Brad Marchand of the Bruins skates against Pavel Buchnevich of the...

Brad Marchand of the Bruins skates against Pavel Buchnevich of the Rangers during the first period at TD Garden on Thursday in Boston. Credit: Getty Images/Maddie Meyer

The NHL trade deadline is less than a month away, and as things stand right now, the Rangers will not be in the position to be buyers on April 12.

At this point, the Rangers are a long shot to make the playoffs, so they won’t be trading away draft picks or prospects to pick up a physical, top-nine forward, or a veteran, third-pair defenseman to make a push to get in to the 16-team postseason.

The Rangers (11-12-3, 25 points) are in sixth place in the East Division, seven points behind fourth-place Boston (14-7-4) for the final playoff spot. Maybe if things were – dare we say, normal – and the Rangers had a few games against Ottawa, and a few less against Boston and Pittsburgh – they’d be closer to a playoff spot.

But the way things look, it’s hard to imagine the Rangers finishing among the top four teams in the rugged East in this 56-game, intradivision games-only season. So they’re almost certainly going to be sellers at this year’s deadline, or at least, they should be.

What has become apparent this season is that the Rangers’ rebuild is not over. Not yet. The teardown part of the rebuild, which started with those 2018 trades of Rick Nash, and Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, et al, is over, and the "build,’’ as team president John Davidson likes to call it, is coming along nicely. Some very nice pieces – Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, K’Andre Miller, Filip Chytil, and soon, Vitali Kravtsov – are already in place. But the product is still a good distance from being finished.

They still lack an element of physicality up front, as well as the willingness to play straight-line hockey and impose their will in getting to the goal-scoring areas. They need to score more dirty goals, and they need a little more team toughness against big, burly teams like the Bruins and Washington Capitals.

And if there is this uncomfortable new reality the Rangers have to face: If the 2021 version of Mika Zibanejad is who he is – as opposed to the 2018-20 version – then they need a true No. 1 center. If that guy is Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, they’ll need to trade for him in the offseason. That will take assets.

So trading away some of this season’s players to acquire more assets is the logical way to go.

Pavel Buchnevich, for instance, has had a fabulous season, his best as a Ranger. But he’s going to be a free agent this summer, and with Kakko, Kravtsov and Lafreniere here, and needing ice time, Buchnevich could reasonably be deemed expendable. Ryan Strome is putting together a solid season, and he’s answered the question of whether he can play without Artemi Panarin (Strome had four goals and five assists in the nine games Panarin missed while on leave from the team). So, he’s a guy who should be appealing to other teams. He, too, could be expendable if the 21-year-old Chytil shows he’s ready to step up and be a No. 2 center.

Where will Kravtsov slot into Rangers' lineup?

Speaking of Kravtsov, what are the Rangers going to do with him when he gets here?

Well, they have some time to figure it out. It’ll probably take close to two weeks for him to get a visa, book a flight and then serve his quarantine after he arrives, so it’s not a question coach David Quinn would want to think about today.

But Kravtsov, whose KHL season ended Thursday when his Traktor Chelyabinsk team was eliminated by Salavat Yulaev in the first round of the playoffs, is going have to play somewhere in the top three lines. He had 16 goals in 49 regular season games for Traktor, and two goals (plus two assists) in five playoff games, so the Rangers will want him in the lineup.

Buchnevich and Kakko are the top two right wings on the roster right now, and Panarin, Chris Kreider and Lafreniere are the top left wings. If Buchnevich stays with Zibanejad and Kreider, and Lafreniere, Chytil and Kakko click and stay together, that leaves a spot on the right of Panarin and Strome that would seem perfect.

Where will that leave Julien Gauthier, who has been making such good strides in his game lately?

"I think he's been taking a step each passing game,’’ Quinn said recently of Gauthier. "I certainly like the direction his game's going. He's earning the minutes he's getting, and it's good to see for a kid who puts a lot of work into it, and certainly wants to get better.’’

When Kravtsov is here, though, Gauthier’s minutes are almost certain to go down. He likely will be battling with the likes of Colin Blackwell, Phillip DiGiuseppe, and maybe even Brett Howden to get into games and get fourth-line ice time.

Which may not be great news for Gauthier – or Blackwell, or DiGiuseppe, for that matter – but it will be the kind of problem Quinn will be happy to have.


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months