The 5 Most Promising Signs for New York Rangers' Future

Jeremy Fuchs@@jaf78Correspondent IIIMarch 17, 2014

The 5 Most Promising Signs for New York Rangers' Future

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The New York Rangers have done a number of good things this season, and it's why they are in playoff contention.

    But what can we take from their performance this year to learn for the future? And what can we glean from the organization as a whole to understand how the Rangers will perform in the future?

    We take a look at the team and some notable prospects to give you the five most promising signs for the Rangers' future.

    Read on to find out what those signs are. 

Ryan McDonagh Is Only 24

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Somehow, Ryan McDonagh is only 24 years old.

    Yes, a player that logs nearly 25 minutes against the league's best forwards, who shined at the Olympics and who is showing a burgeoning offensive game is only 24.

    And he will be a Ranger through at least 2019.

    By that time, it would not be a surprise if McDonagh had a Norris Trophy or two under his belt.

    He's a fantastic player, an incredible skater with impeccable instincts, a blistering shot from the point and a unique ability to join the rush and capitalize as a trailer.

    He's taken on increased responsibility on the power play, where he has 12 points, and has an impressive four points shorthanded. We've seen from McDonagh the ability to really toe the line and get off a good shot. He's developing into a top-flight offensive defensemen.

    The Montreal Canadiens must be kicking themselves for trading away McDonagh for Scott Gomez. Imagine McDonagh and P.K. Subban on the same team.

    But McDonagh is a Ranger and he's thriving.

    I maintain that he should be a Norris Trophy contender, even if he won't win. Ryan Suter seems to have that award all but locked up, yet it is important to note that McDonagh was the best American defender in Sochi not named Ryan Suter.

    Indeed, McDonagh's a fantastic player who will only get better. Having a lockdown defenseman is a prerequisite to winning a Stanley Cup. Take a look at the last few Cup winners: All had that lockdown defender, whether it was Duncan Keith with Chicago, Drew Doughty with Los Angeles or Zdeno Chara with Boston.

    The Rangers have that type of player in McDonagh. 

$18 Million in Cap Space for Next Season

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    According to CapGeek, the Rangers will have about $18 million in cap space this offseason. 

    Now, that doesn't mean the Rangers will go crazy. They have a number of restricted and unrestricted free agents they need to take care of. Here they are:

    • Derick Brassard (RFA)
    • Brian Boyle (UFA)
    • Benoit Pouliot (UFA)
    • Mats Zuccarello (RFA)
    • Dominic Moore (UFA)
    • Dan Carcillo (UFA)
    • Chris Kreider (RFA)
    • Anton Stralman (UFA)
    • Raphael Diaz (UFA)
    • John Moore (RFA)
    • Justin Falk (RFA)

    Obviously, the Rangers will not be able to sign all of those players, although it's a safe bet to think that they will lock up all of their RFAs. Of the UFAs, Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore are the top contenders to come back, followed by Anton Stralman and Benoit Pouliot.

    But even with signing all of their RFAs and a few select UFAs, the Rangers will still have a boatload of money to spend, especially if they buy out Brad Richards.

    Could they look to sign Paul Stastny? What about Matt Moulson or Mike Cammalleri? Matt Niskanen or Andre Benoit would look nice in Blue.

    Look, if the Rangers are smart, they could enter next season with a vastly improved roster, all while keeping intact the core of the team. While it's true that the Rangers haven't often been very smart in free agency in recent years, they have been good at depth signings. With the top six forwards and top four defensemen seemingly intact, it should free the Rangers to focus on improving the roster. 

Anthony Duclair

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    Haven't heard of Anthony Duclair?

    Get familiar.

    The 80th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft is absolutely tearing up the QMJHL. The 5'11", 177-pound winger has a remarkable 50 goals and 49 assists in only 59 games for the Quebec Ramparts. That's good for sixth in points in the "Q," only nine points behind 2013 third overall pick Jonathan Drouin.

    Yes, this kid is for real. 

    This is what Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News had to say after watching him play in July:

    REALLY like this kid’s game. Very, very good skater who frequently arrives at the puck or the spot first. Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark told me that he and his scouts watched Duclair often go head-to-head with this year’s first overall pick, Nathan MacKinnon, in juniors, and they loved what they saw. Duclair got pushed around a little on Tuesday. He needs to get stronger, but that’s normal for a young prospect who needs to grow and develop physically. He’s shifty, dips out of checks often, too. The Rangers even had him taking faceoffs at points in the scrimmage. Clark said Duclair was one of several underage players (17 at the draft) who fell in Sunday’s draft because they had subpar stretches in their play recently, though Duclair had battled injury and his upside was too good to pass up when he fell down the draft board.

    Duclair's only 18, so don't expect him in New York for at least a year or two. And yes, there have been high scorers in juniors who haven't panned out in the NHL. 

    But given the fact that Duclair excelled against rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon and the fact that he is producing at such a high rate, it seems like he's destined for success.

    It'll take some time. But once Duclair bulks up a bit, the Rangers will have a star winger on their hands. 

The Defense Is Young and Good

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    We touched on the importance of Ryan McDonagh a few slides back.

    But the depth and youth on defense goes deeper.

    Dan Girardi is 29. Marc Staal just turned 27. Kevin Klein—who has been playing great of late—is 29. John Moore—who is a restricted free agent, but I can't imagine the Rangers would let him walk—is 23.

    That's not to mention prospects like Conor Allen, who is 24, or Dylan McIlrath, who is only 21. Brady Skjei just won the Big Ten championship with the University of Minnesota and turns 20 next week.

    Put another way, the Rangers have a ton of talented defensemen who will be on the team for a long time. The Rangers won't have to spend a lot of money on a big-name free agent. They have an incredible amount of talent on the roster and in the system.

    Imagine, in a few years, a blueline that looks like this:

    • Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
    • Marc Staal-Kevin Klein
    • Brady Skjei-Dylan McIlrath

    That blueline would mean that John Moore and Conor Allen would be healthy scratches night after night. That's impressive depth.

    And, even better, all but two of those players have gone through the Rangers' development system. Kevin Klein was already established when he was acquired from Nashville, and John Moore has never played a game in the minors since being acquired from Columbus

    The Rangers, quite simply, are stacked on defense, both now and in the future. Great teams build from the net out. Between Henrik Lundqvist—more on him in a moment—and this defense, the Rangers are set for a number of years. 

Henrik Lundqvist Is Still the Best

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    Marianne Helm/Getty Images

    Forget about the early-season troubles. Forget about the contract dispute. Forget about when Cam Talbot looked like a better goaltender.

    Forget about all that. Henrik Lundqvist is back.

    He was stellar in the Olympics against Sochi, and while he has had a bit of trouble since coming back, Lundqvist's game is still rock solid. There are few goaltenders in the world who can outduel Lundqvist consistently.

    And the best part? He's only 32. He will be a Ranger through 2021, so he will presumably retire as a Ranger.

    I've written in this space many times that Lundqvist is the only reason why the Rangers are contenders, the only reason why they will have any chance of advancing far in the playoffs this year or any other year.

    Having a world-class goalie in your crease is always a comfort. Despite this not being his best year, Lundqvist is still a world-class netminder. Thinking otherwise is just foolish.

    And, of course, this is the best sign for the Rangers' future. As long as Lundqvist remains healthy, the Rangers will be contenders. For the team, there is nothing better than that.