December 16, 2020

New York Rangers: Five key questions heading into the 2021 NHL season

Panarin scores with help from Chytil (Getty Images)

The much needed return of New York Rangers hockey is seemingly close. Rangerstown is bubbling with excitement and oozing with expectations about what to expect from their beloved hockey team. It would certainly behoove the Garden Faithful to temper their enthusiasm just a tad and let the process continue to play itself out.

With that said, let’s look at five key questions heading into the new season.

Filling the void left by Henrik Lundqvist

April 3rd, 2004 is a date of significance, as it was the last time the New York Rangers took the ice without Henrik Lundqvist as a current member of the hockey team. That contest, which took place over 16 years ago ironically in Lundqvist’s new home, Washington, was the final game of that forgetful 2003-04 season.

Lundqvist’s magnificence was not regulated to his play between the pipes, but also to his leadership off the ice and his stoicism in the locker room. “The King” was the face of the franchise and the foundation of a squad that made numerous, unforgettable playoff runs.

New York Rangers goalies
Georgiev(l) and Shesterkin(r) to lead NYR (Getty Images/FTHN Edit)

Sure, his level of play has slipped in recent years and the time had come for the Blueshirts and #30 to cut ties. But, the massive void left by Henrik’s departure will be difficult to fill and the loss of his leadership will be hard to overcome.

Igor Shesterkin and Alex Georgiev, have been given the reigns and will carry on the Rangers tradition of exceptional goaltending which dates back to their inception in 1926. If they can successfully fill the void, the Rangers will have a solid season.

How good will Alexis Lafreniere be?

“Out with the old and in with the new” as the saying goes. And boy do the Rangers have a shiny new toy to show off to the rest of the hockey world.

The number 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft, Alexis Lafreniere, is expected to make his NHL debut this season. What should Rangerstown expect from the 19 year old phenom? Well, even though scouts say Lafreniere is NHL ready and mature beyond his years, expectations need to simmer down.

Alexis Lafreniere upper deck
Alexis Lafreniere Upper Deck

The Garden Faithful felt en mass, that Kaapo Kakko would instantly play like Jari Kurri right out of the shoot. Instead, the number 2 selection in the 2019 NHL draft looked lost and overmatched for much of his rookie campaign.

Telling an impatient fan base to be patient is like holding back the ocean with a broom, but I will implore the Garden Faithful to pump the breaks just a bit and let number 13 grow into his adult skin before he gets enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The kid is good and we are about to learn how good soon.

Another big year for Adam Fox?

Of all the trades, draft selections and free agent acquisitions made by general manager Jeff Gorton over the last few years, Adam Fox could be his best. His acquiring of the rights to defenseman Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for second round draft picks was a steal.

Fox was a revelation in his rookie season. The Jericho Long Island native resembled a seasoned vet and a perennial All Star with his exquisite play during his first professional season. Fox was the team’s best overall defenseman. One can assume the Harvard alum will only continue to build on his impressive array of skill, talent and hockey sense. It would not be a shock to see Fox mentioned in the Norris Trophy conversation, consistently, for many years to come.

Can Filip Chytil step up?

About to embark on his 4th NHL season, Chytil, the 21st selection in the 2017 NHL draft, needs to prove to coach Quinn and his staff that he was worthy of being taken in the first round 3-plus years ago. Chytil has shown glimpses of high end talent during his Ranger career, but the highlight reel goals and jaw-dropping passes are more tantalizing than commonplace.

new york rangers rumors chytil
Filip Chytil (Getty Images)

Chytil has the size, speed, skating ability and scoring touch to truly be an effective player at the NHL level. However, his offensive zone inconsistency and defensive zone liabilities have prevented the native of the Czech Republic from earning substantial top-six ice time.

He is the type of player that can be the difference between the Rangers fighting for a playoff spot and battling for playoff positioning in the final few games of the upcoming season.

Will the New York Rangers Qualify for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Well my friends, the short answer is “they should”. While still raw and young and inexperienced in many areas, there is enough talent and veteran moxie on this roster to carry the Blueshirts to the post-season for the first time since 2017. Remember, they lost in the qualifying round of RTP, not the actual playoffs.

Artemi Panarin Rangers
Panarin (Getty Images)

Any team with a dynamic duo like Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin leading the way is to be taken seriously. But, there are question marks abound and the squad has a ton of work to do if they have aspirations of finishing the regular season with the proverbial check mark next to their name in the standings.

The onus is on David Quinn and his coaching staff to accelerate the development of the plethora of youngsters in his trust. Saying Quinn is on the hot seat entering just his third year of an elongated rebuild campaign is a bit over-zealous. However, the time has certainly come for this Rangers team to take the swim fins off and dive right into the deep end of the pool.

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