Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Our series continues with the 2019-20 New York Rangers.
2019-20 New York Rangers Preview
2018-19 Season Recap
As expected the New York Rangers 2018-19 season was a difficult one to watch, with the loss of key veteran players sacrificed for the future of the organization. It led to the rangers failing to advance to the playoffs for the second consecutive year. The Rangers finished the season seventh out of eight in the Metropolitan Division. However, the rebuild was on.
Although the majority of bigger moves were made in the offseason, the Rangers front office commenced early. The departure of fan-favorite Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars became the biggest pill to swallow, as the Rangers lost their most valued grit and determination. Kevin Hayes, who benefitted from lack of forward depth, was also dealt away. He achieved seven-points in his last ten games with the Rangers before being traded to the Winnipeg Jets.
However, it was not all doom-and-gloom. The latter months of the season saw a rare glimpse of the “new” Rangers with an energetic, enthusiastic younger team that the Rangers have been sorely missing in the last few years. Mika Zibanejad achieved a career-best season with 30 goals and 44 assists for 74 points. He creates a strong argument for the vacant captain role this coming season.
The Rangers were by far one of the most productive teams this past summer. Their rapid rebuild started at the 2019 NHL Draft. That day, the Rangers had eight picks. Most notable among those eight was the second overall pick they landed. They used this pick to select the soon-to-be star Kaapo Kakko. Their other draft picks include:
2- 49 Matthew Robertson D
2-58 Karl Henriksson C
3- 68 Zachary Jones D
4-112 Hunter Skinner D
5-130 Leevi Aaltonen RW
6-161 Adam Edstrom C
7-205 Eric Ciccolini RW
However, the Rangers were not finished, strengthening their defence by finally signing Adam Fox and trading for Jacob Trouba. Could it be the Rangers may have a plausible defence this upcoming season?
The biggest off-season news from New York, though, had to be acquiring Columbus Blue Jackets star forward Artemi Panarin. Albeit at a crunching $12 million cost. Still, Panarin was undeniably the best among this summer’s unrestricted free agent class. Locking him up for the next seven years will surely benefit New York.
Artemi Panarin – Mika Zibanejad – Pavel Buchnevich
It is difficult to predict the lineups for the Rangers. With so many options, the projections enter totally unexplored territory. They also depend greatly on how things shake up during training camp and current unsigned restricted free agents. But above is a likely option based on the evidence out there.
Buchnevich has been inconsistent in his first three seasons and is on thin ice with the coaching staff. He’s yet to play in a full season. But the 24-year-old has a lot of potential. The Russian has speed and skill to match anyone on the team, but if he doesn’t step up, do not be surprised to see him move down the lineup. However, if Buchnevich plays well, paired with highly skilled talent such as fellow Russian Panarin and star Zibanejad will make for a lethal combination this season. Definitely one to watch out for.
This lineup depends on many variable factors, mainly what Rangers will do with Kreider. Plagued with injuries in previous seasons, Kreider was the second-highest on the team in both goals and points last season. However, it is unsure if the Rangers will have enough money to pay the 28-year-old veteran when he hits free agency next summer. They instead may want to deal him away for prospects or cheaper options.
The Rangers also have a large void at the center position that needs to be filled. Strome is a candidate but has proven to be unreliable in the past. The other option is to place Chyril onto the second line. However, the young forward is rather inexperienced and boasts a disappointing 38.9 faceoff percentage. The young Kakko has performed well in the World Junior Championships but has not been tested at NHL level. It will be interesting to see if the 18-year-old withstands the pressure of a very passionate New York fanbase.
The bottom six will likely have the biggest turnover of players, particularly as the season develops.
The third line is a risk, it may be a case of who wants it the most. Namestnikov was consistent enough last season to solidify a regular spot. The tough forward has NHL experience that will assist his teammates going into the season. Naturally a center, he can also adapt well to other roles when needed. Kravtsov, on the other hand, has no NHL experience. The 19-year-old forward was picked up by New York in the 2018 Draft from the KHL. As Last Word On Hockey’s Ben Kerr’s Scouting report suggests, it was a good pickup. The first-round pick’s speed and acceleration can be dangerous on the rush, but he also has the hockey intelligence to become a great playmaker. Both Namestnikov and Kravtsov have similar attributes that should provide good chemistry going into the season.
The role of center is up for grabs on this line. It is likely to either be Chytil or Strome. However, both Namestnikov and Kravtsov have the ability to step into this role if needed.
There are a lot of options for this line, it is likely to be a go-between for the Rangers AHL affiliate team, the Hartford Wolfpack. Lemieux is still waiting for a contract but is a good option for the Rangers. The 23-year-old has toughness and offensive skill that encaptures that of his father, the notorious Claude Lemieux. Acquired from the Jets, the young Lemieux provides a reliable physical buffer that the Rangers have lacked for years. Fast will compliment Lemieux very well, with his calm demeanor and experience to guide the younger players.
