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Rangers fail to reach playoffs after OT struggles, blown leads

Hope draft picks, salary cap flexibility will speed up rebuild

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

The first full season of the New York Rangers' rebuilding project will end with them failing to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Rangers were eliminated from postseason contention when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Buffalo Sabres 7-4 on Saturday. They did not qualify for the second straight season. 

Here is a look at what happened in 2018-19 for the Rangers and why things could be better next season: 


The Skinny

Potential UFAs: Connor Brickley, LW; John Gilmour, D

Potential RFAs: Pavel Buchnevich, RW; Brendan Lemieux, LW; Vinni Lettieri, F; Neal Pionk, D; Tony DeAngelo, D; Fredrik Claesson, D; 

Potential 2019 NHL Draft picks: 10


What went wrong

Holding leads a challenge: The Rangers have an NHL-low .441 winning percentage in games when they have scored the first goal (15-9-10). The Ottawa Senators (19-17-3, .487) are the only other team with a sub-.500 winning percentage in games when they score first. This was a particularly big problem in the first half of the season, when the Rangers were 3-4-3 through Dec. 14 in games when they took a 2-0 lead. They have a minus-22 goal differential (60 for, 82 against) in the second period.

Video: NYR@WSH: Kreider stuffs Vesey's feed into the twine

Lack of success in overtime: The Rangers have squandered plenty of points by losing nine games in overtime, the most of any Eastern Conference team and second in the NHL behind the Colorado Avalanche (11). New York's only OT wins this season were 3-2 against the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 11 and 2-1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. The Rangers are 6-4 in games decided in the shootout.

Time to deal at deadline: All those missed points in overtime helped make the Rangers sellers before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25, trading right wing Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars, center Kevin Hayes to the Winnipeg Jets and defenseman Adam McQuaid to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Each can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The Rangers are 2-6-4 since the deadline.


Reasons for optimism

Prospects graduating to the NHL: Two of the Rangers' top prospects became NHL players this season. Filip Chytil, the 19-year-old forward who was a first-round pick (No. 21) in the 2017 NHL Draft, has 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 70 games. Brett Howden, the center who will turn 21 on March 29, has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 58 games. Howden, a first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 27) in the 2016 NHL Draft, was acquired in a trade last season. The Rangers like what they've seen from center Lias Andersson, the No. 7 pick in the 2017 draft, since he was recalled from Hartford of the American Hockey League on Feb. 21. Libor Hajek, the 21-year-old defenseman who was acquired from the Lightning with Howden, showed flashes in his five NHL games before injuring his shoulder March 9. 

Video: BOS@NYR: Chytil ties game in 3rd with a PPG

Prospects developing away from New York: The Rangers have liked the progression of their three first-round picks from the 2018 NHL Draft. Vitali Kravtsov, the 19-year-old right wing who was the No. 9 pick, led all players younger than 20 years old in the Kontinental Hockey League in goals (eight), assists (13) and points (21). The Rangers expect to sign Kravtsov to an entry-level contract in the offseason. K'Andre Miller, the No. 22 pick, tied for fifth in the NCAA among freshman defensemen with 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 26 games at the University of Wisconsin. The 19-year-old is expected to stay at Wisconsin for at least one more season. Nils Lundkvist, the No. 28 pick who doesn't turn 19 until July 27, played 41 games with Lulea in the Swedish Hockey League and had 10 points (three goals, seven assists). He is the 14th defenseman younger than 19 to score 10 points in a season in the past 30 SHL seasons. Lundkvist is expected to stay in Sweden for another season.

Draft picks and cap space: The Rangers have 10 picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, including at least two in the first round. A second-round pick from the Lightning would become a first-rounder if Tampa Bay wins the Stanley Cup. And the Rangers would get the Stars' first-round pick instead of a second-rounder if Dallas advances to the Western Conference Final and Zuccarello plays in at least 50 percent of the Stars' games over the first two rounds. New York also created NHL salary cap space for next season by trading veterans such as defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forwards J.T. Miller, Hayes and Zuccarello in the past 13 months. The draft picks and cap space give the Rangers flexibility that could speed up the rebuilding process.

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