New York Rangers storylines to follow heading to 2022-23

The New York Rangers are going to be considered one of the top teams in the NHL next season.

That’s going to happen after reaching the Eastern Conference Final when many experts weren’t even sure if the team would make the playoffs.

Despite losing all their unrestricted free agents in Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Justin Braun, and likely Tyler Motte the team is poised for big things.

Here’s a look at some of the many storylines that are developing around the team.

Kaapo Kakko extension

On July 13, after the opening bell of free agency and signing Vincent Trocheck to a 7-year deal, GM Chris Drury talked about Kaapo Kakko.

“We think the world of him, he’s a terrific young player. We want him here for a really long time,” Drury said. “It’s a player we want and I’m not too worried about getting him into the fold soon.”

Well, it’s been over almost two weeks and we’re all still waiting.

Kakko, 21, posted 18 points in just 43 games due to being on the injured list three separate times this past season. During the playoffs, he showed an ability to hang with the big boys in stiff competition. In 19 postseason games, he picked up 2 goals and 5 points.

Alexis Lafrenière on right wing

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Mar 2, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) attempts to pass the puck by St. Louis Blues center Robert Thomas (18) during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Alexis Lafrenière has set a big goal for next season with the New York Rangers— to play in the top six.

The 20 year-old acknowledged that with both Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin occupying the top two left wing slots that it won’t be easy. His best chance is to move to the right wing, which is something he’s open to doing.

“I want to play in the top six eventually, that’s my goal,” Lafrenière said on breakup day. “I want to watch them and learn from them but hopefully next year I can play in the top six.”

There’s still a lot of roster shuffling left to do when training camp opens in September, but it’s very likely that Lafrenière will get a long look on the top line right wing. Worst case scenario, Artemi Panarin can bump up to the top line and shift Chris Kreider to the right wing to allow Laffy to play his natural position on the second line with Trocheck.

Can Vitali Kravtsov finally stick with the Rangers?

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Apr 27, 2021; New York, NY, USA; Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen #1 of the Buffalo Sabres makes the second period save on Vitali Kravtsov #74 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on April 27, 2021 in New York City. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Vitali Kravtsov is in New York to get ahead on his training in preparation for camp. After a few tumultuous years, is he ready to make his mark with the Rangers?

“I don’t think we’ve ever wavered from our stance of, he’s an all-world talent. He does a lot of things on the ice that a lot of people can’t,” GM Chris Drury said. “Like everyone else, your play dictates where you end up. But we’re certainly glad to have him back in the mix.”

The Rangers came to terms with Vitali Kravtsov on a 1-year deal worth $875,000 on June 13. It was important for Kravtsov and his agent to get that one-way agreement to ensure a better chance to play in the NHL. He would need to pass through waivers in order to be sent down next season.

Kravtsov, 22, had a strong campaign in the KHL. In 19 regular season contests, he potted 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points. During the playoffs, he added 7 goals and a total of 10 points in 15 games.

A partner for Braden Schneider

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Mar 29, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Patrik Nemeth (12) congratulates defenseman Braden Schneider (45) on his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers were able to unload Patrik Nemeth and his two years remaining at $2.5 million to the Arizona Coyotes at the cost of a second round pick. Now the team will be looking for a left defenseman to partner with Braden Schneider.

Zac Jones has been patiently biding his time to be a regular for the New York Rangers defense.

Jones, 21, is in the final year of his entry-level deal that comes with a low cap hit of $925,000. He’s shown he has the ability to play in the NHL using his high hockey IQ to compensate for his size at 5-11, 185lbs.

“We know what Jonesy is,” Gerard Gallant said. “He moves the puck– he skates. He’s not a big guy but he defends pretty hard.”

Another possible option is Matthew Robertson.

The 21 year-old left handed defenseman was selected by the Blueshirts in the second round of the 2019 Draft. At 6-4 and 201 lbs, he already has the size to play in the NHL but has taken a little more time to develop than some of the other prospects on the blue-line.

“My goal next year is to make the Rangers,” Robertson stated. “It’s big offseason for me and I learned a lot last year in Hartford. Having that experience, knowing a little bit more what to expect at camp, the urgency definitely goes up.”

There’s also an outside chance that Nils Lundkvist, who normally plays the right side could make a switch to the left.

Lundkvist may be on the small side at 5-11 and 187 lbs, but makes an excellent outlet pass that’s coupled with an elite shot. The former first-round pick had 4 points in 25 games before being sent down to the Wolf Pack last season.