Record: 27-23-6 60 points – 5th Place in the MassMutual East Division
Playoffs: Did Not Qualify
F – Pavel Buchnevich, D – Brendan Smith, F – Colin Blackwell, Coach – David Quinn, F – Brett Howden
Coach – Gerard Gallant, F – Barclay Goodrow, F – Ryan Reaves, D – Patrik Nemeth, F – Sammy Blais, D – Jarred Tinordi, D – Nick DeSimone
In just over a month’s time, the NHL will be dropping the puck on opening night of the 2021-22 season. The New York Rangers are one of the most intriguing teams entering this season and had a controversial offseason to say the least. They enter this new season with a new coaching staff, a more experienced and tough bottom six forward group, a top-six forward group that features superstar winger Artemi Panarin, a defense led by 2021 Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox and fresh off a new contract extension: number one goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Let’s jump right in.
Before we get to the lineup analysis, the Rangers made a huge move this offseason by firing David Quinn and hiring Gerard Gallant as their new head coach. Gallant brings years of experience behind the bench and has coached in the Stanley Cup final, coming within three wins of the Cup during the 2017-18 season with the Vegas Golden Knights. Gallant is a huge upgrade over the former Boston University coach and will provide this up and coming group of Rangers with structure and a system designed to get the most out of their lineup. Gallant was the top free agent coach on the market and the pull of New York was too strong to resist.
Let’s tackle the forward group first. The Rangers forward group overall is a mix of skilled veterans, young players ready to bust out and some experienced grinder types that make life tough for their opponents on the ice. This summer, the Rangers traded forward Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues for Sammy Blais and a second round pick in 2022. Over his time with the Rangers, Buchnevich turned himself into a staple of their top-six forward group. He developed his offensive instincts over his five seasons in New York while also learning to become a two-way force as he got older. Buchnevich was traded from the Rangers for a few reasons.
The first reason is cap space. The Rangers have some important contract decisions coming up with Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox’s extensions looming. They also want to be open in case an elite center, like Jack Eichel, can be acquired. Salary cap space is one of the best weapons to have in the NHL today, especially with the flat cap, so you can be assured this was a huge factor in the Buchnevich trade. Secondly, both Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov are two of the young stars that need more and consistent ice time. Kakko, the second overall pick in the 2019 draft, has had an up and down first two seasons in New York. His first season, he was one of the top five worst defensive forwards in the league according to analytical models. His second season though, he was rated as high as the second best overall defensive forward in the league behind Calgary’s Andrew Mangiapane, according to analytical models. Kakko took a huge step forward in his development last year and now with a coach like Gerard Gallant who will put him in more positions to succeed, the offense will come.
Vitali Kravtsov is in a similar position to Kakko. He was the Rangers top pick in the 2018 draft and he had a so-so rookie year but the important thing is he didn’t look out of place. Kravtsov getting a top-six role and getting to play with any combination of Alexis Lafreniere, Panarin, Zibanejad, Kakko or Ryan Strome will help unleash his offensive instincts at the NHL level… or so the Rangers hope. They are betting a lot on their two young studs at right wing. Thirdly, the Rangers and their new management led by General Manager Chris Drury made it a point to get tougher to play against this offseason. Sammy Blais is the type of guy that this Rangers lineup needs. He’s fast, tough, goes to the dirty areas of the ice and has Stanley Cup winning experience. Blais might not be liked right now by Rangers fans but with his style of play the New York faithful may just come around. Barclay Goodrow, signed to a six-year deal with a 3.6 million AAV, and Ryan Reaves, acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, each bring a tough, grinding type play to the bottom six and Goodrow has two Stanley Cup rings. He knows how to win. It is the Rangers’ hope that these new, grittier acquisitions will compliment their fast and skilled top six forward group.
