When the NHL season was paused due to the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, The New York Rangers were one of the hottest teams in the league. Since the All-Star Break, up until their “final” game against the Colorado Avalanche, they went 14-7-1 and seemed to really be coming together as a team. Led by the MVP-caliber season of Artemiy Panarin, the Rangers are seemingly ahead of schedule in their rebuild. Let’s jump right in.
Going by average age, the New York Rangers are the youngest team in the NHL and their forward corps has a nice mix of veteran players and young players looking to make their mark on the NHL. Their offense was a lot more potent this year than people thought and the Rangers go as Artemiy Panarin goes. Panarin, who was signed as a free agent last summer to a deal worth 11.6 million dollars over seven years, lived up to every single expectation fans and management had for him. Panarin, from his first game in New York, energized this fanbase like other stars had only dreamed of doing. He would score a career high in goals with 32 and add 63 assists for 95 points in his first season in New York. A superstar had truly arrived.
Leading the charge with Panarin is the Rangers number one center, Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad, for years, had shown that if he could have some consistency to his game he would become a force to be reckoned with. The talent was always there but he had yet to truly unleash his potential. That changed this year as Zibanejad joined the ranks of the top centers in the NHL by scoring 41 goals and adding 34 assists for 75 points in 57 games. Elite. Zibanejad put himself into Rocket Richard trophy contention but ultimately fell short due to the season being postponed. Zibanejad was one of the leagues hottest forwards before the stoppage and look for him and Panarin to lead this offense in the playoffs. Zibanejad’s defining game this season was against the Washington Capitals on March 5th when he scored 5 goals, including the overtime winner at Madison Square Garden.
Ryan Strome had a career high 59 points in 70 games and found great chemistry with Panarin over the course of the season. He has entrenched himself as New York’s second line center for the time being and his chemistry with Panarin will be something the Rangers lean on as well. Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko are two extremely talented young forwards as well and even though they each didn’t have a lot of point this season, both will be looked at to provide some secondary scoring during the playoffs. They have shown flashes of brilliance and the Rangers want both of them, especially Kakko, to start gaining more confidence and begin to show more of their potential. Kakko, the second overall pick in 2019, was really beginning to find his way before the season got stopped. He had a nice little breakout game, scoring two goal against the Stars, in a riveting game before the stoppage.
Chris Kreider will be healthy and that’s a huge return for the Rangers. Kreider brings an element of speed that the team just doesn’t have when he’s not on the ice. He’s a missile every time he’s out on the ice and he has great chemistry with Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Overall, the Rangers have a deadly forward group that knows how to score and their forwards will be very fun to watch during the playoffs. Look for rookie forward Vitali Kravtsov to make a big push to be on the play in/playoff roster.
Here’s a preview of what their forward lines could look like going into the play in series:
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Pavel Buchnevich
Artemiy Panarin – Ryan Strome – Jesper Fast
Phil Di Giuseppe – Filip Chytil – Kaapo Kakko
Vitali Kravtsov – Brett Howden – Julien Gauthier
The defense of the New York Rangers is most certainly a work in progress but they have some electrifying pieces to build around. Adam Fox, the rookie defenseman out of Harvard University, had hype building around him for quite some time and basically forced his way to the Rangers and to New York. This season, he put up 42 points (8 goals and 34 assists), good for 4th among all rookies and turned himself into the Rangers best defenseman at just 22 years old, Fox, who Rangers President John Davidson said reminds him of a modern day Sergei Zubov, will be one of the pieces that leads the Rangers blueline into the future. Fox was arguably the third best rookie defenseman in the league behind the Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes and the Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Maker.
Continuing our talk of young talented blueliners, Tony DeAngelo had a breakout season for the team as well. Although he is a controversial player off the ice, DeAngelo was a dynamite player for the Rangers this season. He was fourth on the team in scoring with 53 points in 68 games. DeAngelo showed once he put it all together that he could be one of the top scoring defenseman in the entire NHL and along with Fox, they have two absolutely dynamic defensemen on the back end. DeAngelo’s defining game this season was a five-point outburst against the New Jersey Devils, which included a hat trick.
Fox and DeAngelo had great seasons and put up really great point totals but the unsung hero of the Rangers blueline is Jacob Trouba. Trouba, who was traded to New York last offseason, signed a seven year, 56 million dollar deal with the Rangers. The deal basically handed the Rangers number one defenseman duties over to him and although he didn’t have 50 points like his last season in Winnipeg, he provided solid defense and took some of the harder assignments away from Fox and DeAngelo allowing them to have more space on the ice to grow their game. Trouba, still only 25 years old, will be with the Rangers a long time and will be looked at to be the backbone of the Rangers defense. Every team needs that workhorse guy and that’s Trouba. Look for him to up his offensive game more with a new defensive coach coming in in Gord Murphy.
Rounding out the defense is tough guy Ryan Lindgren who found excellent chemistry with Adam Fox, Marc Staal and Brenden Smith. Lindgren is a great young player but Staal and Smith clearly are not at the heights of their power anymore. The Rangers will have to be careful with how much those two see the ice. Lindgren has shown great shutdown potential. Here’s a preview of the Rangers defensive pairs going into the play-in/playoffs:
Brenden Smith – Jacob Trouba
Marc Staal – Tony DeAngelo
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox
The three-headed monster. The Rangers have an embarrassment of riches with their goaltending depth and each of the three can lead the team to win any single night. Leading the way is newly-minted franchise goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Shesterkin, picked in the fourth round in 2014, broke records in the KHL playing for SKA St. Petersberg and is a Gagarin Cup champion. He is only 24 years old and will make the transition from Henrik Lundqvist reign on Broadway quite easy. Shesterkin went 10-2 as a rookie after his call up from the Hartford Wolf Pack and put up a ridiculous .932 save percentage to go along with a 2.52 GAA. He’s the real deal and it’s his starting job to lose.
Behind him, and pushing for the job to start, is Alexandar Georgiev and of course the King, Henrik Lundqvist. Georgiev is a young and promising goalie and was nearly traded this season due to teams needed goaltending help and the Rangers having more than enough to give away. Georgiev has shown flashes of being able to be an NHL starter but he just isn’t as talented as Shesterkin. Lundqvist well… what needs to be said. He’s going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, he’s won everything a goalie can win except for the cup and you know he wants his starters job back. Lundqvist is a legend but getting past Shesterkin will be tough.
The Rangers are one of the most intriguing play in teams and they could very well make some noise with a talented crop of forwards, a young budding defense corps and a new young franchise goalie in net. It’s a fun time to be a Rangers fan.