Again the center role is likely to be fought out at training camp. Howden had a good first season with the Rangers, playing 66 games and picking up 23 points, and could easily win the spot. Andersson is also likely to get another shot at some point this season but will likely go between Hartford and the bottom-six again, unless he proves himself worthy of a consistent NHL role.
The Rangers find themselves with multiple extras to choose from. All have potential but none with much experience. Other than those mentions previously, Di Giuseppe is another forward to consider. Picked up as a free agent from the Carolina Hurricanes, the 25-year-old has five years of experience in the NHL, although he has yet to play a full season. Still, he has the potential to find a permanent role in New York.
Lettieri is another player worth a mention. Although productively underwhelming, Lettieri has a scrappiness akin to Zuccerrello that can add an extra boost to the bottom-six.
Marc Staal – Adam Fox
Defence has been a continual headache for the Rangers as of late and is one of the main reasons the team has been so unsuccessful in recent years. It seems now to finally be heading in the right direction. To see a fuller in-depth look click here
Acquiring Trouba fills the void that the Rangers struggled to fill when captain Ryan McDonagh left in February last year. Paired with Skjei, the rangers now have a dependable first defensive pairing with a great upside. Both have complimenting skills and look to transfer their chemistry from off the ice to their on-ice game.
The rangers acquired Fox in a trade with the Hurricanes last season. He was finally signed this summer and immediately garnered a lot of hype. The 21-year-old will be a valuable offensive defenceman for the team and has untapped potential that, with further development, will prove to be a great investment for the Rangers. Pairing Fox with Staal makes sense. Staal has been on the professional decline for some time now but can give a wealth of experience and support to Fox in his transition to the NHL
Hajek had a heartbreaking injury that prematurely cut short what would have been his rookie season last year. But the 20-year-old is back and will look to solidify a place on the team. The Czech defencemen boasts tremendous agility and strength on the puck. He is impressive but still has to develop to the faster-paced environment that the NHL offers. Hence why he is likely to be on the team’s bottom pairing. DeAngelo’s experience and toughness will compliment Hajek. With that said, DeAngelo also remains unsigned. If he leaves, the team’s other option is Brendan Smith, but Smith performance is woeful at best.
Lundqvist will reign for the foreseeable future. The 37-year-old, five-time top-five Vezina Trophy finalist, has been the only reliable name in the New York Rangers organization for a while. Yet, with age finally weighing on Lundqvist, backup goaltender Georgiev will continue to see more-and-more responsibility. The young Russian performed well last season with a .914 save percentage and 2.91 goals-against average.
Players To Watch
Panarin ranked as the Blue Jackets top points scorer once again last year, with 87 points in the regular season. The 27-year-old was also instrumental to a successful playoff run from Columbus, who surpassed the first round for the first time in franchise history, sweeping the historical Tampa Bay Lightning. He ranked as the team leader in goals, assist and points in the playoffs.
Acquiring Panarin came with a massive price tag, one that the Rangers will be paying for over the next seven years. Next season will be the first opportunity for Panarin to earn his $12 million price tag. He’ll be relied on heavily and get every chance to suceed in New York, so the ball is in his court.
The highly anticipated forward prospect has set many records in Finland’s top league, the SM-Liiga, while playing for TPS Turku. Kakko scored 22 goals and 38 points in 45 games last year. This was the highest point total by any player under-18 player in the league.
Although the young forward does not have the price tag as Panarin, the pressure to succeed is the same. A top-three-overall pick can go two ways: the rookie steps up and becomes something great, or they succumb to pressure and become the team’s biggest disappointment. However, in Kakko’s case, it’s likely to be the former. Nevertheless, he’s also going to be in the spotlight next year.
Buchnevich has so much potential but just struggled to find a rhythm so far. He finished last season with 38 points in 64 games, a 48-point pace. This would’ve been his career-best, beating his 2017-18 total by five points. Yet, there was much to be desired from his game.
With a new, positive environment and lots of fellow Russians in the locker room, Buchnevich has the opportunity to make his mark and become something special. He’s shown modest improvement in each of his three seasons thus far but is patiently awaiting his breakout year. The new situation, and likely playing alongside the terrific Panarin, should be critical in unlocking Buchnevich’s true potential as a top-six mainstay.
2019-20 New York Rangers Season Prediction
With so many variables and new inexperienced talent, it is difficult to firmly predict the future for the Rangers this 2019-20 season. They have the potential to make a solid playoff bid if all the stars align. But if not, it wouldn’t be too unexpected or disappointing, the 2020-21 season will be the year to make a real mark. The new “rebuild” Rangers team will be nothing if exciting to watch this season.