Believe it or not, we are just about halfway into the quick, 56 game NHL season.
The season has been unlike any other – with each game being a crucial division matchup, COVID-19 protocol lists, taxi-squads – etc.

The Rangers, still in the thick of a rebuild, have had their highs, and their lows. It’s safe to say, however, that their highs are not quite as high as expected, and their lows have been extreme.

Despite team play, there have been a few players that have shone bright, while others slump.

To summarize here’s a brief evaluation of each NYR player using letter-grades.

Colin Blackwell 

Stats: 6G, 4A, 10P – 18 GP

Blackwell has been a pleasant surprise this year. He’s cooled down as of late, but he has had a knack for finishing this year (his shooting percentage is nearly 21%).

Grade: A-

Pavel Buchnevich 

Stats: 8G, 14A, 22P – 26 GP

Buchnevich, after being raved about in camp, has had a solid 2021 campaign thus far. He continues to be a streaky goal-scorer, but he has definitely shown strides of improvement and looks much more confident. He’s also been really solid on the penalty kill.

Grade: B+

Filip Chytil 

Stats: 3G, 4A, 7P – 13 GP

Chytil’s injury was unfortunate – he was looking great, one of the best forwards through the first handful of games, just before missing nearly a month. It’s tough to evaluate him because of the significant time missed, but I’m definitely high on Chytil this year, and once he regains his game back completely, he will be much a needed force down the middle for the Blueshirts.

Grade: A-

Julien Gauthier

Stats: 2 G, 4A, 6P – 20 GP

Gauthier has been the victim of the ‘Quinn-Bin’ quite a few times this season. I do believe Gauthier has great upside, with real size and speed I see in Chris Kreider, but he has made some large mistakes. He’s coming off of a 5PIM game against Pittsburgh on March 15th, two being careless high sticking penalties. It’s hard to focus on the positives when you have glaring mistakes like that. Averaging under 10 minutes of ice time per game, it will be hard for Gauthier to truly prove himself. His future with the Rangers is foggy, in my opinion.

Grade: D

Brett Howden

Stats: 0G, 3A, 3P – 26 GP

Howden has been pretty much the worst forward thus far. He’s been practically invisible – there’s a lack of shots and points, as well as a dip in faceoff percentage. I don’t see Howden as a viable option long-term for the Blueshirts, even at 4C.

Grade: F 

Kaapo Kakko

Stats: 2G, 2A, 4P – 20 GP

The points have not been coming for Kakko this year, but if you watch him, he looks like a different player. His skating has improved and looks much more strong and composed with the puck.

He’s getting chances – t’s only a matter of time before he starts finishing.

Grade: B-

Chris Kreider

Stats: 14G, 5A, 19P – 27 GP

After a slow start, Kreider has heathen up, and fast. He leads the team in goals and had 2 hattricks within a 5 game span. If he can get some consistency – something he’s struggled with in the past – it would be huge for a Rangers team that has been having some overall inconsistency offensively.

Grade: A-

Alexis Lafrenière

Stats: 4G, 3A, 7P – 27 GP

Lafrenière entered this season with big expectations to meet. He has had his fair share of struggles in getting on the scoreboard consistently, but he has had some very bright moments.

He has also been the subject of David Quinn’s praise: Quinn loves the fact that Lafrenière “wants to learn” and he likes “the direction [Lafrenière’s] game is going.” Of course, more points would be great. But Lafrenière’s great attitude, desire to learn and team play deserve recognition as well.

Grade: B-

Brendan Lemieux

Stats: 1G, 4A, 5P – 25 GP

Lemieux’s performance has been extremely underwhelming. He leads the team in penalty minutes (46) by a large margin (the next closest is Ryan Lindgren with 25).

He has a knack for mixing it up, but often in the wrong times. I appreciate Lemieux’s toughness, but it often translates to careless and unnecessary penalties. 

Grade: D

Artemi Panarin

Stats: 6G, 16A, 22P – 16 GP

You can’t say enough good things about Panarin. The only negative for him is how much time he’s missed – of course, nothing in his control. In a year where we braced ourselves for some decline in production after an incredible MVP caliber 2019-20, Panarin has exceeded my expectations and continues to be the great playmaker he is.

He has 4 points in his first 2 games back from his leave of absence, and it doesn’t seem like he’s stopping anytime soon.

Grade: A  

Kevin Rooney

Stats: 5G, 3A, 8P – 25 GP

Rooney has been another pleasant surprise and has been turned out to be a really great signing for the Rangers. He’s shown decent offensive production for being a 3rd-4th liner and has been impressive defensively. He has also been a great addition to the penalty kill. Rooney is a great depth player that has fit the Rangers’ needs well and would be a good player to keep longer-term (over someone like Howden). 

Grade: A

Ryan Strome

Stats: 10G, 10A, 20P – 27 GP

Strome was the subject to some criticism in the first handful of games, but soon after picked up his play, even in Panarin’s absence. He’s handled the shuffling of linemates very well, including the building of chemistry with Kakko and Lafrenière when Panarin was away.

On a bridge deal, Strome needs to keep up this kind of play if he wants the Rangers to see him as a viable long-term 2C.

Grade: B+  

Mika Zibanejad

Stats: 3G, 8A, 11P – 27 GP

This has been the toughest pill to swallow thus far for the Rangers. Zibanejad is coming off a 41 goal, MVP caliber season, and he has been extremely underwhelming thus far. He’s been doing a bit better as of late, with 4 points in his last 5 games, but went as many as 6 straight games without a single point.

Zibanejad will have to pick up his play and fast if he’s going to be a number-one center for the Rangers in the long run.

Grade: D  

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