The New York Rangers are one of this NHL season’s most intriguing teams. On one hand, not much is expected of the Broadway Blueshirts. They acquired some amazing pieces to add to their roster this summer but they have a huge amount of rookies and young players on their roster who may hit the proverbial wall at some point. On the other hand, if all the pieces come together and the rookies begin to impress right away, a wild card berth isn’t out of the question. Let’s dive in.
We begin with forward corps and what a top six this has an opportunity to be. Despite the defensive struggles many believe this team will have, they shouldn’t have an issue scoring. A revamped top six forward group now features 2019 second overall pick, Kaapo Kakko, and 2019 free agent signee, the 11.6 million dollar a year man, Artemiy Panarin. Mika Zibanejad showed the world last season that he could be a number once center in the NHL and put up 74 points despite playing with a revolving door of wingers. Now, Zibanejad has the uber-talented gamebreaking talent of Panarin on his left wing and the (hopeful) breakout star in Pavel Buchnevich on the other. The Rangers top line is primed to have a huge year with some analysts predicting that line could have over 200 combined points.
The second line is impactful as well and features Kakko on the right wing. Kakko is expected to step in and be one of New York’s most impactful forwards in his age 18 season and after his history making season in Liiga and his ridiculous showing at the World Championships, it’s not out of the question that Kakko becomes a force during his first season in New York. Centering Kakko to start the year is former sixth overall pick Ryan Strome and on the other side of him on the left wing is power forward Chris Kreider. That line has a good amount of size and speed and Strome will simply just have to move the puck to his winger and watch them work magic. Kreider and Kakko on the same line will cause nightmares for opposing teams.
The bottom six features a good amount of young talent as well. The bottom two lines will be centered by Lias Andersson and Brett Howden, two guys playing in just their second NHL seasons but essentially still rookies when you look at games played. The Rangers are entrusting their young kids to start doing the heavy lifting and that includes being defensively responsible and taking on a checking line role if needed. Brenden Lemieux returns after signing a one-year deal and will fit nicely in the Rangers bottom six providing grit, energy and a spark off the bench.
Two guys who everyone thought would be on the opening night lineup, 2017 21st overall pick Filip Chytil and 2018 9th overall pick Vitali Kravtsov, were sent to the Hartford Wolf Pack and will begin the season in the AHL. Rangers head coach David Quinn said he thinks it’s best for their development if they play 20+ minutes a night in Hartford and play in all situations including the power-play and penalty kill. Chances are when the Rangers inevitably make trades this season, Chytil and Kravtsov will be inserted into the Rangers top-nine forward group and add to an already dangerous group of forwards. The Rangers are counting on Chytil to be a dominant center and see Kravtsov as another gamebreaking talent.
The defense now gets their time to shine. It starts with the Rangers new number one defenseman, Jacob Trouba. Trouba, acquired from the Winnipeg Jets for a 1st round pick and defenseman Neal Pionk, was signed to a 7-year deal by the Rangers this summer worth about eight million a year and will be looked upon to play in every situation and be the guy the Rangers can rely on to shutdown top opposing lines. His defense partner, Brady Skjei, is being counted upon to have a bounce back season and take all his potential that he flashed in his rookie season and turn those flashes into consistency. The Rangers top-pair will be one to watch this season. The second pair featured Marc Staal and Tony DeAngelo was a pair put together last year by Quinn and as long as they don’t get as many minutes as they get last year, the Rangers should be fine. Staal is no longer the minute munching dman he used to be and although Tony DeAngelo has all the offensive potential in the world, he has to grow more and show more consistency in his game.
The third pair is the most intriguing to me as ir will feature Adam Fox and Libor Hajek, Both of these young guys were acquired through trades and the Rangers are hoping both take big strides this year. Hajek was the main piece in the trade for Ryan McDonagh and Fox was traded from the Hurricanes to the Ranger for two draft picks. Fox has the potential to be the next great puck moving defenseman in the NHL and he’s a highlight reel in the making. Hajek, although projects to have a lower ceiling from Fox, is looking like he can be a great stay at home dman with a bit of offensive upside. It would be great of Hajek turned into McDonagh lite.
Finally, the goaltenders. The battle in camp was impressive and rookie Igor Shesterkin put up a nice fight to claim the backup goaltenders job but ultimately Alexandar Georgiev reclaimed the back up job. Shesterkin is the goaltender of the Rangers future and will replace mainstay and Rangers legend Henrik Lundqvist when he retires but for now, he will dominate the AHL with Hartford. Georgiev has proven has be a backup in the NHL and possibly a 1A or 1B somewhere else. The only thing thats certain: Lundqvist starting in goal.
*Russell appears courtesy of Forever Blueshirts.