New York Rangers that must step up in 2023-24

NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
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The New York Rangers are coming off a disappointing first-round exit to their crosstown rival New Jersey Devils. Heading into the season with training camp starting in a few weeks, the Rangers will be led by their new head coach Peter Laviolette, who replaces Gerard Gallant after just two seasons in New York.

Last year, the Rangers finished third in the Metropolitan division behind New Jersey and Carolina. The Metro looks like a gauntlet this season and it will be one of the best divisions again in the NHL. Both Carolina and New Jersey have made upgrades to their squads in the offseason. Additionally, the Pittsburgh Penguins who missed the playoffs last year added reigning Norris Trophy Winner Erik Karlsson in a blockbuster trade. With the Metro not getting any easier, here are three Rangers that must step up this season.

Check out: Alexis Lafreniere vs other first-overall picks

New York Rangers that must step up

new york rangers
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Alexis Lafreniére

The 2020 first overall pick has yet to live up to his lofty expectations in his NHL career. Lafreniére (21) recorded 16 goals and 23 assists for 39 points in 81 games in his third season with the Blueshirts. Entering his fourth year, Lafreniére signed a two-year extension this past August.

Lafreniére came to the Rangers with an already loaded left wing group sporting Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin slotted before him. Thus, his playing time as been limited which is challenging for a young player to show up on the score sheet.

Lafreniére needs to have a breakout season this year in New York and must step up. The Rangers require Lafreniére to increase his offensive production. This may be possible with Laviolette using Lafreniére in the top-six or giving Lafreniére more power play time than he’s ever received in a single season.

Ultimately, the former first overall pick must produce this year to show Chris Drury and the front office that they did not make a mistake in extending versus trading him.

Kaapo Kakko

The second player on my list is another high-end draft pick: Kaapo Kakko. The former second overall pick is coming of a career year last year scoring 18 goals along with 22 assists for 40 points. Kakko is primed for a breakout year this upcoming season and he must take full advantage of this opportunity. Coming in the new campaign, Kakko is the top right-wing for the Rangers, and he is projected to be on the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

Kakko (22) has shown signs of his offensive capabilities so far in his Ranger career. Entering his fifth year, Kakko has also shown his puck possession ability, but has still lacked the consistent scoring touch.

NHL Network Analyst and former Ranger Mike Rupp has Kakko as one of his breakout candidates this season, and can see him scoring close to 30 goals. Whether he scores that or not, the time is now for Kakko and he must make the most of his opportunity with increased ice-time this season.

Zac Jones

Having Jones appear here may be a surprise knowing that he has only played 38 NHL games in his career, but the former national champion from UMASS has made my list. It is not so much that Jones must step up this season, but rather Jones needs to make the team out of training camp and remain consistent to finally stay in the NHL.

Jones accomplished this last season, but was then sent down to Hartford after not being able to perform night-in and night-out.

A key storyline coming into the season is who will earn the sixth defenseman role on the third pair with Braden Schneider. The Rangers signed veteran blueliner Erik Gustafsson who will compete with Jones for the final spot. Although Jones is not the most physical defenseman, he is known for his offensive skills. Jones must show that in training camp to crack a spot for the Rangers first game against Buffalo.

Looking Ahead

Coming into the season, the buzz around the Rangers is that they will only go as far as Lafreniére and Kakko will take them. At this point the two youngsters have not lived up to their high expectations. With a new head coach who has intimated about giving both players top-six minutes, Lafreniére and Kakko must step up and produce.

For Jones, now is the time for the young defenseman to solidify is spot in a NHL lineup and rise to the occasion. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks with training camp just around the corner.

Keep an eye on these three Rangers who need to make their mark.

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