The Rangers made some big changes this offseason. What should we expect from the team on the ice this year?
The offseason has come and gone and it’s almost time for New York Rangers hockey. The offseason wasn’t long, but the Rangers are going to look like a pretty different team when they take the ice on Wednesday against the Washington Capitals.
In the shortened 2021 season, the Rangers didn’t benefit from a league-wide division realignment. They failed to make the playoffs, but it could’ve been a different story had they not found themselves in the toughest division in the league.
The Rangers preceded shaking up their roster by shaking up the front office. In a surprise move, the organization fired president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton at the beginning of May.
Once the season came to an end, they parted ways with head coach David Quinn, as well. Chris Drury was promoted to president and general manager and one of his first moves was to hire the veteran Gerard Gallant as the new coach.
Drury went on to make some big roster changes, especially after the organization was disappointed with the way the team was “pushed around” by the Capitals and rival New York Islanders.
The bottom-six is going to look quite different, we’ll be seeing a lot more of the kids, and some new faces have joined a strong defensive group.
The playoffs are a realistic goal for this Rangers team, so what are the expectations of the players?
With the Rangers’ newfound forward depth, the role of guys like Morgan Barron won’t be straightforward or necessarily clear. The injury that Ryan Reaves suffered against the New Jersey Devils last week makes the situation even more confusing.
If he is unable to begin the season with the team, then someone like Barron will have a chance. And boy does he deserve it.
The big center has stood out during training camp and has the potential to be an important bottom-six player for the Rangers whenever he does play.
What’s expected of one of the organization’s top prospects?
The Rangers as well as the fanbase will just hope that the 22-year-old continues to develop well, as he has been doing, whether it’s in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack, on Broadway with the big team, or both.
When the Rangers dealt Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues during the offseason, fans were not particularly excited to see Sammy Blais head the other way.
The 25-year-old LW has had a rough start to his NHL career, scoring 17 goals and 35 points in 119 games spanning four years. He hasn’t done much of anything well thus far in his career and has been described as a fourth-line enforcer.
However, he’s looking to start a new chapter in New York. Blais has arguably been one of the team’s most impressive players throughout training camp, showing that he’s capable of playing a physical game but of scoring, as well.
If he can bring that element of physicality and solid defense to the fourth line where he’ll likely start while also putting up points, this could end up being a sneaky-good pickup for the Rangers.
Be on the lookout for a breakout year from Filip Chytil. Chytil has improved significantly year by year since the Rangers drafted him in 2017 and he has the potential to have a career-year in his age-22 season.
His situation was fuzzy towards the end of last season heading into the offseason. A natural centerman, Chytil has looked better on the wings at times than down the middle and the Rangers had seriously considered moving him.
However, it looks like Gallant and the front office would like to continue to develop him as a center, at least for the time being.
Chytil will likely spend most of the season as the team’s 3C and will benefit from an upgrade in linemates who will hopefully help take his game to the next level.
Chytil needs to take another big step forward in his game this season or the Rangers might begin to seek out an upgrade at his position.
Julien Gauthier finds himself in a similar situation to Morgan Barron. He could end up becoming one of the team’s odd forwards out, but could benefit from his teammates, such as Ryan Reaves, missing time.
Gauthier, who will be 24 years old next week, was never given a fair chance to show what he’s capable of under David Quinn, playing infrequently and not being given good chunks of ice time.
We’ve seen the potential, however, and he’s capable of being an impactful bottom-sixer if he can improve his scoring and manage to stay out of the penalty box.
Gallant has always liked big, strong forwards like Gauthier, and the RW will have the chance to succeed on this Rangers team. The fact that he’s looked so good in training camp only strengthens his case, too.
RW Barclay Goodrow was the Rangers’ big signing of the offseason, so expectations are going to be understandably high for him. Before setting those expectations, however, we must understand what kind of a player Goodrow is.
The 28-year-old is a middle-six defense-first forward. He won’t score at a high rate, but is one of the best defensive forwards in the game.
Goodrow did score a respectable 20 points in 55 games last season, but that can probably be attributed to the fact that he played on an elite line on the best team in the NHL.
It’s unlikely that Goodrow will do much scoring on the Rangers, but we can expect him to be one of the best defensive forwards on the team, bring a lot of physicality, and play a significant role on the penalty kill.
He should be one of the team’s most transformational middle-/bottom-six pieces.
LW Dryden Hunt is another intriguing depth signing for the Rangers. Like Morgan Barron and Julien Gauthier, Hunt likely won’t be a regular in the Rangers lineup, barring an injury.
