The New York Rangers were one of the deeper forward groups in the NHL headed into this summer. They had three lines of solid NHL scoring depth, with players like J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes still yet to hit their peaks. It was going to be another season of mixing and matching, with Rick Nash starting to hit his decline phase and being dropped down the lineup on certain nights.
Then they went out and signed Michael Grabner, Nathan Gerbe and Josh Jooris, players everyone expected to plug into their bottom six and fight for minutes in the dirty areas of the ice, help kill penalties and provide some energy when the skilled players needed it. That was expected, and they were praised for the cheap talent they’d added.
They dealt one of their veteran centers for a younger, more explosive version, moving Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad, adding to their dynamic second line beside Jesper Fast. While Brassard gave consistency and leadership, Zibanejad showed a higher ceiling and skill level. They looked like they were done, with 12 or 13 forwards locked into NHL spots, with a ton of experience.
And then came Jimmy Vesey. And Brandon Pirri. Somehow, the Rangers won out over the rest of the league (or so it would seem) for the services of the biggest story of the offseason. Vesey was signed out of Harvard to plug into a lineup that was already four lines deep, and Pirri was signed for 1.1MM to keep scoring goals despite the lack of faith from the league. Sure, pushing out Gerbe and Tanner Glass doesn’t sound that bad, but there usually just aren’t enough minutes to go around for all these skilled players. That’s where the Rangers have done so well.
In Vesey especially, the Rangers have a player that they can protect with this roster, not giving him tough matchups or assignments in his rookie season, while still surrounding him with skill. Hayes, Vesey and Miller could form a deadly third line, capable of playing in the opposing team’s end for most shifts. While it looks tough for two of Glass, Gerbe and Jooris to make the top-12 at this point, they provide excellent NHL depth for a squad that is trying to win with an aging goaltender and declining defense. At the deadline, they could be huge players as their youngsters step up, and expect Nash rumors to persist throughout the year.