Rangers need these 3 players to find new level in playoffs

NHL: New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have drawn the Washington Capitals after action concluded on Tuesday night. Tied late in the third period, and with the Philadelphia Flyers needing a win in regulation to even have a chance at the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, they pulled their goalie. Veteran Caps’ forward T.J. Oshie found the empty net to secure a meeting with the Presidents’ Trophy winning Rangers.

As all participating teams wait for the Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule to be released, let’s take a look at three Rangers’ forwards that need to be x-factors in the postseason.

Related: Rangers are top of the NHL heap

Rangers that need to be x-factors

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nearly 30 years since the Rangers last hoisted the Stanley Cup high over their head when the 1994 Playoffs ended. Every Rangers’ fan knows of Mark Messier’s guarantee to keep their Eastern Conference Final series against the New Jersey Devils alive in Game 6. They also remember grinder Stephane Matteau scoring a double-overtime goal in Game 7 to carry them to the Stanley Cup Final.

Yes, every Cup winner needs their stars to shine in the playoffs, but you can’t win it all unless you get players like Matteau to turn it on when the heat turns up.

This edition of the Rangers will need Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck, and Adam Fox to drive the offense. However, unless several other players can find a new level, it could be another unfulfilling spring.

Here are three players the Blueshirts need to step up and be x-factors:

Kaapo Kakko (RW, 61 GP, 13G, 6A, 19 PTS, +6, 91 SOG, 13:17 TOI)

The second-overall pick in the 2019 draft was playing some of his best hockey after the trade deadline. From March 9th to April 3rd, he registered eight points (six goals, two assists) in 14 games playing primarily on the third line with newly acquired center Alexander Wennberg. During that stretch, he averaged .52 points per game and that’s where the Rangers are going to need him to be in the playoffs.

Winding down the season, the 23-year-old winger has no points over his last six games and a -3 rating. Overall, his line with Wennberg and rookie Will Cuylle have been solid defensively, and good at keeping possession in the offensive zone. However, they’ll need to turn in better results to help drive a long playoff run.

Heading into his fifth NHL season, after scoring 40 points (18 goals, 22 assists) in the 2022-23 campaign, Kakko started on the top line. Offensive struggles saw him quickly replaced by 37-year-old vet, Blake Wheeler (out for the season). Matters only got worse after suffering a significant lower-body injury that cost him well over a month of action. However, as the playoffs begin all stats reset to zero, and Kakko can put another tough year behind him with a strong showing in the postseason.

Jack Roslovic (RW, 19 GP, 3G, 5A, 8 PTS, -1, 31 SOG, 13:27 TOI)

The 27-year-old pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) seems to have responded to a late season healthy scratch. With the Rangers needing to win their final two regular-season games in order to win the Metro, East, and Presidents’ Trophy, he stepped up.

In helping the Blueshirts beat the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators, he registered a goal on six shots, including the game-winner on Monday. Even though he saw limited ice time, the speedy winger was helping both Zibanejad and Kreider generate a number of solid 5-on-5 scoring chances, which has been one of the very few weaknesses of this team.

“I think we started well and then had a little lull,” Roslovic explained. “I think we’re back to ramping it up at the right time… It’s just a special time to be helping again.”

To date, Roslovic has generated .42 points per game in his time with the Blueshirts. If he can get that average up for the playoffs, New York will have two very solid lines in their quest for Lord Stanley’s prize.

Alexander Wennberg (C, 19 GP, 1G, 4A, 5 PTS, -1, 10 SOG, 15:22 TOI)

When it comes to this 29-year-old pending UFA, his defensive game, especially on the penalty kill has been superb. That being said, the Rangers are going to need a whole lot more than his current .26 points per game to go far in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The biggest issue for Wennberg is that everyone knows when he’s in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick, there’s a 95% chance he’s going to pass. In his 19 games since joining the Blueshirts, he’s averaging just .52 shots per game.

This wouldn’t be an issue if he was one of the NHL’s all-time great passers like Adam Oates, but even the hall-of-fame center averaged 1.78 shots per game over his 19-year career. Bottom line, if he can get defenders guessing by shooting more in the playoffs, Wennberg could become the team’s biggest x-factor all the way into June.

Stats via NHL.com

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

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