Moving on from the Buchnevich fallout, the Rangers will also be counting on 2020 first overall pick, Alexis Lafreniere, to bust out and show exactly why he was one of the most dominant athletes in CHL history. Lafreniere had a slow start to his first NHL season but towards the end of the season he began to catch fire as the Rangers played down the stretch. Analytically, he’s already shown he can drive offense at the NHL level. He’s 19 years old. He’s going to be the face of the franchise in a city craving it’s first Stanley Cup in almost 30 years. There’s obviously huge pressure on the kid’s shoulders but Lafreniere is a player who thrives on the pressure and is going to be a can’t miss player in the league for years to come. A full season of playing alongside Mika Zibanejad will do wonders for him. The last big storyline for the forward group is Chris Kreider learning to accept his role as a dominant third line player. When he was signed to a massive extension during the 2019-20 season, former GM Jeff Gorton didn’t have any idea he would be getting Lafreniere in that year’s draft. Kreider is now the third best left winger on his team. Lafreniere and Panarin are far more skilled than Kreider. Kreider will now need to put some pride aside and use his speed and size to create chaos on a third line with young center Filip Chytil and Goodrow that can hound opponents. Kreider can be a nice secret weapon on the Rangers third line. Now, let’s move onto the defense.
Any discussion of the New York Rangers defense begins with Adam Fox. Fox, the reigning Norris Trophy winner is one of the best defenseman in the NHL. In just his second season in the league he won the best award a defenseman can win beating out the likes of Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman and Colorado’s Cale Makar. He can control the play at both ends of the ice. He creates offensive chances better than almost any other defenseman in the league. He can quarterback the hell out of a power-play and he plays hard night in and night out. Fox is going to be a star defenseman for years to come and the Rangers are lucky to have found one of the key ingredients needed to win a Stanley Cup: a dominant number one defenseman.
Teaming with Fox this season should be fellow young defenseman, K’Andre Miller. Miller, as a rookie, got votes for the Calder Trophy and looked pretty impressive at times during the season. He of course had his bumps but he rarely ever left the top four of the Rangers defense. He mostly teamed with Jacob Trouba during the year but this season he should ascend to the left left defense spot next to Adam Fox on the Rangers top pair. Miller’s size and Fox’s skill will be a really impressive pair on defense and then Ryan Lindgren and Jacob Trouba can be the second pair who will be a more physical presence. That leaves the Rangers third pair which will be made up of two newcomers to the squad. Swedish defenseman Patrik Nemeth was signed this offseason to provide stability on the third pair but the real story is who will be played the right side on the third pair. Nils Lundkvist, the reigning SHL defenseman of the year, will be joining the Rangers this season. He is regarded as one of the top defense prospects in all of hockey and one of the best players outside of the NHL. Lundkvist and Fox will be manning the Rangers’ two power-play units for years to come. Lundkvist has great on-ice IQ, a sneakily good shot and has already proven himself against men in Europe. Lundkvist’s rookie season is going to be very interesting to watch and he could be in the conversation for the Calder Trophy if he can carve out a role on the power-play. The Rangers defense is still growing but they are already pretty solid.
Finally we get to the goaltenders and really, this one is simple. It’s Igor Shesterkin’s net. He just signed a five-year extension and despite some early struggles this season he settled down and proved himself enough that the Rangers are willing to bet he is the guy to lead them in their Stanley Cup chase the next five years. Alexandar Georgiev, who has reportedly requested a trade, will be the backup and if he does get traded Keith Kinkaid is waiting in the wings. Bottom line: Shesterkin is good and the Rangers will go as far as he takes them.
Alexis Lafreniere — Mika Zibanejad — Kaapo Kakko
Artemi Panarin — Ryan Strome — Vitali Kravtsov
Chris Kreider — Filip Chytil — Barclay Goodrow
Sammy Blais — Kevin Rooney — Ryan Reaves
K’Andre Miller — Adam Fox
Ryan Lindgren — Jacob Trouba
Patrik Nemeth — Nils Lundkvist