Do the Rangers have enough depth to combat mid-season injuries?

Carolina Hurricanes center Martin Necas (88) and New York Rangers center Nick Bonino (12) battle for the puck during a face-off in the third period at Madison Square Garden
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have had very few games this season with their lineup at full strength. Injuries seem to be a common trend this year, as the Blueshirts currently have two of their key players out on the IR. Filip Chytil suffered an upper-body injury early last month, and Kaapo Kakko a lower just over a week ago.

Chytil was never expected to be out as long as he has been. It was revealed he was dealing with a concussion, which set his return date back even further. HC Peter Laviolette has said Kakko’s injury is not season-ending, but it will be a while before he makes his return to the Rangers.

The Blueshirts have made some adjustments to carry on without either player for the time being, but they need to establish a long-term contingency plan in case Kakko and Chytil remain out longer than anticipated.

Trocheck, Brodzinski, and Bonino have moved up amidst the two injuries

When Filip Chytil was placed on the IR, Vincent Trocheck was raised back into the top six. He spent the entire last season as the Rangers’ 2C, and he’s been a great fit back in his old role. He’s tallied 22 points in 24 games this season, showing why he deserves the seven-year deal the Blueshirts signed him to two summers ago.

With Trocheck moving up from the third line, Nick Bonino was also elevated from the fourth line to fill that role. This is where the lineup begins to get a bit shaky, as the Rangers did not intend on having Bonino play a more offensive position. His signing was to play defense and kill penalties down on the fourth line. It’s been an average adjustment for now, but it may not work out long-term.

“In 14 games since the 35-year-old veteran was inserted at 3C, that line has only produced three goals.”

via Vince Mercogliano of Lohud

When Kakko got injured, the Rangers initially placed Blake Wheeler back on the first line. That once again proved to be a mistake, which then put him back down on the third in favor of AHL regular Jonny Brodzinski. He’s also been average up in the top six, giving the Blueshirts an urgent mission of finding a suitable winger for the first line.

The Rangers must hope that Kakko and Chytil return sooner rather than later, because if not, this current lineup will not hold up for long.

The Rangers won’t be able to afford two players at the trade deadline

The simplest solution to these two long-term injuries would be to acquire more depth at this season’s trade deadline. There’ll surely be a handful of centers and wingers on the market, but the Rangers do not have the funds to acquire both if needed.

The Blueshirts’ projected cap space currently sits at just over $100k. Placing Chytil on the LTIR gives them a bit more wiggle room, but it’ll still be impossible to afford both a center and a winger at the deadline. If Chytil and Kakko remain out when that time arrives, there needs to be some sort of plan to properly fill the holes in the lineup.

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The Rangers could look within their system for a replacement

Brennan Othmann is a name that has been thrown around by many fans for a potential call-up. It’d be risky due to his lack of experience playing professional hockey, as the forward has only garnered 21 games in the AHL. But the payout would be massive, as he has the potential to become an elite scorer right off the bat.

If worst comes to worst and the Rangers are still without Kakko and Chytil later in the season, Othmann could be the replacement for the right wing. That would give the Blueshirts more room to look for a bottom-six center, leaving Trocheck on the second line.

Drury has a major decision coming up

At the end of the day, Rangers’ GM Chris Drury has a lot on his plate. This situation could go one of two ways- he can wait to see if Kakko and Chytil return to the team, or he will have to go on the hunt for two replacements. Time is the biggest issue, as he’ll have to make this decision before the trade deadline arrives.

In a perfect world, Chytil and Kakko will both fully recover and rejoin the team soon. It’s difficult to analyze the time frame for both players, as Laviolette tends to keep updates about the injuries vague and brief. One thing is for certain, however- there needs to be a plan in case neither player is able to return before the deadline.