Prior to last season, I ranked the New York Rangers players on the projected opening night roster by value to the organization both presently and in the future. In part one, we went from 23rd to 11th, leaving only the top 10 left to be ranked.
10. Brady Skjei (Previous Ranking- Honorable Mention) Skjei is considered the second best prospect in the Rangers system by most, and the Minnesota product will graduate into a significant NHL role this season. Skjei will take the minutes leftover by the departure of Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle, meaning he could play over 20 minutes a night.
Skjei has not yet proven anything at the NHL level, but in his limited time he looked like an NHL player. He has two seasons left at $925,000, so contractually he is a valuable asset as well. The key for moving up on this list will be his on-ice performance, as Skjei will have a bounty of pressure and zero wiggle room for failure.
9. Derek Stepan (PR- 5/21) Perhaps this isn’t giving Stepan enough credit, but the Rangers top center comes in at No. 9. The reasoning behind this placement is that Stepan is either worth his contract, or a bit overpaid. Stepan has struggled in the possession and power-play games, two key components of being a top center in the NHL. His two-way game is excellent however, and his penalty-killing abilities are key to the Rangers success.
Stepan loses points, however, because he makes $6.5 million a season, a number that could be a bit more than he deserves. The players ranked ahead of Stepan are younger, more cost controlled currently, and/or have the potential to earn greater bargain contracts.
8. Mika Zibanejad (PR- Not in organization) Zibanjead came over in a brilliant swap made with the Ottawa Senators this offseason. At 23 years old, he is still developing, but already has a 51 point season under his belt. Where ranking Zibanejad and the next few players becomes difficult is determining the value of a bridge contract.
For the next two seasons Zibanejad will make $2.625 million, while deserving to make more than double that. After that, however, if he continues to develop, his contract demands will match or exceed Stepan’s.
For the interim Zibanejad, like most players on bridge contracts, is a tremendous value. Unfortunately that will only be for two seasons, then his value on the ice will be higher than ever, and his contract demands will consider that. For now, he is a young, cost-controlled player that is expected to contribute heavily to the Rangers.
7. J.T. Miller (PR- 9/21) See Zibanejad, Mika. Miller is on a two-year deal worth $2.75 million per, then he will be able to demand a sizable extension. Miller places ahead of Zibanejad because of his two-way capabilities and familiarity with the organization. He was selected to play for the U-23 team in the World Cup of Hockey for a reason, as he had a career-best year in 2015-16.
6. Kevin Hayes (PR- 4/21) Yet another bridge contract player for the Rangers. Hayes may be the third line center, but that is valuable to the Rangers because it gives them the ability to roll at least three lines without skipping a beat.
Hayes tied for the NHL lead in primary assists at even strength in his rookie season, creating deserved hoopla surrounding his talent. He found himself in Vigneault’s doghouse last season, but the guess here is that he becomes a consistent 50-plus point player starting this season.
5. Chris Kreider (PR- 3/21) Last year I wrote about Kreider:
Mark my words: Chris Kreider will score 40 goals in a season in the NHL. Kreider has Hayes’ big body, Carl Hagelin’s speed, and a ferocity unmatched in the NHL. Though he has a tendency to take stupid penalties, Kreider has smartened up as he has grown up, and is still only 24 years old.
I’m backing off a bit from the 40-goal total, as Kreider continued to show the inability to turn his book smarts into on-the-ice smarts to produce more offense. He is fast, has a tremendous shot and a huge body to boot.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t proven to be able to make quick decisions and takes plenty of silly penalties. His four-year $18.5 million contract should either be a bargain or a fair deal, giving the Rangers a young, fair-priced, top-six forward for the next four years.
4. Pavel Buchnevich – (PR- Not yet in NHL) Buchnevich, the Rangers’ top prospect, comes in cheap at $925,000 for the next three seasons. That is tremendous value for a player that posted favorable stats compared to Artemi Panarin in the KHL, and is expected to immediately contribute to the Rangers. His short-term ability to produce combined with his entry-level contract makes Buchnevich a tremendously valuable long-term asset for the Rangers organization.
3. Mats Zuccarello (PR- 7/21) Zuccarello has three years remaining on a team-friendly deal worth only $4 million per season. Zuccarello scored 61 points last season despite coming off of a life-threatening brain injury, and appears to only be moving forward. At the age of 29, he may be hitting the end of his prime, but Zuccarello is one of the best low-cost scorers in the NHL. Having him on the top line is tremendously valuable for New York.
2. Henrik Lundqvist (PR- 1/21) Lundqvist makes $8.5 million per season, meaning he must produce like a Vezina trophy winner to earn his contract. Despite the lack of votes and lack of appreciation, Lundqvist did just that last season.
The pundits want you to believe Lundqvist is declining, but he posted a high danger save percentage of 0.847 at 5-on-5, good for second in the NHL and a career high for Lundqvist. He was done in by a poor goals against average thanks to a league worst defense in front of him, which was out of his control.
Lundqvist is the driving force behind the Rangers’ playoff hopes, and without him the team would be among the worst in the Eastern Conference. If he isn’t valuable, no one is.
1. Ryan McDonagh (PR- 2/21) McDonagh comes in at number one despite a bit of an off season because of a similar reason to Lundqvist’s evaluation. The Rangers defense was so bad that it made McDonagh look good for simply staying afloat.
He may not have had the season of an Erik Karlsson or Jake Muzzin, but he performed at an admirable level for a No. 1 defenseman. McDonagh was tasked with carrying the anchor that is Dan Girardi for a good portion of last season, rarely being allowed to play with a talented defenseman alongside him.
At $4.7 million for a defenseman that plays 23-plus minutes a night, McDonagh’s contract is a bargain for the Rangers. As much as Lundqvist must carry the Rangers to the win column, McDonagh must make sure the Rangers defense does not have zero options to go up against the top talents in the league.
Considering his cost and role, McDonagh is the most valuable player on the Rangers roster.