However, we should expect him to take full advantage of whatever chance he’s given. The 25-year-old LW has just 89 NHL games under his belt, but he’s been an excellent defensive forward when he has played.
He hasn’t done much offensively in his limited playing time, but that could easily change if he’s given more games. Hunt is an interesting player to watch for under Gallant and should have some type of impact on this team.
After one of the worst rookie seasons in NHL history, RW Kaapo Kakko became one of the best two-way forwards in the league in his sophomore campaign. Kakko has figured it out defensively and is expected to break out offensively in his third season.
The 20-year-old also looks like he’s grown during the offseason, something that should terrify opponents.
Now that Buchnevich is gone, Kakko might just be the team’s best and most important RW as well as one of, if not the, best two-way forward.
The former second overall pick is a cornerstone piece of this franchise and should tear it up in all situations: offensively, defensively, on the man-advantage, and on the penalty kill.
You can’t talk about promising RW on the Rangers without talking about Vitaly Kravtsov.
Kravtsov’s journey to the NHL was far from smooth and we saw his play decline over that time, but he picked up his game before being called over to make his NHL debut in March.
Kravtsov scored just four points in 20 NHL games, but he looked like he belonged and showed a great deal of promise.
A full-on breakout season might be an unreasonable expectation for the 21-year-old, but he’s going to get some big minutes and could eventually earn a long-term role in the team’s top-six.
Fans should be incredibly excited to see what Kravtsov can do in his first full season in the NHL.
The longest-tenured New York Ranger, Chris Kreider is in for one of the more interesting seasons of his career. For one, there’s a very realistic chance that he is named team captain this season.
Secondly, his role on the team might be somewhat of a question. Kreider has spent the last few seasons as the Rangers’ primary top-line LW. However, he’s now competing with the young Alexis Lafrenière and superstar Artemiy Panarin.
Panarin will likely retain his spot on the second line and it seems like Gallant is going to want Lafrenière to serve in that top line role. That leaves two options for Kreider: he will either serve as the team’s 3LW or be moved to RW.
It looks like Gallant wants to try out the latter option before moving Kreider to the bottom-six. Kreider is coming off a good all-around season, but will he be able to do the same either as a RW or on the third line?
Regardless of how he’s used, Kreider is going to be expected to do big things if the Rangers hope to go far.
Alexis Lafrenière is another Rangers youngster who’s poised to have a big year. The 2020 first overall pick had a rough start to his rookie campaign, but grew and looked more comfortable as the season progressed.
Lafrenière struggled defensively, but had an overall good offensive season, scoring 12 goals and 21 points in 56 games.
He spent most of the season on the Rangers’ third line but, as we mentioned above, he’ll likely see a lot of playing time as the team’s top LW.
Lafrenière ended the 2021 season on a high note, so he’ll be expected to pick up right where he left off and continue to improve his game at both ends of the ice.
There isn’t too much to say about the best LW on the planet. Artemiy Panarin is the face of the Rangers, their best player, and one of the best players in the NHL.
His second season on Broadway wasn’t the smoothest: he missed some time after facing accusations of assault by a Russian coach. However, he still averaged over a point per game and carried New York’s offense, scoring 58 points in 42 games.
He’ll be expected to continue to score at an incredibly high rate and anchor down the team’s top-six as well as their PP1.
Expectations for Ryan Reaves in his first season with the Rangers match his skill-set. No longer able to do much offensively or defensively, the 34-year-old enforcer was brought to New York for his toughness, grit, and positive locker room presence.
Unfortunately, the ugly leg injury Reaves suffered in the preseason might see him miss opening night and maybe even more.
Regardless of how good of a hockey player he will be, Reaves will surely be fun to watch this season on the Rangers’ fourth line.
Kevin Rooney will reclaim his role as the Rangers’ 4C in his second season on Broadway. Rooney is an underwhelming player who was overused by David Quinn last season.
He’s a mediocre defensive centerman who brings almost nothing to the table offensively.
The fact that he can hold his own in his own zone is the reason he’s going to be in the team’s starting lineup on opening night. But can he keep his job throughout the season?
Ryan Strome is coming to prove that he wasn’t a one-season wonder. Strome followed up his 59-point 2020 season by scoring 49 in 56 last season.
There’s no denying that Strome benefits from playing alongside Panarin, but he’s played incredibly well and solidified his place as the team’s primary 2C as well as on the PP1.
It’s funny how expectations change within the span of a year. Heading into last season, Strome was expected to fall back down to earth and not have nearly as strong a season as he did the year before.
