New York Rangers rebuild is over; they’re ready to be playoff contenders

By Julia Capitelli
new york rangers prospects
May 8, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafrenire (13) celebrates his goal at the bench with defenseman Anthony Bitetto (22) during the third period of their 5-4 win over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

New York Rangers rebuild is officially over. New President and General Manager Chris Drury has said it. The players are preparing for it. The fans are ready for it. Playoffs or bust on Broadway.

The 2020-21 season was anything but ordinary. The team was thrown into one rough situation after another, but they never quit. After a few seasons of rebuilding and collecting young talent, the Rangers organization has reached a point where they are ready to head back to the playoffs. This has become even more clear after the firing of President John Davidson and General Manager Jeff Gorton. James Dolan is done with the rebuild.

It all falls on Chris Drury to move things forward; faster.

New York Rangers rebuild: Chris Drury’s jigsaw puzzle

Throughout the Rangers rebuild, Chris Drury has been an important part of the front office and has worked closely with Jeff Gorton. Now the Rangers have become primarily his project, and he has some questions to answer. This is a team with a few stars and some future stars, a limited veteran presence, and a wonderful pool of young talent. Prior to the Rangers’ game against the Bruins to close out the season, Drury spoke about finding everyone’s role. This has been an area of some concern this season as players were moved up and down the lineup quite often. On a team with players in different stages of their career all working towards the same goal, it is important to understand how they all fit together.

rangers rebuild
Apr 23, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the New York Rangers celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at 9:24 of the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Drury has hinted at a few more possible changes coming this offseason, but has clearly stated that the rebuild is over. The Rangers are at a point where they have a group that they can develop together into a contender. It’s just a matter of figuring out where everyone fits. With all of the different lineup combinations that have been experimented with this past season, not every player exactly has a defined role yet. Obviously it is clear what Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin are supposed to do for the team. But for players like Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafrenière, and Filip Chytil it may not be so simple. Winning teams have a job for everyone and everyone understands theirs. Drury has a plan to make this true of the Rangers. That’s a winning formula.

The most pressing question has just been answered as David Quinn has been relieved of his coaching duties along with his staff. Quinn does deserve credit with what he’s been able to do with young players like Lanfrenière and Kakko. However, the organization clearly feels he is not the coach the Rangers need going forward. The organization has made it clear that the goal for next season is to make the playoffs. It’s possible that Drury, along with James Dolan, would prefer to have a more experienced coach in place in order to give the team a better chance to win. Additionally, the team requires a bit of stability for success. Quinn tends to shuffle the lines often, even several times within a game. Players are not going to have immediate chemistry, rather they require more time playing with the same people to make something happen.

Adversity has shaped the Rangers this season

From the Tony DeAngelo drama to the Artemi Panarin incident to the Tom Wilson fiasco to the abrupt front office changes, the Rangers have grown a lot this season. Throughout the various extraordinary events the team experienced this year, there was a common theme. Many players have spoken about how they grew closer overall. Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome are just a few who have emphasize this idea. After three years of having a fluctuating roster, the Rangers are finally reaching a point of stability. They are not just comfortable with each other, they have achieved a sense of family and community.

The Rangers could easily have been discouraged and deflated by the incidents of this season. But they weren’t. Not even a physical altercation between two of their own teammates stopped them. This was just the first obstacle they faced. There was a long stretch where they were without Artemi Panarin, but others stepped up in his absence. When Tom Wilson essentially attacked Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers responded. They stood up for each other. Regardless of their having lost both of those games against the Capitals, they came away from the second one feeling like they had accomplished something. They were proud of their response to adversity. This team saw a lot this season, and it clearly made them stronger as a group. They’re ready to take on the challenge of the playoffs next year.

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