For the last 15 years, if you asked any hockey fan from around the world to name one player from the New York Rangers, they would automatically say Henrik Lundqvist. He was undoubtedly the face of the franchise but he has now moved on to the Washington Capitals.
So who will become the next face of the franchise? Let’s go over some criteria. First and foremost the player has to be someone who has a longterm future with the team. Second, the player needs to be someone who stands out on an almost nightly basis. And finally, has to have a likable personality and command the room and the media.
I’ve reviewed the Rangers lineup and prospect pool and determined these to be the top four candidates.
Rangers Franchise Face: Artemi Panarin
The 28 year-old MVP candidate checks a lot of the boxes I laid out. The Breadman signed a longterm deal to player with the Rangers last summer. He is a standout almost every game he suits up for, and should flirt with the 100 point mark for the next few seasons.
Artemi Panarin also has a big smile to match his big personality on the ice. His one drawback is his ability to command the media due to his limited English. Still, he boldly hits on all the other big marks and is a worth candidate.
Rangers Franchise Face: Mika Zibanejad
Mika Zibanejad gets better and better every season. His shot is booming and he will be someone to watch next season for the Rocket Richard Award. There is some question about how long he will be here, only because he is set to become a UFA in 2022. I doubt there will be any issues here for both sides.
The 27 year-old center has star power and commands a room. He is being looked at as a potential candidate for the next captain. He looks completely set to take over as the face of the Rangers franchise, and could probably cut a song about it too.
Rangers Franchise Face: Kaapo Kakko
This kid can become an absolute force in the NHL. He has a big personality as well. New York selected him second overall in the 2019 Draft and he certainly struggled in his rookie season.
However, he started showing just how dominant and dazzling he could be later in the season. His ability to power to the net and fire off shots is something that could develop into a monster threat on most nights.
So why is he on here? Potential for certain and the fact that he is likely to be here longer than both Panarin and Zibanejad.
Rangers Franchise Face: Alexis Lafreniere
The Rangers first overall selection since 1965, Alexis Lafreniere is my personal favorite to emerge as the face of the franchise. This 19 year-old stud has it all. He can dominate games, and is a true leader on the ice. He’s been groomed to be a captain and should be in New York for as long as Hank was at the least.
He has also dominated every league and tournament he’s participated in. The NHL isn’t expected to be much different for him. He’s also grown up with microphones in his face. Alexis knows how to handle the media as we saw with the long drawn out hype of the two lottery drawings and the draft itself.
Rangers Franchise Face: You Decide
Ultimately, I do believe that Mika Zibanejad will hold that spot temporarily. However it is clear to me that in just a few short years that tag will belong to Lafreniere.
Now you decide!