Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2023-24 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 throughout the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2023-24 New York Rangers.
2023-24 New York Rangers
What a season it was for the 2022-23 Rangers. The team finished third in the Metropolitan Division and had significant years from players such as Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. Furthermore, Adam Fox put together a Norris Trophy campaign, and the younger guys took more giant steps into their careers. It would be an exciting deadline that saw Chris Drury out all his chips in the middle. He acquired Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane to push for the playoffs. However, the gamble did not pay dividends, as the team lost in the first round to the New Jersey Devils. That loss left a sour taste in the mouths of the players, and they’ll look to bounce back this season.
Money was not in plenty for Drury, but the 2023-24 Rangers have new faces joining the club. It was not a big splash trade deadline, so bargain shopping it was. Joining the club are Erik Gustafsson, Jonathan Quick, Nick Bonino, Tyler Pitlick, and Blake Wheeler. All of these players will play various roles for the team and help round out the roster. One player that is ecstatic about being in New York is Wheeler. He went on to say, “It doesn’t feel weird. It feels like I’ve been here a long time. It feels a lot longer than just a month. I feel at home.”
It is great to see players such as Wheeler feel right at home. Quick, being a NY native, he will get to play for the team he cheered for as a kid. Furthermore, it will be a year when you see some younger guys get more prominent roles and increased opportunities.
The top six unit for the 2023-24 Rangers is loaded and well-balanced. A huge factor is seeing Alexis Lafreniere jump into the top two lines. He will be playing his off-wing, but it is a huge opportunity for his development. New head coach Peter Laviolette is reluctant to give him the chance, and it will be up to him to seize it. Laviolette said, “They have to be given the opportunity to be counted on more,” Laviolette said. “You’re talking about a couple players who are coming off maybe their best years and they’re still really young players. There’s a growth that goes with that. You certainly would like to see them take the next step, more minutes, maybe a little higher up in the lineup, maybe more power-play time. With that there has to be opportunity. Those opportunities will be there for them to grab that ice time and to push.”
The fact is that Lafreniere and Kakko are both young, and seeing increased minutes and roles can further their games. The top line features star centre Zibanejad, who is coming off his best season as a Ranger with 91 points. Kreider loves to go to the high-danger areas of the ice, which should see Lafreniere get open for scoring chances. Playing with high-profile talents can help propel his production.
Chytil has been a steady presence for the Rangers and has improved each season. He has shown he can anchor a line and be a reliable center for the Rangers. Like Lafreniere, Kakko gets a more prominent role and increased opportunity. Also, the chemistry between the two has been great over the last few seasons. Panarin is one of the most electric players in hockey and can draw defenders towards him. He finished with 90 points, and his play-making ability could help get those guys going. There is no shortage of depth on this roster entering 2023-24.
Depth is enormous for the 2023-24 Rangers. Centring the third line is Trocheck, who is as reliable offensively as he is defensively. He finished third in points, had the best faceoff win percentage, and finished third in takeaways among forwards. Being paired with high forechecking wingers in Goodrow and Wheeler makes this a tough trio to play against. They will wear you down physically and can produce. The fourth line features a hard-working trio that will excel defensively, being able to wear opponents down and be a steady presence.
The top four will be the same as last season for the 2023-24 Rangers. Norris Trophy calibre defenceman Adam Fox will remain with shutdown defenceman Ryan Lindgren. The pair is very familiar with playing with one another and was one of the best pairs for the team last season. It is a perfect blend of high-impact offence mixed with stellar defence. As great as Fox is offensively, he led all defensemen in the league with takeaways (88). Together, they averaged 2.63 expected goals for per 60 minutes and 2.3 against.
Furthermore, they shattered their expected rate and averaged an eye-opening 1.74 goals against per 60 minutes. Entering training camp, Fox said this about the potential pairs, “There’s a great sense of comfort when I’m w/ Lindy. You can see it on the ice. We really read off each other & I think it’s important to have chemistry… That’s what camp is for. Me & Key know each other pretty well, too, but you have to get those reps in.” He is not wrong, and it’ll be great to see the strong pair back together this season.
Miller is coming off a career year that saw him become a steady offensive presence. Like the first pair, the second will have an offensive dynamo in Miller to pair with the hard-hitting captain Trouba. Miller is a smooth skater and excels in transition. Also, he is slick with the puck and keeps his head on a swivel. Together, the pair will want to improve defensively, but overall, the 2023-24 Rangers look strong on the blue line.
The bottom pair for the 2023-24 Rangers could be pretty impactful. Gustafsson is a veteran who brings a booming shot from the back end. Furthermore, he brings production and is known for his offensive upside. Pairing him alongside the young Schneider could help increase offence from the third pair. Regardless of who Schneider was paired with, they excelled defensively and limited the opposition to scoring chances. However, offensive generation was not a strong suit, so that this pair could be sneaky good for the 2023-24 Rangers.
The goaltending situation for the Rangers is a similar situation to last year. You have your rock-solid Vezina calibre goalie in Shesterkin, backed up by a veteran. As with every other season, you know what you get with Shesterkin. Quick may not be the same as he once was, but when he is called upon to be in the crease, he gives the team a chance to win. He will have a similar role as Jaroslav Halak from last season and will provide Shesterkin a rest.
Players to Watch
The biggest player to watch is the former first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. His development has not gone as well as Rangers fans would have hoped for. However, he is still young and there is time for him to blossom into a star player.
There is optimism, as his had a career year for his production. He scored 16 goals, 23 assists (career high), and 39 points (career high). With a new role and new opportunities, Lafreniere is poised for a breakout season. After signing his bridge deal contract, he can focus on his development and the new season. Playing alongside Zibanejad is something that can help him develop further.
There is a theme with the players to watch for when it comes to the 2023-24 Rangers. The next player is another top draft choice and it is Kaapo Kakko. Like Lafreniere, development has been slow and he has not looked like the player who they drafted second overall in 2019. However, there is a lot to like about his game.
Kakko is coming off a career high season as well, finishing with 40 points. It is truly special given he primarily was playing on the third line and saw limited power play time. He will see an increased role and be given the opportunity from his new coach. With the two veterans acquired at the deadline out the door, it’s time to seize the opportunity. The success offensively hinges on the two young guns on Broadway.
Prediction for the 2023-24 Rangers
The 2023-24 Rangers will look to avenge last season’s early playoff exit. A large chunk of that group is returning and will come in motivated to redeem themselves. It will be a challenge, as the rest of the division gets better and loaded up their squads.
The Rangers will still be a good hockey team, as they have a plethora of talented forwards and one of the best goalies in the game. However, a lot of their success hinges on the developments of their top draft choices in Lafreniere and Kakko. Overall, this will be a competitive team and fight for a playoff spot.
Prediction: Wild Card playoff spot
Main Photo: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports