New York Rangers 2023-24 season preview
Despite a sub-par preseason (1-5-0), the New York Rangers have high expectations for the 2023-24 NHL season. The Rangers expect to battle the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils for first place in the Metropolitan Division and they should be in the mix to contend for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
No matter what the Rangers accomplish in the regular season, though, they’ll be judged on their postseason success. And it’s not out of the question to think the Rangers could make their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2014 nor win the Cup for the first time since 1994.
However, April and June are a long way off. Let’s break down the positives and negatives for the Rangers heading to the new season, which kicks off Thursday night in Buffalo against the Sabres.
New York Rangers have numerous positives ahead of 2023-24 NHL season
The Rangers have star power throughout their lineup, making them one of the most talented teams in the NHL. From a Vezina Trophy winner (Igor Shesterkin) in goal to a Norris Trophy winner (Adam Fox) on defense and 90-point scorers (Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad) up front, the Rangers are loaded.
It also looks like defenseman K’Andre Miller and forwards Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko are prepared to take another big step in their development. The way rookie Will Cuylle forced his way on to the roster with a strong preseason is encouraging.
“It feels great,” Cuylle said on Sunday. “I accomplished my goal to make the team, so I’m happy.”
Rangers general manager Chris Drury added some veteran skill and grit this summer by signing Blake Wheeler, Nick Bonino and Tyler Pitlick, plus others, like Alex Belzile who’s in Hartford, as depth options.
And we didn’t even mention reliable veterans like captain Jacob Trouba, defenseman Ryan Lindgren and forwards Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck and Barclay Goodrow.
That’s a pretty darn good lineup. Then there’s the new coach, Peter Laviolette, a Stanley Cup winner who’ll bring structure and a strong in-game reputation to the Rangers.
Finally, the Rangers are super motivated after being bounced by the Devils in the first round of the playoffs last spring. It may not have looked like it in the preseason, but these players feel the need to prove themselves this season and understand that the clock is ticking on the core group.
“We believe in this room we have the ability to contend for a Stanley Cup,” Trocheck said in September. “The leadership, coaching staff, and management believes that too.”
New York Rangers must navigate some negatives in 2023-24 NHL season
As we saw in the preseason, it’s going to take more than a couple weeks of training camp for the Rangers to fully adapt to Laviolette’s new systems and style of play.
This is not dissimilar to 2013 when many called for Alain Vigneault’s job after the Rangers struggled to implement his more open style of play after several seasons with John Tortorella behind the bench. As you likely remember, the Rangers figured it out and took off in the second half of the season, reaching the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.
There’s got to be concern about Alexis Lafreniere’s development. There was so much focus on him taking the next step this season amid a switch to right wing. And he simply did not play well in the preseason. The No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft must be better than a 39-point player, which was his NHL career high last season.
Goalie Jonathan Quick is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and on paper seems like a nice complement to Shesterkin. But his play has been trending downward and he was not very good with the Kings last season. How he adapts to being a No. 2 from the start of the season for the first time in his career will be worth watching closely. Quick needs to be solid over 25 or so starts this season.
New York’s special teams were a mess in the preseason, in fact the power play was 1-for-21 in six games, worst in the League. But the Rangers return the same personnel that had the No. 7 ranked PP and 13th-best penalty kill last season, so, hopefully, they’ll find their groove in the regular season.
“The first part of camp, you’re focused on the 5-on-5 play and not so much the [special teams],” Laviolette explained after the preseason play ended. “These guys have been together (on the PP) so there’s a little more rhythm. The penalty kill is a bit new and different, so they’re figuring it out.”
The New York Rangers will not be Metropolitan Division champions in 2023-24
The top three teams in the Metropolitan Division seem clear. The only question is in what order the Rangers, Hurricanes and Devils will finish. A deciding factor could be which team remains the most healthy and/or has the most success head to head against the other two.
The Hurricanes have had the most prolonged success; the Devils were 7-0-0 in the preseason and are the fastest-rising team with incredible trove of young talent; and the Rangers have the best goalie of the three teams and are certainly talented enough to finish first.
Last season, six points separated the first-place Hurricanes from the third-place Rangers. It’s going to be a similar spread in 2023-24 but it says here the Devils finish first and the Hurricanes grab second place by one point over the Rangers, who finish only five points behind the Devils.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have flaws but they’re the best of the rest in the Metro, so should finish fourth. They’ll battle for a wild card spot in what could be the last real push made by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson.
There’s a drop off after the Penguins and likely the Washington Capitals, if they can remain healthier than last season, are the next best team. Pencil them in for fifth place as Alex Ovechkin continues his assault on the all-time goals record.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, 31st in the NHL last season, will make the biggest jump in the division, push the Capitals for fifth place and finish sixth. The New York Islanders will fall back a couple spots into seventh place and the Philadelphia Flyers will occupy the cellar.
Predicted order of finish in Metropolitan Division:
1. New Jersey Devils
2. Carolina Hurricanes
3. New York Rangers
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Washington Capitals
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
7. New York Islanders
8. Philadelphia Flyers