways (52) and indeed, that he has had more giveaways than takeaways in three of his four NHL seasons. He did win 50.5 percent of his faceoffs, which is good, but he’s clearly not a physical player (40 hits and 60 hits taken in 76 games). Not that there’s anything wrong with that in today’s game — if you produce enough goals and points. The question is, though, did he do enough of that?

Peter Holland

23 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, -10, 7 PIM

Cap hit $675,000; signed through 2018-19

Holland, a former first-round pick (15th overall by Anaheim in 2009) started the season in the AHL with Montreal’s farm in Laval, Quebec, and was acquired by the Rangers in a minor league trade in November. He was called up by the Rangers from Hartford on Jan. 15 and essentially filled a fourth line role before ultimately becoming the 13th forward after the trade deadline, when he played six of the last 19 games.

Holland didn’t get much of a chance to show anything under Vigneault, so, if he’s with the club when training camp starts, maybe he’ll benefit from having a new coach take a look at him to see if he can find something in Holland he likes. He is 6-2, and 205, and does have 266 games and 36 goals on his resume, and he’s only 27.

Chris Kreider

58 games, 16 goals, 21 assists, -2, 44 PIM

Cap hit $4.625 million; signed through 2019-20

Kreider had to be the toughest guy on the team. Not in the sense of fighting, or anything like that, but in terms of the mental toughness it took to return after going through a potential life-altering medical condition. He left a game in late December when his right arm swelled up. It turned out he had a blood clot that was the result of a malformed rib, which necessitated surgery to correct. He missed two months.

And then he came back and finished strong, scoring goals, showing leadership and establishing himself as a likely building block for a Rangers organization that is admittedly in transition. He had five goals and 10 assists in the 21 games he played in after his return, all coming in the 15-game span between Feb. 28 and Mar. 30. Since trading Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers don’t have a captain. Gorton is going to be active in continuing to reshape the team in the offseason, but if Kreider is here, and if Gorton hasn’t acquired some big-name superstar by free agency or trade, this guy would be someone to consider for that role.

Cody McLeod

25 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, -11, 39 PIM

Cap hit $800,000; UFA

The late Herb Brooks, when he coached the Devils back in the early 1990s, would look reporters straight in the eye when asked why a particular player wasn’t playing more and say, “You are what you are.’’

McLeod is a fighter, in a league that doesn’t value that sort of thing anymore. The Rangers claimed him off waivers from Nashville in late January and kept him on the roster because they didn’t have anyone who could do what he does. But McLeod never seemed to be able to fight the right opponent at the right time, either to stand up for a teammate or spark the team or whatever. At 33 years old, with 11 seasons on his resume, he may have gone as far as he can go in this league.

Vladislav Namestnikov

19 games, 2 goals, 2 assists, -5, 10 PIM

Cap hit $1.9375; RFA

He said all the right things when he was dealt to the Rangers as part of the McDonagh-J.T. Miller deadline day trade. But Namestnikov had to be shocked — and crushed — to go from Tampa Bay, a team that was in an all-out chase for the Stanley Cup, to the Rangers, which had declared a couple weeks earlier it was throwing in the towel on the season. He scored a goal and had an assist in his first game with the Rangers, a feel-good, 6-5 overtime win over Vancouver.

In the next 18 games, though, Namestnikov managed just one more goal and one more assist.

A former first-round pick (No. 27 overall by the Lightning in 2011), Namestnikov had a career-best 22 goals this season. He proved in Tampa he can produce if he plays on a top line. The Rangers, though, need guys who can generate offense, and not just feed off star teammates.

Ryan Spooner

20 games, 4 goals, 12 assists, -4, 2 PIM

Cap hit $2.825; RFA

See above regarding what Spooner had to have thought when he got dealt to the Rangers from the Bruins the day before the trade deadline as part of the Rick Nash trade. Spooner also made an impression when he first arrived, with two assists in his first game and three assists in his second, and a goal and an assist in his third. A center by trade, he played mostly left wing for the Rangers, though he got some time at right wing as well.

Spooner showed enough that the Rangers know he’ll produce if given ice time. The thing is, are there younger, homegrown prospects the rebuilding Rangers would prefer to have that ice time?

Jimmy Vesey

79 games, 17 goals, 11 assists, -18, 20 PIM

Cap hit $925,000; RFA

Vigneault said Vesey was a guy who needed to define what he is. Is he a skill guy or a power forward? Vigneault said he’d like to see the second-year player turn into a power forward, but besides his 6-3, 206-pound body, there aren’t many indications that being a power forward is in his future.

Vesey did have his first NHL hat trick March 12 against Carolina and a two-goal game March 24 against Buffalo. But those were the only goals he scored in the season’s final 18 games. So, in 16 of the final 18 games, he didn’t score a goal, and he had just four assists in that span. To be fair, he did move around on lines, spending a lot of time on the left of Namestnikov.

Mika Zibanejad

72 games, 27 goals, 20 assists, -23, 14 PIM

Cap hit $5.35 million; signed through 2021-22

Even on a team lacking star power, as the Rangers certainly were after the trade deadline, someone had to play center on the first line. And Zibanejad did that and did it well. His team-high 27 goals were a career high, and there was a period near the end of the season where Zibanejad and linemates Kreider and Fast went on a torrid tear. On March 12 against Carolina, Zibanejad had three assists, and he followed that with two goals in each of the next two games, and followed that with goals in each of the next three games.

Zibanejad, 24, spoke with reverence of wearing the “A’’ on his jersey after McDonagh was traded (he and Kreider took turns wearing the third “A’’) and it was evident he tried to be a leader in the young locker room after the trade deadline. There are changes still to come this offseason, so it’s to be determined what the locker room will look like next fall. But if Zibanejad is with the club, and still tasked with being the No. 1 center, the Rangers could do worse.

Mats Zuccarello

80 games, 16 goals, 37 assists, -10, 36 PIM

Cap hit $4.5 million; signed through 2018-19

At the end of the year, Zuccarello’s numbers were right about where they always are, which at least shows consistency, and that’s certainly good. Except in a situation like the Rangers where the team was shedding veterans and asking those who remained to step up into bigger roles, the club needed him to do more.

Of course, Zuccarello was as deeply affected as anyone by management’s decision to sell off so many players from the roster. The 30-year-old Norwegian lost a lot of friends in the purge, and that took an emotional toll. He did play hard all the way to the end, though. He missed a game in the last week of the season because of a sore knee, but came back to play the final two games when he really didn’t have to.

In reality, those could end up being the final two games of his Rangers career. Gorton will be active in the offseason in continuing to remake the roster, and Zuccarello is a player who may have survived the trade deadline, but is vulnerable to being dealt away this summer.

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