Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, 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 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 New York Rangers
2020-21 New York Rangers
During the regular season, the Rangers demonstrated a new enthusiasm that has been missing in recent years. The most reasonable cause of the signing of Artemi Panarin from the Columbus Blue Jackets, a most controversial deal. They also got the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft selecting Kaapo Kakko and goaltending prospect Igor Shesterkin. The Rangers organization had begun to implement changes from the initial “rebuild” plan and finished the season 70- 37- 28. Although like the previous season, the Rangers finish 7th in the Metropolitan Division, improvements were obvious. Special teams and defensively the Rangers came out stronger by acquiring Winnipeg Jets Jacob Trouba and Harvard graduate Adam Fox to provide stability at the blue line. While the Rangers powerplay ranked seventh highest in the league and offensively the Rangers finished fifth in the NHL with 234 goals scored.
2019-20 Post Season.
Last season Covid-19 saw a reshuffle of the hockey format as we know it. The NHL came up with a return to play plan which allowed 24 of the 31 teams to have a shot to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup. The top four teams got a bye, with the remaining 20 teams playing off in a play-in series to see who would make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This format led to the New York Rangers making an unexpected appearance in the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season. Although the young team lacked playoff experience and were swept in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes, this only added value to the Rangers who were not expecting to achieve success so soon.
The Rangers fortunes continued into the off-season by winning the Draft Lottery and acquiring another first-round pick, Canadian Alexis Lafreniere. However, the biggest offseason news for the Rangers came from the departure of goaltending legend Henrik Lundqvist. With an ample supply of young goaltenders acquiring NHL experience, Lundqvist became the casualty and departed New York for the Washington Capitals.
Trade wise, the Rangers were fairly dormant over the off-season. Trading underwhelming Lias Andersson and Marc Staal for future picks. and signing free agent Kevin Rooney to a one year deal in October.
It is difficult to effectively project Rangers lineups for the coming season as the Rangers are continuing with the rebuild plan. But a suggestion is as follows.
Alexis Lafreniere- Filip Chytil– Julien Gautheir
The Top Six will start the season relatively unchanged. Kreider’s contract extension means the chemistry between himself and Zibanajad will continue along with speculation of who will be given the honour of Captaincy. Zibanajad seconds the team in points with 75 and leads with 41 goals. Zibanajad also leads in powerplay goals and is the Ranger’s strongest two-way forward with a 49.16 faceoff win percentage. Although linemate Buchnevich has been criticized in recent years for inconsistency, the dynamic threesome provides speed and is the longest standing Rangers on the roster.
However, Ranger’s second line proved more offensively productive last season, and it is hoped to continue. Panarin led the team with an impressive 32 goals, 63 for 93 points in 69 games. And together this lineup played 452 minutes together, the highest in any other Rangers forward combination. They also achieved the highest forward goals for percentage with 20.6%. Although Kakko faced criticism as an underwhelming first-round pick, the 19-year-old displayed growing confidence during the last half of the season. Kakko is strong on the puck and showing moments of settling into his role. The Rangers have a lack of center depth, Strome stepped up this season but has to continue this effort going forward as he can be inconsistent.
The bottom six is highly dependent on training camp. But it makes it all the more competitive for the Rangers young roster. This is evident in their work ethic last season. Although some expect Lafreniere to play in the top six, it seems unlikely that the 19-year-old will start the season there. Relatively untested at the NHL level it would be beneficial for the Rangers to settle the young Canadian before applying more pressure. Lafreniere is not playing in the current World Junior Championships so should be healthy and keen to play. Lafreniere would benefit from playing alongside Filip Chytil. This will be Chytil’s fourth season with the Rangers and Chytil’s confidence is steadily climbing as does his offensive numbers. The 21-year-old can now be considered experienced in the Rangers roster and if his play continues, is well deserved of a second-line center position.
Lemieux and Howden are the only other reliable bottom-six starters. Both provide a physical element the Rangers greatly need. Lemieux is also an important member of the Ranger’s special teams. Gauthier played 12 games for the Rangers last season in his rookie year. The 23-year-old will look to solidify more game time this season. As mentioned previously, the Rangers have poor center depth. There are not many substantial players to fill this role, Kevin Rooney was a puzzling pickup for the Rangers but played 90 games for the New Jersey Devils in the last two seasons.
Other potentials depending on training camp are Phillip Di Giuseppe, who has had time on ice for the Rangers and Colin Blackwell will likely be seen sometime during the year to keep the roster competitive. 2017 sixth-round pick Morgan Barron is also an option.
Extras –K’Andre Miller and Libor Hajek
Top Four / Bottom Pair
Top Four pairing will be relatively unchanged. With a shortage of left-handed players look to DeAngelo to take the role on the left once again. Although a controversial player on social media DeAngelo had a career-best season last year. An offensive defenseman that will pair well with Jacob Trouba, who did initially struggle but made a comeback at the end of last season.
Adam Fox has shined at the Rangers, proving to be dependable defensively and capable offensively. His defensive pairing achieved the most Time on Ice and the highest defensive goals for percentage. However, partially due to the high risk they also conceded the most goals. Linemate Lindegren provides a Physical element and his scrappy nature complements Fox’s cal deminer.
The last paring is troublesome for the Rangers, picking up Jack Johnson from the Pittsburgh Penguins will give another veteran defensemen with Brendan Smith but its difficult to see how effective it will be. It would make more sense to see Libor Hajek gain more experience.
The King left a large gap in goaltending experience for the Rangers. Georgiev played the most games of his career last season at 34 games so is likely to start. The 24-year-old achieved a .910 saves percentage and a 3.04 goals-against average in those 34 games. Shesterkin was impressive in his debut season achieving a .934 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average in 12 games, the Russian goaltender demonstrated a calm presence on the ice. This will be vital for the 2020-21 New York Rangers as the team like always, will depend heavily on their goaltending. Although the young goaltenders have performed well in a backup capacity, it is unsure whether they will survive the 30 plus shot onslaught that Lundqvist repeatedly endured. The reduced games will be beneficial for both goaltenders.
Players to Watch
Panarin has yet to demonstrate his full potential with the Rangers. The reduced season cut the Russian playmaker’s offensive progress short last season and getting swept in the first round of the playoffs did allow much time either. There is definite chemistry between himself, Strome, and Kakko. If these two step up, it will be a dangerous combination going forward.
The Finish rookie struggled with the increased pace at the start of last season and was destined to be another underwhelming first-round pick. However, the 19-year old has shown glimpses of brilliance and his confidence is growing. Under the guardianship of Panarin and Strome, this confidence will continue to develop going into the coming season. If Kakko plays as well as expected, the Rangers will have an overwhelming offensive top six.
Lafreniere comes with much hype attached. In his draft year, the Canadian native put up 35 goals and 77 assists for 112 points in 55 games with the Rimouski Oceanic, while also winning the league’s scoring title. Lafreniere seems to have the whole package, speed, skill, and size and could be a contender for the Calder Trophy next season.
Prediction for 2020-21 New York Rangers.
The 2020-21 New York Rangers will aim to continue their success of last season. They have the core foundations of a Stanley Cup-winning team but need time and patience to allow players to develop into their roles. The team lack experience hence why they failed to impress in the playoffs and they have a huge task ahead of them with the new East Division schedule. It depends on many factors, the lack of effective two-way forwards except for Zibanejad will hurt them. Along with a weaker defence and untested goaltenders. The Rangers have talent and enthusiasm in spades, they have improved special teams, physical presence, and have goal scorers offensively and defensively. Another added advantage is that the team are mostly of players under 25, the unforgiving schedule may give them the edge.
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