New York Rangers storylines: Christmas Holiday Break edition

New York Rangers Vitali Kravtsov
Dec 18, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Rangers right wing Vitali Kravtsov (74) reacts after scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during third period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are spending time with family and friends this Christmas and Holiday season. They do so with their play on the upswing thanks to a 9-2-1 record that started with a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on November 30th and capped with a rally to beat the rival New York Islanders on Thursday.

At 19-11-5, the Rangers 43 points places them fourth in the competitive Metropolitan Division tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who hold third by points percentage. They hold the first wild card spot in the East by one point over the Washington Capitals.

With the Christmas Holiday Break here, let’s check the top storylines surrounding the team.

New York Rangers storylines: Vitali Kravtsov

Kravtsov turned 23 years old on December 23 and seems to be gaining a foothold in the Rangers lineup of late. After finding himself a healthy scratch for three games, despite being a +1 in the Blueshirts first third period rally for a win against the St. Louis Blues on December 5, he’s now been a regular for five straight.

On December 18, Kravtsov scored a beautiful breakaway goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in a rout. That was his just his second goal and third point in 15 games this season.

This year has been a predictable uphill battle for the former first round pick from 2018. He missed a lot of valuable development time when he refused to report to the Hartford Wolf Pack twice and threw in a trade request at the start of last season for good measure.

“I’ve definitely made a lot of noise previously so there’s this necessity to redeem myself a little bit,” Kravtsov said in September.

Head coach Gerard Gallant has acknowledged his efforts to work hard and earn a spot on the team. Over the last five games, Kravtsov is starting on the fourth line but gets moved up during the game depending on matchups and situations. It’s something MSG Analyst John Giannone told us we’re likely to see more of this year.

“From an organization standpoint, there’s a lot there, but they also realize there’s a lot to learn too,” Giannone explained. “When the Rangers return against the Capitals on Tuesday, I don’t think you’ll see him back on the first line (where he finished versus the Isles). Kravtsov is a right wing and you know who is the first line left wing for the Capitals. I don’t think Gallant wants to match him up against Ovechkin, so Barclay Goodrow will be back up there.”

What will be Kravtsov’s future with the team remains to be seen. The Rangers can’t send him down to Hartford because he’s no longer waivers exempt. Simply put, they need to play him in order to find out what they have and possibly boost his trade value.

The Kids are almost all grown up

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s becoming a wonderful storyline and in some cases it’s been a long time in the making.

The play of the kids which includes Alexis Lafreniere, Braden Schneider, Filip Chytil, K’Andre Miller, and Kaapo Kakko has been so much fun to watch this season.

Chytil, 23, has taken the longest time in this group to develop. With 8 goals and 17 points in 27 games, he’s on pace for 50 points in 2022-23. His career high of 23 points last set in 2019-20 is already well within reach.

Kakko, 21, is also finally coming along in his fourth NHL season. The second overall pick from 2019 has 9 goals and 15 points in 35 matches this year. His career high of 10 was set in his rookie season and he’s primed to record his first 20 goal season.

Lafreniere, 21, is quietly having a strong campaign. Despite being bounced around from left to right wing and back on different lines, he’s amassed 17 points in 35 games. He has 12 assists, tying a career high set last year and should surpass his 31 points as well.

Miller, 22, is starting to really put it all together. His offensive game has taken another step thanks to his incredible speed, shot, and hands. Last season he set a career high with 20 points in 82 games. The big defender already has 17 points in 35 games this year. Even more impressive is his growth on defense as he’s adding a physical element to his game.

Schneider, 21, has a total of 8 points in 35 games but his work defensively just gets better with each shift he plays. The Rangers drafted up to take him 19th overall in the 2020 draft and it was well worth it.

Jacob Trouba’s first big captain moment

Jacob Trouba’s emotional tirade in an embarrassing loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on December 3rd is being labeled the turnaround to the Rangers season.

After delivering another huge hit to a Hawks player which led to his second fight of the game, Trouba was being escorted to the locker-room. As he skated to the door with less than three minutes remaining in the period, he fired his helmet at the boards and yelled towards his teammates: “Wake the [expletive] up!”

It was a big deal, even if at the time the Rangers weren’t able to rally to win that game.

“It was an enough of is enough attitude,” John Giannone told Forever Blueshirts. “But no one expected what Trouba did. It was surprising since no one throws equipment or a helmet at the general direction of the bench. While there wasn’t too much of a reaction from the them at the time, the players spoke about it over the course of a couple of days and responded.”

The Rangers next game was against the St. Louis Blues and they were still struggling. Entering the third period trailing, the team rallied for their first of seven straight victories.

Vincent Trocheck heating up

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When the Rangers signed Vincent Trocheck in the summer, they did so for his gritty style of play which translates well in the postseason. So if he could find chemistry with Artemi Panarin as the second line center, that would be an added bonus.

While the two had some moments of success, they were never really able to get on a role. Trocheck is a straight-ahead hockey player and really couldn’t read Panarin creativity as a forward that uses all four points on a compass like a world-class navigator. Eventually, Panarin was moved up to play with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider shifted down to play with Trocheck thanks to their similar styles.

It’s worked as Trocheck is on a six-game point streak earning 10 points (3G – 7A). He has 28 points in 35 games this season to date. The veteran is currently on pace for 65 points.

Igor Shesterkin back in form

When it comes to the Rangers, a lot of their success rides on Igor Shesterkin. Although he’s struggled at times this season, John Giannone see him regaining the form that won the Vezina in 2021-22.

“Igor Shesterkin is getting really close to playing like he did last season,” Giannone said. “Similar to Henrik Lundqvist, he’s rising up to the occasion where his mentality is to not let another goal get by him at crucial times.”

So far, the 26 year-old is 17-5-4 with one shutout. His GAA of 2.44 and SV% of .916 are improving in conjunction with the Rangers play and he should at least be considered for the Vezina by season’s end.

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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore