Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews is back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 New York Rangers.
2022-23 New York Rangers
Last season began with Henrik Lundqvist‘s number 30 jersey proudly displayed within the rafters and also saw the Rangers reshuffle the front office and acquire Gerard Gallant as head coach. Despite these changes, the young rebuild team continued to achieve far better than expected once again this season. As a reward for their hard work, they finished second in the competitive Metropolitan Division with a 52-26-6 record. The team also qualified for the playoffs and advanced to the Conference finals for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
The main aim for the Rangers front office in the offseason was to obtain players at a low cost to retain the core of the roster. Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox re-signed to contracts that reflected their performance and acquired one of the most sorts after free agents in Vincent Trocheck. The Rangers had a very tight Salary Cap and they also bought out the remaining contract for Patrik Nemeth. Because of this, they had to lose a great deal of depth. This included Frank Vatrano, Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome, Kevin Rooney, Tyler Motte, and Alexandar Georgiev.
For the most part, the Rangers achieved their goal and also re-signed Libor Hajek, Sammy Blais, and Kaapo Kakko for a reasonable price. They also picked up two backup goaltenders in Jaroslav Halak and Louis Domingue and two-way forward Ryan Carpenter.
Kreider and Zibanejad will remain unchanged. Kreider reached new levels of good last season and became third in the league for goals and it is hoped this will continue. These veteran players will be the backbone of the Ranger’s productivity. Sammy Blais is hoped to return after missing most of last season injured with a torn ACL. Depending on the 26-year-old performance post-recovery, will slot onto the top line.
Newly acquired Trocheck will ideally slot into the second-line centre role, replacing Ryan Strome. Artemi Panarin led the team in points and assists last season. Despite blowing hot and cold in the playoffs, the Russian native will provide solid offensive service to his linemates.
At this point, Vitali Kravtsov looks to be the opposing wingman. It has been known that Panarin has undertaken the role of a mentor toward Kravtsov. The young Kravtsov had a turbulent start after refusing to play in the Rangers affiliate team in the AHL. Instead headed back to the KHL. However, due to injuries only played 19 regular season games and 15 playoff games. The young forward will have to prove his position in the team quickly or will be dropped to the bottom six, or even the team again altogether.
Due to the “Kid Line” success in last season’s playoffs, it makes sense to keep Lafreniere, Chytil, and Kakko together. Lafreniere and Chytil provide speed and were altogether dangerous at the end of the season. Chytil is developing into a solid two-way forward and will easily be a top-six contender in the coming years.
Kakko is on his last chance it feels within the Rangers organization. Although just signing a two-year deal, the Finish native is considered an underwhelming first-round pick and will have to earn this contract. Despite this Kakko is so strong on the pick and had advanced hockey IQ for his age. But the 21-year-old lacks the confidence to shoot the puck and has stated in the past has struggled to keep up at NHL level. Being on this line will further aid and develop Kakko’s abilities, let us hope in time.
The fourth line spot, as ever is up for grabs for many of Ranger’s young development players. Goodrow will provide physicality and experience for the younger team. Ryan Reaves on the other hand has been a big disappointment. Hyped on signing to be a big deterrent for other team’s enforcers, has done very little. Coach Gallant should reflect this in ice time but will likely start in October regardless.
The Rangers picked up free agent Ryan Carpenter in the offseason relatively cheaply. The 31-year-old is earmarked on the fourth line and should provide much-needed two-way forward depth. This line will likely be fluid throughout the season with Newby Dryden Hunt and Julien Gauthier getting some game time.
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox
Libor Hajek – Braden Schneider
Extras: Zac Jones, Andy Welinski
Thankfully the Rangers have tightened up their defence with the rebuild with the top pair unchanged. Lindgren provides much-needed physicality and spirit for the Rangers and compliments Adam Fox as a stay-at-home defenceman. Fox is outstanding and continues to play at an elite level, the 24-year-old came second in assists last season. The second pairing will also remain the same, with Miller continuing to develop well under Trouba’s tutoring.
Libor Hajek acquired a new contract coming into this season and will want to solidify a more prominent role within the team. Again there are a few players on the outskirts that will want to make an impact this season. 2020 first-round pick Branden Schneider is marked to be ready for the big show and will play with Hajek. However, Zac Jones and Andy Welinski are both alternative options.
Extra: Louis Dominque
Expect Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin to dominate between the pipes for the Rangers again this season. The Russian native is cool under pressure and is an immovable force that directly impacted Ranger’s success in the regular season and the playoffs. Alexandar Georgiev was a sensible release and the Ranger’s free agency pickup in Halak will allow the Rangers flexibility and a veteran backup for Shesterkin. The Rangers also have Louis Domingue acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins as a spare. The Canadian native performed well in the playoffs against the Rangers in the first round and his contract didn’t break the bank.
Players To Watch
The 29-year-old comes with a big price tag. Rangers have waited years to enhance their centre depth and Trocheck is expected to be the answer. Achieving 21 goals, and 30 assists for 51 points last season with rivals the Carolina Hurricanes, the Pennsylvania native will also have Panarin as a linemate so there should be no excuse for anything other than success straight out the gate. Trocheck will be one to watch this season as so many hopes depend on him. Strome didn’t cut it, it is hoped the expense on Trocheck will enhance Ranger’s bid to be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup.
Another example of a hyped player that fell short. Kravtsov has much to prove this season to himself, his team, and the Rangers fanbase. Hopefully with this added time to reflect the 22-year-old will step up and contribute offensively for the Rangers this season. Definitely, one to watch.
Prediction For 2022-23 New York Rangers
As ever, it is difficult to predict how the Rangers perform this season. If high-paid players don’t step up, much of the responsibility will rest on young shoulders yet again. The Rangers lost key depth players in the offseason that provided that added experience and impact. However, Shesterkin is hard to beat in the net and that will provide extra security to the Rangers that will allow the process of the rebuild to continue. If they play with the same no-quit attitude they can be a real contender for the Stanley Cup. Although at present, on paper they don’t have the depth like last season, it will be interesting to see if the core group can be enough against stronger teams.