The New York Rangers are set to begin the 2021-22 NHL season. At the helm is veteran head coach Gerard Gallant. He will have at his disposal a blend of elite NHL talent, rising young stars, and the long missing “hard to play against” factor.
Before the puck drops I wanted to put forth some bold predictions for the season.
Bold Predictions: Kaapo Kakko will score over 25 goals
This is a big year for Kaapo Kakko and expectations are high. Entering his third season, the 20 year-old #2 pick overall from the 2019 Draft realized he needed to make some changes.
“I was back in Finland, working out a little bit,” Kakko said at camp, almost like he was downplaying how much work he put in as he’s added between 7-10 pounds of muscle to his frame.
At 6-3 and 205 lbs, Kakko is physically no kid, despite his tender age. He also realized after two hard NHL seasons what it will take to compete.
“I think guys over here, they are bigger and stronger, so I need to be like the same level as those guys,” he admitted. “This is a big season for me. First season wasn’t so good, and last season was so different.”
Kakko finished the 2020-21 campaign with 17 points on the strength of 8 goals in 48 games. However, this season he’s on to a line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. It’s a big opportunity and he seems set on not wasting it.
Prediction: Kappo Kakko will score 27 goals and 58 points.
Alexis Lafrenière will break the 60 point mark
Lafrenière, 20, finished last year strong with 21 points in 56 games thanks to 13 of those points coming in the final 25 games of the season. Lafrenière also scored 8 of his 12 goals in the team’s final 23 games. That finish has new coach Gerard Gallant putting him on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
“He put in the work last season and this summer,” Zibanejad said during camp. “I feel like he’s allowing his skill set to come out even more now. I could see that just from the hour scrimmage. I’m super excited.”
Simply using his late season points per game average of .52 he is projected to score 42 points. If you account for playing a full season on the top line with adequate PP1 time, Lafrenière could easily score 60 points as a sophomore.
“I got a little faster, I would say that was the main thing. I lost a little bit of weight, and that helps, too,” Lafreniere said. “I learned a lot playing in mens, it’s really different than juniors. I had the chance to play with and against good players. That’s the big thing and I’ll keep working on that.”
Prediction: Lafreniere will score 21 goals and 41 assists for 62 points.
Artemi Panarin will win the Hart Trophy
Panarin has been one of the games top players for the last few seasons. In just 111 games since joining the Rangers, he has registered a staggering 153 points on the strength of 49 goals and 104 assists.
The Rangers leading scorer last season, scored 58 points in just 42 games. Panarin’s 1.38 points per game was third highest in the league as well. If you apply that to an 82 game season, Panarin would be in line for a 113 point campaign.
That may not be enough to beat Connor McDavid for the Art Ross Trophy, but when the Rangers make the playoffs this season, it will be enough to take the Hart Trophy home.
Prediction: Panarin wins League MVP
Mika Zibanejad will score 50 goals
“I don’t know if words will ever be enough to describe how I’m feeling right now,” a thrilled Mika said on Instagram after signing his extension. “The feeling of putting on the New York Rangers jersey is the biggest honour and I can’t believe I will get a chance to do that for another 8 years.”
In the last two seasons, Zibanejad has scored 65 goals and 125 points in 113 games. That’s good for a .575 goals per game clip which would be good for about 49 goals in a 82 game season.
This season, he will eclipse and score 50.
Zibanejad has recorded 434 points (200 goals, 234 assists) in 604 career games with the Senators (2011-16) and Rangers. He was selected by Ottawa with the sixth overall pick of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Prediction: Zibanejad scores 51 goals, leads NHL in PP goals
Gerard Gallant will lead Rangers to playoffs; win Jack Adams Award
“I’m excited to formally introduce and welcome Gerard Gallant to the New York Rangers,” Chris Drurys said at Gallant’s presser. “At the start of this process, I was looking for a coach with a proven track record and success at several levels. Turk (Gallant) checked all of those boxes.”
The 58 year-old boasts a career coaching record of 270-216-4-51 with a .550 winning percentage. In the playoffs he’s 18-15. This season, he will lead the Rangers to the playoffs and a third play finish in the Metro Division.
That will be good enough to get him the Jack Adams Award at the end of the year.
Prediction: Gallant wins Jack Adams as best course.
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