New York Rangers season in review: Rookie debuts, surprises, disappointments, and more

By Frank Curto
rangers cap situation
Apr 25, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers is surrounded by teammates after he scored a hat trick in the second period against the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden on April 25, 2021 in New York City. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers season ended on Saturday in Boston. To say this season was unusual is an understatement. With this conclusion comes various reasons why the Blueshirts will be watching playoff hockey instead of participating in the postseason.

New York Rangers season in review: Goaltending

The team struggled with consistency from the onset of the season and never seemed to find its stride as a cohesive unit until March. The goaltending of Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev started out slow in the opening weeks of this season and never found a good rhythm throughout the year. Keith Kinkaid played more games than he had thought with the inconsistencies Georgiev battled.

Poor goaltending has been something this organization has been lucky to avoid over the last 20 years. Benoit Allaire and the coaching staff will need to work with Shesterkin and presumably Georgiev to get them ready for next season. Yet the goaltending issues could have been isolated a bit more had the problems on the offensive side of the ice been brought under control in a timely matter.

Veteran Forwards

Let’s start with Mika Zibanejad who had a miserable start to the season. Some of his poor play was post-Covid related, which caused a slump that took entirely too long to snap out of. He managed just two goals and five points in the team’s first 20 games of the season. In those same 20 games, the team recorded eight wins. This team has been known to win and lose on the shoulders’ of its number one center, and it was never more evident than at the beginning of the season.

In his final Zoom presser of the year, Zibanejad acknowledged his struggles and they way he fought through it,

“Just to end the season the way I did was obviously a huge confidence boost. With everything that was going on right before the season and the first six weeks – I’m happy I was able to bounce back and get through it and I think just be able to prove that to myself but also just take that with me,” Mika explained. “This year has been crazy, obviously. I don’t think I’m going to have any situation tougher than it was this start of the season at least.”

new york rangers
Mar 2, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) (second from left) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Buffalo Sabres at 2:13 of the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett-POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Kreider didn’t do much better except for a period of nine games when Artemi Panarin took a leave of absence for personal reasons. The 30-year-old right-winger has been a streaky player his entire career. This season confirmed that again. Although his stats look good on paper, in some of the clutch games down the stretch he couldn’t find the back of the net, especially 5 on 5.

He netted 20 goals along with 30 points in 50 games, but they came mostly early in the year. In his first 20 games, Kreider found the back of the net 10 times recording 12 points. In the following 30 games, he only scored 10 goals. During this stretch, he went nine consultive games without a goal and only scored three goals in the final 12 games of the season.

Kreider missed the last six games of the season due to a lower back issue. Chris Kreider said getting injured at the time of year that he did was “one of the most frustrating things that I’ve ever dealt with in my pro career,” via the New York Post.

Artemi Panarin is the heart and soul of this team, but the nine games he missed probably cost the team a great chance at a playoff spot. There is no way to measure just how important he is to the club. The Breadman only appeared in 42 games this season recording 41 assists with 58 points. He had 18 multi-point games this season.

Ryan Strome proved this year he can play with anyone. His scoring and playmaking ability was displayed regardless of who his wingers were on any given night. When he played next to Panarin, the two give the team their best chance to win games. He was rewarded for his hard work by getting the “A” during the team’s final few games of the season.

Pavel Buchnevich had his finest year in New York. Scoring goals, defending his teammates, and becoming a fan favorite is what the organization had been waiting to see from him. His fifth year in the NHL, all with the Rangers proved he is capable of leading the team every night. His 20 goals and 48 points were fourth in team scoring and he was second on the team in goals scored only behind Zibanejad (24).

Improved Defense

Adam Fox led the defense corps this season. He has been in the Norris Trophy conversation for most of the season and his skill and leadership on the ice will eventually lead to the captaincy in my opinion. He was named the team’s MVP on Monday and alongside Ryan Lindgren (the Players Player Award Winner) the two will continue to control the game from the blue line.

Jacob Trouba and Brendan Smith were essential to the team’s development of the young rookie defenseman throughout the bumpy season. Smith took charge at the of the season when the team had many injuries to deal with. He was also the chosen one to fight Capitals forward Tom Wilson after the Panarin injury and with that tilt earned the admiration of his teammates and the Garden crowd.

The Rangers large amount of rookies

The rookies and kids were exciting to watch and took such long strides in this shortened season. Roommates K’Andre Miller and Alexis Lafreniere found their games at different times and though they did have their problems at times, they both proved why they were first round picks in their respective draft seasons.

The Rangers had seven players make their NHL debuts this season. Alexis Lafrenière, K’Andre Miller, Tarmo Reunanen, Vitali Kravtsov, Zac Jones, Morgan Barron, and Justin Richards all made their NHL debuts this season in that order. That’s a lot of learning on the fly, but the players held their own which is very promising for next season.

Rangers Management and Change

chris drury
Mar 17, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers associate general manager Chris Drury works the bench during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden. Due to the NHL COVID-10 protocol, the Rangers coaching staff were not available for tonights game. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

The head coach situation may be the toughest one for Gm Chris Drury to figure out. David Quinn just finished up his third season behind the bench and had plenty of adversity to deal with, some of which was by his own actions.

He had trouble trusting line combinations he put out on the ice, tending to change things as soon as it looked like things weren’t clicking. In some cases, he failed to give the players the right amount of time to form some sought of chemistry. He tends to change lines back to the original lineup he is comfortable with which is his biggest flaw.

Quinn was brought for his ability to forge strong relationships with the younger players. Yet one of his weaknesses is how he works with the veterans. A good coach knows how to gel the kids and veterans into a strong unit. The head coach has yet to prove he can do this, and as many are suggesting his constant over the shoulder is wearing on the older players like Zibanejad and Kreider.

He has the respect of the said veterans players as was apparent on some of their comments Monday morning.

“I don’t really know anything, to be honest with you. I’ve grown a lot under Quinny,” Strome said. “I came here three years ago and I look at the player I am now, it’s been a fun time. So, I mean, we’ll see what happens.

Zibanejad reiterated what Strome said. “It’s been great, I think, over the last 3 years. At the beginning, you’re trying to figure each other out. But it’s been good with the whole coaching staff. It’s been a different year – a lot of things going on that normally don’t happen.” However, when asked if he’s like to see Quinn back he dodged the question.

Through the season there will always be ups and downs. plenty will be written over the upcoming weeks on player’s rankings, who should stay and go, the expansion draft, and free agency.

For now, here are some thoughts following one of the most craziest seasons in recent years.

My season ending “awards”

  • Team MVP – Artemi Panarin
  • Most improved- Kaapo Kakko
  • Biggest Surprise – The play of Alexis Lafreniere (the slow start to the strong finish)
  • Best Defenseman- Adam Fox
  • Most feared player- Ryan Lindgren
  • Most underrated – Filip Chytil
  • Biggest Disappointment – Chris Kreider

The player who will make the biggest improvement next season – K’Andre Miller. He is going to be a force to be reckoned with next season.

Who will the team lose in Expansion Draft: Julien Gauthier

The season is over and the team has a dramatically new look to it from when the season began in January. No more talking of rebuilding, this team is ready to earn a playoff spot next year. Chris Drury’s job is to make sure that happens with Quinn or someone new, the playoffs are a goal that has to be achieved next year.

Follow Frank on Twitter @RangerProud

Who will win the Top NHL Awards for this season?

Over at The Daily Goal Horn, we project the top NHL award winners. Who will win the Vezina? The Norris? The Hart? Find out here.