These New York Rangers can make the Playoffs next season
The Rangers can make the playoffs next season. Well, any team CAN make the playoffs, but the Rangers may potentially be built to make a solid run at it. This isn’t saying that the Rangers are expecting to make the playoffs, but with the new young core they’ve developed as well as the additions on both offense and defense they may be poised to surprise many people. The following is what will need to occur for the Rangers if they want to compete next season.
Panarin and Zibanejad Need To Click Automatically
A bold yet expected move headlined this offseason for the Rangers with the signing of 27-year-old Russian sniper, Artemi Panarin. Accumulating almost a point per game with 320 points in 322 games for his career, it’s almost an assumption that he’ll produce at that same level this coming season. The biggest factor in retaining his point-per-game status is the connection he’ll make with the Ranger’s #1 center, Mika Zibanejad.
Posting the best season of his career in 2018/19, Zibanejad will look to further improve on his recent success with the help of Panarin’s speed and pinpoint accurate shot. This duo can headline the top line and could potentially post career highs in points if they are able to click right off the bat. Panarin seems to love the spotlight and what better stage is there to showcase his abilities than the world’s most famous arena. Zib and the Breadman must bring out the best in each other in order to drive this team’s offense or else they’ll be looking at a steep hill to climb early on.
Young Stars Adjustment Isn’t An Issue
The Rangers arguably have the best prospect pool in the league, and that’s even before they added Kaapo Kakko. The young Finn will look to join the starting roster this fall and may even make a run at the top line alongside Panarin and Zibanejad. That’s not all! The Rangers can also start the season with last year’s 1st round pick with Vitali Kravtsov and this year’s acquisition, Adam Fox. Both highly touted prospects can add to the already impressive young core of the team.
Unfortunately, Kaako and Vitali must fully adapt to the new dimensions of the NHL’s rinks and Fox will be tested right away with the best offensive players in the world. All will undoubtedly have adjustment periods they will need to overcome, especially Fox as it’s typical for defensemen to take longer to become accustomed to the speed of the NHL coming from college. Meanwhile, these high profiled prospects might help two more current Rangers. Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil have taken the brunt of the criticism from fans throughout last season due to lack of flair and underwhelming success.
Andersson and Chytil can benefit from a lack of focus and nitpicking of their shift-to-shift play and start to develop consistent success all while flying under the radar and picking up the slow starts for the new young stars on the team.
Another big name coming to Broadway this offseason is Jacob Trouba, who will be reunited with his good friend, Brady Skjei. Playing two years together before going off to their respective colleges, Trouba and Skjei are reunited once again. Skjei has not stepped up and taken control of the defense like many expected him to do after Ryan McDonagh was shipped out. Posting back to back seasons of negative plus/minus and not coming close to his career-high of 39 points creates unease in the Rangers community.
If the Blueshirts are expected to be successful, the defense will need to become reliable again and this starts with Skjei and Trouba leading the way. Both being able to play over 21 minutes a game will set the example of hard work and determination for the rest of the defense and hopefully take pressure off the other pairings.
Not Selling, Or Buying
If the Rangers do find themselves in a playoff push, the best scenario for them is to not give away any assets that helped them reach this feat. On the other hand, it will not be wise for Jeff Gorton and company to buy at this point in the rebuild. Yes, the Rangers will still be in a rebuild process even if they strive for a playoff spot. For all the prospects and picks the Blueshirts have amassed over this rebuild process, it will still be in the best interest of the front office to hold on to these highly touted prospects.
To accurately evaluate their talent level and their overall value as prospects will take time and throwing them away for some veteran who might not stay next season won’t be a wise decision. In this hypothetical case, there’s a reason the Rangers got this far and it’s that many of the aforementioned situations did come to fruition and rose above their expectations exponentially. Sticking to their guns by keeping pending UFA’s such as Kreider and Fast, the Rangers will be able to compete and hold onto their prospect pool at the same time.
Hank Proves Why He’s Still The King
It all comes down to this. The most significant contributor to the team’s success will be the King himself, Henrik Lundqvist. Move aside all you Hank Haters™ out there. We all understand that he had a forgettable season last year…and the year before that…and before that as well…BUT Henrik will still be in net most of the season whether you like it or not.
The key to the King being successful is embracing his age. At the ripe old age of 37, Hank will have to come forward and admit that he can’t carry the freight of a full season any longer and will need another person to step up to take some games. Enter the crowned prince, Igor Shesterkin. Unfortunately for him, Alex Georgiev is standing in his way.
An extremely strong training camp might force the hands of the front office to make the Prince sit at the side of the King for the duration of the season. Posting a godly season for SKA-St.Petersburg with a .953 SV% and a 1.11 GAA, it won’t take long for Igor to steal the show and Georgiev’s job.
Nothing against Alex, personally his play is only marred by the poor defense in front of him, but the truth is, there’s just a better option. If the Rangers do see themselves as competitive come the halfway mark, the King will need time to settle down and rest as injuries and fatigue will start to become a realistic scenario for him. Shesterkin will be the buffer and has the potential to cover up the growing pains of the defense as well. The King will keep his Vezina form and the Prince will get meaningful NHL experience, a win-win.
Wrapping It Up
Just to reiterate, the Rangers most likely will be a middle-of-the-pack/lower tier team for this next season. The excessive youth combined with spotty defense and aging goaltending is a recipe for disaster for any club. Fortunately, the Rangers still have the potential for greatness. We’ve seen many predictions go awry so who’s to say this one will come to pass? The talent is there, the skills are there and the bond these younger players can form may be the spark needed for an unbelievable run. The restored offense, the young stars, the reignited defense, and excellent goaltending will all be needed to successfully stamp their ticket to the postseason. But don’t fret if this magical series of events don’t occur, this team is being built for long-term success and we’ll just be watching the beginning of the rebirth for the New York Rangers.