Is the rebuild over? With New York Rangers hockey back next week, a lot of people think it’s too early in the rebuild for a cup this year. With a top ten forward in the league and a potential top ten goalie, the Rangers will go as far as their defense takes them.
Acquired: Alexis Lafrenière, Jack Johnson
What to Expect: Defensive Decisions
The top two pairs on defense have been set with Jacob Trouba and Anthony DeAngelo. DeAngelo is playing on the left side as a right so this could be a challenge early on. Trouba butchered his season and his worth and needs a huge bounce back to be considered near worth his eight million a year.
DeAngelo was one of the few big bright spots for the Rangers last year. He finished tied in 4th amongst defensemen. He is for sure a top offensive d man in the league, but his defensive skills were not up to par with a top paired guy.
The second defensive pair will be Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren. Fox was awesome last year and similar to Deangelo, he is a dangerous weapon on the offensive end. Lindgren is more reliable defensively and is still confident with the puck and can help create offense. These two guys are going to be a look at why the new defenseman has to be able to add offense.
The last two spots are very up in the air right now. Right now, it is looking like it will be Brandon Smith to start the season. Smith was like Trouba last year: overpaid and underperforming. Making over four million dollars a year, he looked like he didn’t belong in the NHL. Jack Johnson is only under contract for one year. He should get to start the season in the NHL despite his poor play with Pittsburgh last year.
K’Andre Miller is going to be the biggest wildcard in the roster’s final cuts. Miller was a 2019 1st rounder and had one of the highest ceilings going into the draft. He exceeded expectations at Wisconsin and World Juniors last year. Coach Quinn said he’s been doing well in training camp and is forcing his way on the roster. Miller is not expected to be in the starting lineup opening night but he’s still could have a big impact this year.
Forward line combos (Top 6):
While everyone wants to see Mika Zibanejad centering Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko, I don’t think they start the season that way. The 1st line will remain the same featuring Zibanejad with Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider. On the 2nd line, Panarin and Ryan Strome will stay together. They had good chemistry last year with Jesper Fast on the line as well. With Fast gone, it gives Kakko a chance to move to the top six and see if he’s a legit top-two pick.
Lafreniere will play with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier. I can’t see Laf staying on this line for long. If all goes well and he becomes the player the Rangers hope for, it’s very likely they ship Buchnevich at the deadline. Nothing wrong with him as a player but we need to save up for paying all the guys still on entry-level deals. Unless he’ll resign at a team-friendly discount, we have no money to pay his anticipated minimum 5 million a year. Kreider was in a similar situation and he ended up signing for 5 million on the dot. This could only happen with Buch if we can get rid of Brandon Smith or Trouba.
Igor Shesterkin could be the Rangers goalie for the next two decades. His performance towards the end of last season was outrageous. He’s a once in a lifetime goalie prospect and was able to get a full year to learn from the King.
With the new division realignment and playoff system, it’s going to be really competitive for playoff spots in the Metro. This year is not a must-win by any means with the future the New York Rangers have in place.
Still, the Rangers have a lot of depth offensively and a wild goalie. If their defense can step it up they could easily squeeze out a playoff spot. The season opens next Thursday against the New York Islanders. Matt Barzal who looked to be holding out signed a contract worth $21M over three years.
Mika Zibanejad has been absent from camp thus far with an undisclosed injury and his status for opening night is still up in the air.