How new coach could alter Rangers’ only expansion list decision

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The change behind the Rangers bench to a coach to be named later will impact essentially every player on the roster in terms of usage, role, ice time and responsibility within a new system.

But the switch to someone not named David Quinn could impact roster decisions, as well, perhaps starting with the protection list for the Seattle expansion draft that is due into the NHL on July 18, three days before the Kraken stock the franchise.

Because maybe, just maybe, Julien Gauthier won’t be up for grabs as he most certainly would have been if the coach who scratched the winger 24 times over the course of the 56-game schedule — and 14 straight from April 6 through April 29 — had remained in place.

Unless the Rangers make player personnel moves before the NHL invokes its temporary roster freeze on July 17, the choices appear clear cut under the one-goaltender, three-defensemen, seven-forward protection formula.

All the choices, that is, except for the identity of the seventh forward.

In goal, Igor Shesterkin is exempt, so the Rangers would protect Alex Georgiev while exposing Keith Kinkaid.

On defense, Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller and Zac Jones are exempt, so the Rangers will protect Jacob Trouba (who has a no-move clause and must be protected) Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek while exposing Tony DeAngelo and Anthony Bitetto. (Brendan Smith, who could have appeal to the Kraken, is a pending unrestricted free agent.)

Up front, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider have no-move clauses and will therefore be protected. So will Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil to make six, while Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov and Morgan Barron are exempt.

So, one protection slot left among Brett Howden, Colin Blackwell, Kevin Rooney and Gauthier, with the others primed for selection.

Until Quinn was dismissed last Wednesday, the choice would have been between the 23-year-old Howden, who has settled in as a fourth-line winger, and Blackwell, the 28-year-old Cinderella Hockey Man who scored 12 goals in his first 31 games while becoming a top-six staple. (Blackwell did not score over his final 16 matches.)

Chances are that the club would have protected Howden, who generally worked with Rooney as the second or third penalty-killing tandem.

But Gauthier, who will turn 24 in October, could re-enter the conversation with different sets of eyes evaluating him.

Carolina’s 21st-overall selection in the 2016 entry draft, and obtained by the Blueshirts on Feb. 18, 2020 for right defenseman Joey Keane, the 6-4, 230-pound Gauthier intermittently displayed traits of an effective power forward in between bouts of undisciplined play away from the puck — when he was not in street clothes, that is.

The March 15, 5-4 overtime defeat to the Flyers at the Garden represented a microcosm of Gauthier’s season, with No. 12 driving to the net from right wing and scoring on a backhander up top to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead in a match in which he picked up 8:00 in penalties, including a double-minor for drawing blood on a high stick.

Predictably, Gauthier was a healthy scratch for the next three games and only returned to the lineup for a spell when Howden went on the COVID-19 list.

Gauthier, who recorded eight points (2-6) in 30 games, did seem to have a penchant for committing bad penalties. Yet he was a plus-two on the ledger, drawing nine minors while committing seven during the season.

It’s interesting that Kravtsov, whose early April arrival generally kicked Gauthier to the curb, was lauded as defensively aware while Gauthier was perceived as defensively unreliable. The numbers do not necessarily support that conclusion.

In 277:15 at five-on-five, Gauthier had a 44.83 Corsi rating, was on the ice for a 46.85 shot share with a 49.86 xGF and a 38.46 goals-for percentage (10/16) while on the ice. He was on for 29.09 shots-against per 60:00.

Meanwhile, in 239:01. Kravtsov had a 43.62 Corsi and a 42.27 shot share with a 38.55 xGF and a 35.29 goals-for percentage (6/11). He was on for 29.01 shots-against per 60:00. (Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Evolving-Hockey.)

Kravtsov and Gauthier both play the right side, so in that sense they are competing for a spot on the roster, in the lineup and for ice time. But they are not competing for a spot on the protected list. The competition would seem to be between Howden and Gauthier.

Howden is more of a known quantity. But he seems to have hit his ceiling as a fourth-liner. Gauthier’s potential is still unrealized but he sure does seem to have a higher upside than Howden. And though the Blueshirts appear to be overstocked with top-nine-type wingers, one or more could be sacrificed as consequence of offseason remodeling.  

And with Quinn no longer appearing in the team picture, the Rangers could decide to give Gauthier one more look.

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