The Rangers’ forwards haven’t looked their best, but there are some bright spots.
The New York Rangers have had an interesting start to their season. Most of their games have been frustrating one-goal losses and drama involving defenseman Tony DeAngelo made a rocky start to the season even more so.
After it was announced that DeAngelo had played his last game with the Rangers, the Blueshirts won three in a row, but are coming off another shutout loss to the New York Islanders.
Surprisingly, one of New York’s most significant issues has been underwhelming play from their forward group, especially the top-six.
That being said, here are the player grades for the Rangers’ forwards through the first chunk of the season.
Note: Players are ranked according average ice-time, from most to least. This list does not include players who have been featured in fewer than nine games.
Artemi Panarin, LW
Artemi Panarin continues to do Artemi Panarin things. Through 11 games, he’s recorded five goals, five primary assists, and five secondary assists, good for 15 points.
He’s involved in practically every goal the Rangers score and hasn’t skipped a beat since being named a Hart Trophy finalist last season. He remains the Rangers’ best player and should maintain his excellent play throughout the season.
Mika Zibanejad, C
As we mentioned earlier, Zibanejad has gotten off to a tough, tough start. He did have COVID-19 before the season began and missed the first several days of training camp, as a result.
Zibanejad has said that his slow start has nothing to do with lingering effects from the disease, but that’s been a concern.
Zibanejad has been improving, as of late, both offensively and defensively, but the puck-luck just isn’t there for him.
Zibanejad has just three points (one goal and two primary assists) on the season, and just one assist in his past eight games. He’s been one of the team’s worst players to start the season, but this shouldn’t last.
Pavel Buchnevich, RW
During training camp, head coach David Quinn noted that he hadn’t seen Pavel Buchnevich looked so good in camp since he arrived in New York. His great play and attitude during the preseason have translated into the regular season.
Buchnevich has been one of the Rangers’ best forwards. He has three goals, two primary assists, and three secondary assists in 11 games.
Buchnevich’s play has been so stellar that Quinn has entrusted him with more responsibility. The fact that he’s become third among forwards in ice-time is proof of that.
According to the Rangers’ stats and info page, Buchnevich is one of just three forwards averaging at least three minutes of power play ice time per game and at least 2:30 of shorthanded ice time per game.
Pavel Buchnevich is one of only three NHL forwards who are averaging at least 3:00 of power play ice time per game and at least 2:30 of shorthanded ice time per game thus far this season (along with Ryan O'Reilly and Mitch Marner). #NYR
— NYR Stats & Info (@NYRStatsInfo) February 10, 2021
Buchnevich had always been an underrated two-way forward, but his excellent play on both ends of the ice has become noticeable. He truly is one of the Rangers’ most valuable players.
Ryan Strome, C
Strome was a top-six forward who was struggling to contribute to begin the season. He went his first four games without registering a point, but has accumulated six since (four goals, one primary assist, and one secondary assist).
His defense hasn’t been great and he’s a significant reason why the Rangers are one of the worst faceoff teams in the NHL, but the fact that his scoring touch is making somewhat of a comeback is great news.
Strome just has to focus on maintaining consistency. He visibly struggles when he isn’t scoring and hasn’t looked the best in terms of finishing. If he can clean that up, he’ll contribute in making New York’s top-six a dangerous group, once again.
Chris Kreider, LW
Kreider has had an odd start to the season. He struggled significantly out of the gate, but has been playing better lately. Even so, he has just four goals on the season.
He hasn’t been a particularly good play-maker- that’s evident in his lack of assists-but he seems to be improving. He’s also been getting more time on the penalty kill and has looked good there.
Even so, Kreider’s been disappointing to begin the season and the Rangers will need to get him going.
Alexis Lafrenière, W
Lafrenière was the best prospect by a long-shot last year, making him the clear number one choice in the draft. Lafrenière has had somewhat of a rough introduction to the NHL, and that’s thanks to a myriad of factors.
For one, he’s been featured in the top-six in most of his games. As we’ve stated, that group has struggled, and those struggles are affecting Lafrenière.
The fact that he hasn’t consistently played on a specific line, or at a specific position, is a contributing factor. He’s bounced around from line to line and has played as both a left and right winger.
He has just one goal on the season, which isn’t ideal, but many of the plays he makes show off his high IQ and why he’s been held in such high regard. The scoring will come, it’s just a matter of when.
Kaapo Kakko, RW
After a disastrous rookie season, Kakko looks like a different player. Quinn has recognized this and is giving him more playing time at even-strength and on special teams. Like Buchnevich, Kakko is displaying his ability as a two-way forward.
In 10 games, Kakko has two goals and a secondary assist. The points might not show much, but several of the goals the Rangers have scored were thanks to heads-up plays by the second-year.
His confidence has grown and he’s using his big body much more, which has paid off.
Before Filip Chytil went down with an injury, that third line of Kakko, Chytil, and Phillip Di Giuseppe was one of the best in hockey. Kakko was a considerable reason why.
Kakko has also helped Strome get going, now that he’s been playing on the second line. As with Lafrenière, the scoring will come for Kakko, but he sure has looked really good.
Brett Howden, C
As almost everyone expected heading into the season, Brett Howden has been the Rangers’ worst forward. His advanced numbers will show that he hasn’t been dreadful, but one secondary assist on the season isn’t a great look.
Howden has improved defensively, however, and has made some nice plays for the Rangers, in that regard. At least it hasn’t been all bad with him.
Phillip Di Giuseppe, W
Di Giuseppe has been a bright spot for the Rangers in this young season. Di Giuseppe was called up last season as an injury replacement and hasn’t looked back.
He’s become a staple in this lineup and is a workhorse who’s made fantastic plays. As I mentioned earlier, he was part of one of the best lines in the NHL not too long ago and truly has been one of the team’s best players.
He has five primary assists on the year and has even been valuable on special teams. Since Chytil went down, Di Giuseppe has played as both a left and right winger, but has been impactful everywhere.
Kevin Rooney, C
Kevin Rooney joined the Rangers this past offseason after having spent the first four years of his career with the New Jersey Devils. He was expected to be nothing more than a depth player, but he’s been more than serviceable as a two-way forward.
The Rangers’ fourth line has been performing quite well this season, and Rooney is one of the reasons why. He has two goals and a primary assist, so far, and has played solid defense.
Rooney has been another nice surprise for the Rangers so far in 2021.
Brendan Lemieux, LW
Last but not least is Brendan Lemieux. Lemieux is another player that’s made that fourth line so effective. His grit has always made him valuable to Quinn, but he’s actually performing on the ice this season.
Lemieux has a goal and a primary assist on the season, and his defense has been very respectable, as well. The question is, can he keep up this solid play throughout the remainder of the 2021 campaign?