3 biggest challenges facing Peter Laviolette with Rangers
The New York Rangers apparently deliberated and perseverated for weeks before finally naming Peter Laviolette the 37th head coach in franchise history.
At 58 years of age and 21 NHL seasons behind the bench, Laviolette was the most logical choice to lead this group of Stanley Cup contenders after dismissing Gerard Gallant. His career coaching mark of 752-503-25-150 during the regular season and playoff record of 78-76 certainly factored in the decision. Plus, he’s taken three different teams to the Stanley Cup Finals. Most recently, the Nashville Predators in 2017, Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, and Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 winning his only title.
Wherever he goes, Laviolette usually gets the best out of his star players and that’s a must here with the Blueshirts. Let’s breakdown some of the obvious challenges he faces in 2023-24.
Challenges facing Peter Laviolette
We all know that Laviolette was brought here to capture the Stanley Cup and not to win a round or two. Calling that out as a challenge would be a disservice to anyone reading this.
Of course, winning a Cup is due to several things that need to happen in order for that dream to become a reality. Here’s what Laviolette will need to do.
1. Unlocking the full potential of Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko
There’s no question that the Rangers have some big contracts eating up precious cap space. That’s why it’s beyond imperative for Laviolette to unlock the full potential of both Lafreniere and Kakko.
The Blueshirts need the first overall pick in 2020 and the second overall selection in 2019 to finally breakout.
It’s unlikely that GM Chris Drury will be able to re-sign Vladimir Tarasenko or Patrick Kane. That means Kakko should be moved up to either first or second line right wing. The 22 year-old forward posted a career-high 18 goals and 40 points last season looking ready to take the next step.
The bigger challenge for Laviolette may be Lafreniere. After scoring 19 goals in his sophomore season, he dropped to 16 last year. For his career, Lafreniere has posted just 91 points in 216 regular-season games. That’s a .42 points per game average, which is only good for 8th regarding first-round picks in his draft class (min 50 games played).
If Laviolette hopes to be successful on Broadway, a lot will ride on how these two prized picks perform.
2. Cleaning up the middle of the ice
I don’t care if Artemi Panarin scores 100 points and Mika Zibanejad nets 50 goals, if the Rangers refuse to play defense they’re going nowhere in the playoffs.
Last season, the Rangers were pretty good defensively but still allowed too many high-danger chances from the middle of the ice. It helps to have a goaltender like Igor Shesterkin to make your defensive stats look better on paper.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers allowed 840 high dangers chances against last season. Only seven teams were worse and the company is pretty bleak. The Anaheim Ducks, Montreal Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Islanders, and St. Louis Blues. Outside of the Isles, the rest were lottery teams.
Regardless of that fact, the Rangers allowed the fourth fewest goals during the 2022-23 season (219) thanks to Shesterkin and Jaroslav Halak. Now imagine their numbers if all 5 guys played a little more defense in front of them?
That’s what Laviolette has to get them to commit to.
3. Make regular-season Panarin translate to playoff Panarin
Panarin has led the Rangers in regular-season scoring every year since he joined the club in 2019. However, the highest-paid player on the team had just two assists in their 7 game first-round loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Coming into this last postseason, Panarin was looking to atone for a less than stellar playoffs the year before. In 20 postseason games, he recorded only 16 points but did score the OT winner in Game 7 versus the Pittsburgh Penguins to complete a 3-1 series comeback.
Laviolette is considered one of the game’s best motivators behind the bench. He will need to dig deep into Panarin come playoff time and get the most out of him. When it comes to winning the Stanley Cup, you’re best players need to be you’re best players.