After a week of speculation, Nils Lundkvist confirmed through his agent Claude Lemieux, that he will not report to camp, and will instead remain in Sweden hoping to force a trade. There have been reports this week, that the Swede asked for a trade after being demoted to Hartford mid-way through last season, and without a foreseeable path to a top four and PP role on the Rangers, the player has resorted to using the one point of leverage he has – not reporting.
The loss of Lundkvist before camp will not have an immediate impact on the team, but continues a frustrating trend of first round picks that have fallen out with team Management. 2017 7th overall pick Lias Andersson lasted three years before accusing the team of mismanaging him, whilst 2018 9th overall pick Vitali Kravtsov missed all of last season and part of the previous year after similar accusations.
In the case of the 22 year old Swedish defender, it’s partly that he doesn’t have a clear path to be successful in the NHL. As an undersized offensive-minded blueliner, he’d be better suited to be matched up with top six forwards, and significant power play time. Instead the Rangers already have 24 year old Adam Fox in that position, as well as a set pair of Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller on the second pairing.
The play of Braden Schneider on the third pairing last year, also pushing Lundkvist down the list, with Schneider’s size and physicality a better fit for the role he’s been given. There’s also Zac Jones, who also brings an offensive flare, but has proven capable of playing both sides, including his natural left side where there is an open spot on the third pair.
With Lundkvist no longer in the mix short term, the Rangers depth will be further tested. Already limited by their Cap status, the Rangers now look to go into the season with just three additional blueliners with any kind of NHL experience. Assuming Jones wins the starting job, then only Jarred Tinordi, Libor Hajek and journeyman Andy Welinski come to camp with some NHL games under their belt.
Matthew Robertson could certainly earn some time this year, and may even have a chance of winning a spot out of camp, which would certainly help, but Drury may now have to invest in a veteran to provide some coverage, a situation that puts the team under further Salary Cap stress.
The most likely scenario for the Rangers now would seemingly be a trade of Lundkvist at some point. While Drury ultimately held onto Kravtsov – who similarly seemed finished with the Rangers – and will see him camp, it’s less clear how Lundkvist could follow that path. A trade deadline trade seems a possibility, with the Rangers expected to be in the playoff mix at that point, and Lundkvist an obvious asset that could be available at that time. Otherwise it’ll be up to a rival GM offering up more than what appears to be a middle to late second round pick that has been offered to date.