Being a New York Rangers fan hasn’t been overly exciting for the last few years. However, this off-season, the Rangers added must-watch players that fans should be excited about. See below for a breakdown of the top five Rangers players that fans should watch this season at the Garden and beyond. The end of the rebuild is near.
Five New York Rangers Players to Watch this Season
The bread man found his home. One of the hottest free agents on the market in 2019, Artemi Panarin, signed a huge seven-year deal with the Rangers. Utilizing freed cap space from Jimmy Vesey‘s trade to the Buffalo Sabres, Panarin will be decked in a Blueshirt for the foreseeable future. Another likely factor helping the Rangers score Panarin is their new President, John Davidson. Davidson served as the Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations for Panarin’s entire stint as a Jacket. Their relationship likely tilted the scales in the Rangers favor amid negotiations.
The 27-year-old Russian winger’s playmaking skills and high-octane play make him extremely exciting to watch. One might say he’s the Rick Nash the Rangers wish they got from the Columbus Blue Jackets, just oh so much better.
Breaking a Blue Jackets franchise record last season with 87 points in 79 games, it’s no surprise that his name is already lighting up the marquee outside Madison Square Garden. Funny enough, Panarin’s only career hat tricks were scored on Garden ice — one with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016 and one with the Blue Jackets in 2018. Now he’ll have the opportunity to score many, many more.
With the Rangers rebuilding seemingly coming to an end, Panarin’s previous post-season success is an attractive add-in for the Blueshirts. In 27 career post-season games, Panarin has netted 9 goals and tallied 17 assists for a total of 26 points. Additionally, in each regular season, he’s never slipped below 70 points. Currently, Panarin is projected to play on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich.
One of the top Rangers players who could see some time this year is goaltender Igor Shestyorkin who was taken 118th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. Rangerstown has been patiently waiting for his day on Broadway. On April 15, 2019, the Rangers agreed to terms with the Russian prodigy upon his final season in the KHL. Affectionately dubbed the “Prince” as he’s long been expected to take over the “King,” Henrik Lundqvist‘s reign, expectations for Shestyorkin are high.
Since joining the KHL in 2012-13, Shestyorkin’s save percentage hasn’t dropped below a .903. His acrobatic saves and seemingly unshakable puck-tracking make him one of the top goalie prospects to watch in the coming years. It’s unlikely he’ll see significant ice time with the Rangers main squad, instead he’ll likely land in the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. Time with the Wolf Pack will allow Shestyorkin to adjust to North America’s smaller rinks.
However, with only two years remaining on Lundqvist’s contract, unpacking how Shestyorkin fits into the Rangers future will be essential for the Rangers coaching staff. Splitting back-up duties with Alexandar Georgiev would give Shestyorkin manageable NHL exposure and gauge his chemistry with the Blueshirts. Since the current Rangers roster is so young, it’s likely that the faces in the 2019-2020 lineup are here to stay.
Kaapo Kakko is the highest Rangers draft pick in history at second overall. Kakko is easily the most hyped-up player in Manhattan when discussing the Rangers future successes. At only 18-years-old, Kakko displays exceptional puck control and hockey sense. Most recently earning the gold medal with Finland in this year’s IIHF tournament, Kakko scored five goals in the first two games. The Finnish-winger captured the attention of the Rangers early on and despite the need for strong centers, his presence on the left wing will be essential for the team’s offensive success.
Observing highlights from IIHF, Kakko works hard and controls the puck expertly, especially in small spaces. Additionally, he doesn’t give up on the play. Kakko tires out defensemen, giving himself and his teammates the best possible chance at a scoring possibility. This ability to think several steps ahead of the play will increase is adaptability in his transition to the North American rinks. Kakko is also described as a tireless worker, staying far past practice to hone his skills and enjoy the game. That attitude will make him a fast favorite in Coach David Quinn’s book.
Jeff Gorton parlaying Kevin Hayes, a draft pick and Neal Pionk to somehow score Jacob Trouba was genius. Trouba’s acquisition was dubbed an absolute steal by the New York Post. In fact, up to a dozen teams, including Rangers foes, the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, were in on Trouba. Acquired 9th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2012, Trouba’s entire career has been with the Jets. He now enters his seventh NHL season decked in red, white and blue, carrying his best season to date on his back.
At 25-years-old, Trouba tallied 50 points last season. There’s no question he’s entering his prime playing years. Additionally, since the Rangers need massive help on the blue line, Trouba won’t be competing with anyone for ice time. His competition with Dustin Byfuglien has been touted as one of the main reasons for his struggles up north. In New York, he’ll have plenty of time to play due to the deep need for strength on the blue line. If they could just dump Kevin Shattenkirk, they’d be cooking with gas.
Yet another Russian player showing extreme promise for the Rangers is Vitali Kravtsov. Drafted 9th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, Kratsov is reportedly coming off a great prospect camp. Coming off his last two seasons in the KHL, Kravtsov impressed crowds and players alike with his creativity at camp. Teammate Morgan Barron noted that staying close to Kravtsov is essential since he’s delightfully unpredictable with the puck. The Rangers need some of that youthful creativity after to keep up with their rebuilding pace.
Although it’s unlikely that Kravtsov will make the roster on opening night, his skill set can and should, rub off on fellow Rangers prospects in Hartford. Lias Andersson, for example, has a lot of maturing to do. His attitude when it comes to losing has been poor and hasn’t resulted in any better play. The passion and creativity that Kravtsov has for the game will set an example for fellow young prospects trying to live their New York City dreams.
As we patiently watch the countdown clock tick towards October, these Rangers players are ones that fans should be excited to see. This is undoubtedly the best off-season the Rangers have seen in a while and it’s not even over. There are many more players to watch in addition to these five, such as K’Andre Miller, Filip Chytil, Adam Fox, and more. One thing is for sure, there’s more than just a glimmer of hope shining on 4 Pennsylvania Plaza this summer.
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