By: Leo Scaglione Jr., Pinch-Hitting For The Maven
The Rangers have been anything but off this offseason.
In 453 career regular-season NHL contests, Desharnais has notched 254 points (81 goals, 173 assists). The 5-foot-7, 180-pound left-shooting pivot has added 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists) in 51 Stanley Cup playoff matches.
Desharnais, 30, will help fill the void up in the middle of the Rangers’ lineup after the departures of Derek Stepan (traded to the Arizona Coyotes) and Oscar Lindberg (claimed in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights). Stepan pivoted the top unit while Lindberg played that role on the fourth line. Desharnais will likely take over Lindberg’s role.
Taking Stepan’s spot will be Mika Zibanejad, who totaled 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 56 regular-season games in his first season as a Ranger. In 12 postseason matches, he totaled 9 points (2 goals, 7 assists). However, he remains a restricted free agent who must be signed.
After Zibanejad is J.T. Miller, who played mostly left wing this past season, but is a natural center who may shift to the middle, according to general manager Jeff Gorton. Kevin Hayes is the Rangers’ other center on the roster.
Fast, who was inked for the next three seasons with an average annual value of $1.85 million, is coming off a campaign in which he totaled six goals and 15 assists for 21 points in 68 games. Fast, 25, ranked third among Rangers forwards in hits (99) and fourth among team forwards in blocked shots (44) in 2016-17. He tallied 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in a dozen playoff contests.
The 6-0, 190-pound forward was named the winner of the Players’ Player Award, which is given annually to the Ranger who, as selected by his teammates, “best exemplifies what it means to be a team player.”
Fast, who has totaled 65 points (22 goals, 43 assists) in 216 regular-season games and 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) in 39 postseason matches, has developed into a consistent bottom-six skater, but will open his fourth full NHL season on injured reserve as he continues to recover from offseason left hip surgery. He is expected to be back at some point in November.
Also on the right side for New York are Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash and Pavel Buchnevich, who recorded 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) in 41 games this past season, his rookie campaign. He also had one assist in five playoff games.
The left side of the Blueshirts’ lineup features Chris Kreider, sophomore Jimmy Vesey, who totaled 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 80 games as a rookie, and second-year Rangers’ Michael Grabner and Matt Puempel.
It’s too early to tell who the Rangers’ reserves up front will be, but one thing is certain: several prospects will be involved in this fall’s training camp battle.
One of those players may be center Lias Andersson, who was selected seventh overall in the 2017 NHL draft with the selection the Rangers received along with defenseman Anthony DeAngelo from the Coyotes in the deal that sent Stepan and netminder Antti Raanta to Arizona.
Andersson, a two-way pivot who played the past two seasons with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League, was ranked as the third-best international skater by NHL Central Scouting entering this year’s draft.
This past season, Andersson totaled 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) in 42 games and another 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist) in 16 playoff contests, helping lead his club to their fifth Le Mat Trophy, awarded to the league champions.
On the back end, the Blueshirts’ defensive unit instantly received an upgrade after the club signed this summer’s free agent prize, 28-year-old Kevin Shattenkirk.
Although the right-shooting blueliner skated on the St. Louis Blues and later the Washington Capitals’ second pairings this past season, Shattenkirk will likely align with captain Ryan McDonagh to form one-half of New York’s top defensive unit.
Behind them are second-year NHLer Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith, who will be entering his first full season as a Blueshirt after he re-signed with the club on June 29. After Smith was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline and subsequently paired with Skjei, the duo quickly became a go-to unit for head coach Alain Vigneault, with Skjei providing the offensive punch while Smith cleared the area in front of the crease.
In net, behind ace netminder Henrik Lundqvist, will be 29-year-old Ondrej Pavelec, who signed with the Rangers on July 1. Pavelec, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, has a 152-158-47 record, 2.87 goals-against average, .907 save percentage and 17 shutouts in 379 regular-season games, all of which came with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise.
Behind Lundqvist and Pavelec are Brandon Halverson and Chris Nell.
Halverson, 21, will be entering his second professional season after opening this past season with the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits before being promoted to the American’s Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack.
Nell, 22, will be entering his rookie AHL season after a four-game cup of coffee at the end of the 2016-17 campaign following a three-year collegiate career at Bowling Green.
However, all of this, as the saying goes, is “subject to change,” since no team is truly off during the offseason.