The New York Rangers, despite being written off as a “bubble team” entering the last few seasons, have a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and a Conference finals appearance under their belts in two of the last four years. And if not for a couple disastrous late game defensive breakdowns in last season’s Second Round of the playoffs, could very well have been facing off against the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in the Conference Final. But franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist is now 35 years-old, and after seeing his game slip somewhat in 2016-’17, the Rangers are hoping an offseason face-lift is enough to push the team back into a category with the league’s best.
By far the biggest question mark on the Rangers roster this season is a hole at Center, created when GM Jeff Gorton traded No. 1 centerman Derek Stepan to Arizona for the seventh-overall pick in the 2017 draft, and defensive prospect Anthony DeAngelo. Stepan, who turned 27 in June, has put up over 50 points in five of his six full NHL seasons. The Rangers are hoping 24 year-old Mika Zibanejad, acquired from Ottawa last off-season, can step into the first-line center role. After suffering a broken-leg which sidelined the young forward for most of last season, Zibanejad still finished the year with the highest points-per-game of his career. If he can stay healthy, expect no. 93 to hit the 60-point mark in 2017-18. Expect a higher point total from center Kevin Hayes, who will also take on a bigger role in Stepan’s absence.
Filip Chytil, the ultra-talented no. 21 pick in this year’s draft has made the team out of training camp after an excellent pre-season, and will start the season as the youngest player in the NHL. New York hopes the 18 year-old can help to ease the center situation as well. With the return of of veterans Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, and Michael Grabner, as well as young players returning with more experience in Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, and JT Miller, the Rangers boast one of the deeper forward cores in the NHL.
New York went from having one of the most mediocre defensive groups in the NHL a season ago to one of the deepest in 2017-’18. Workhorse captain Ryan McDonagh will return as the team’s surefire number one blueliner, and sophomore Brady Skjei will look to continue his excellent play from a season ago while skating next to newly extended Brendan Smith. Kevin Shattenkirk, elite puck-moving D-man and the prize of free-agency, took somewhat of a hometown discount to play for his favorite childhood team. Expect he and McDonagh to form one of the more lethal defensive tandems in the league, as one of the most analytically-sound defenseman in the NHL is replacing McDonagh’s old partner, Dan Girardi, who has effectively become, analytically, one of the worst D-men in the NHL. Girardi’s partner-in-crime when it comes to horrendously bad possession statistics, Marc Staal, will be expected to play less, more-sheltered minutes this season next to 21 year-old, offensively gifted Anthony DeAngelo. DeAngelo, the centerpiece of the trade which sent Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta packing for Arizona, has only played 39 NHL games, in which he performed moderately well on a not-very-good Coyotes team last season, notching 14 points in that span. Both Shattenkirk and DeAngelo are expected to vastly improve a Ranger power play that finished 11th in the NHL last season while looking disheveled at times in the playoffs.
Assuming Henrik Lundqvist will perform better behind a better defensive group, it is not unlikely that Hank rebounds from a disappointing 2016-’17 and returns to his former self for the Rangers in ‘17-’18. The 35 year-old has missed the playoffs only once in his 12-year career, and after a stellar playoff last season (2.25 GAA, .927 Sv. %, 1 SO), is looking improve coming off his worst regular season yet. It remains to be seen if newly-signed backup Ondrej Pavelec can benefit from training under goaltending guru Benoit Allaire, who has earned both Cam Talbot (EDM) and Antti Raanta (ARZ) starting roles since playing for the Rangers. Pavelec has not had a winning record since 2014-’15, and has reached the postseason only once in his career.
Division Rank: 2nd