However, he was one of the team’s best offensive players and now expectations for him heading into his third full season in New York are high.
A likely line of Panarin-Strome-Kakko is expected to do big things and Strome will have to be at the top of his game in order for that to happen.
The last forward we’ll be looking at is none other than Mika Zibanejad.
The team’s bona fide 1C has been one of the best Rangers over the past few seasons, although it took him some time to get going in 2021 after dealing with COVID-19 in the offseason.
Zibanejad ended the season, however, as one of the hottest players in hockey and should pick up where he left off.
His future with the team is unclear at the moment, as he’s on an expiring contract and the Rangers are rumored to be in on Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, but Zibanejad’s focus this season will be on playing the best hockey that he can and leading the Rangers to the playoffs.
RHD Adam Fox won the Norris Trophy in 2021 and should be expected to play as well as he looks to defend his title.
Fox scored a whopping 47 points in 55 games last season, was amazing in his own zone, quarterbacked the Rangers’ power play, and was one of their most important penalty killers.
We can expect Fox to be one of the team’s top scorers, once again, while leading that blueline as one of the best defensemen in the game.
Fox’s linemate, Ryan Lindgren, continues to improve each year. Lindgren obviously benefits from playing alongside the best defenseman in hockey, but he’s been great for the Rangers.
After all, he and Fox were one of the best defensive pairings in the entire league in 2021.
Lindgren is a fantastic defensive defenseman, but he even took a stride in his offensive game last year, scoring a career-high 16 points in 51 games.
Lindgren will head into the 2021-22 season as the Rangers’ top LHD, once again, and should have another successful season while maybe even improving offensively.
The last couple of years of waiting have finally paid off. Star RHD prospect Nils Lundkvist has finally arrived and will likely open the season on the Rangers’ third defensive pairing.
Lundkvist is a rookie and will be the only Ranger making his NHL debut on opening night.
Although he has been amazing while playing in the SHL and was one of the top prospects in hockey, setting sky-high expectations for the 21-year-old out of the gate might not be fair.
However, because Lundkvist has done nothing but impress since a young age, he will be expected to show glimpses of all that talent. The offensively and defensively skilled Lundkvist should have a strong rookie campaign.
Heading into his rookie season, LHD K’Andre Miller was one of the Rangers’ top prospects. Although he didn’t look out of place in 2021, he didn’t really have the season that fans expected of him.
Miller made mistakes in his own zone often, but the potential is there and we saw it on multiple occasions. Miller says that he had a good offseason and that’s evident in how he’s performed at training camp.
An improvement in his play should be expected, especially if his linemate, Jacob Trouba, can stay healthy throughout the season. Miller suffered arguably more than anyone from his absence.
Miller’s biggest strengths are his size, stick, and skating so as long as he uses these traits to his advantage, he should be in good shape.
Nils Lundkvist will be accompanied by a face that’s new to New York, but certainly not to the NHL. One of the best defensive defensemen in the league over the past few seasons, Patrik Nemeth was one of the Rangers’ best moves of the offseason.
He helps improve an already-solid defensive group that needed some depth in its bottom pairing.
Nemeth will not only make the defense better, but he’ll be a welcome addition to the penalty kill and should be a great mentor to his fellow countryman, the rookie Lundkvist.
Another leading candidate for the captaincy, Jacob Trouba proved just how important he is to his team after breaking his thumb in the last several weeks of the season.
He hasn’t been the flashiest player since joining the Rangers, but the stability he provided and the impact he apparently had became quite evident once he was absent from the lineup.
His linemate Miller, as well as the defense in general, took a step back and didn’t look nearly as strong during the final chunk of the season.
Trouba is an important veteran in the defense as well as the team as a whole and should have a strong season offensively as well as defensively in 2021.
Alexandar Georgiev has proven that he can be one of the best backup goaltenders in the NHL and that’s about it. When the Rangers have had to rely on Georgiev to start multiple games at a time, the results haven’t usually been great.
At this point in his career, Georgiev has shown that he probably isn’t able to be a regular starter in the league, but can get it done as a backup, and a great one at that.
The goal this season should be for Georgiev to be used strictly as a backup, where he should succeed.
The only thing that’s prevented Igor Shesterkin from being considered one of the best goaltenders in the league since making his NHL debut is the fact that he’s had trouble staying healthy.
If he can put together a full season in 2021, he has the potential to be a Vezina Trophy finalist. If the Rangers do make the playoffs, Shesterkin will be a key reason why.
The heir to Henrik Lundqvist’s throne hasn’t disappointed yet and the Rangers will be in good hands with him in net for years to come.