Hello Blueshirt Fans. Opening Night is finally upon us and, as a New York Ranger fan, it’s an exciting time. For the past two years, our fan base has been patient through a team-mandated rebuild. We were all okay with it and we knew the last two seasons were going to be long ones.
The Rangers rebuilt their way to the #2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and got their stud, Kaapo Kakko. They have had two solid drafts in a row now, and will start seeing the fruits of their rebuild, starting this year. Below is what the Rangers will be working with through the first two weeks of the season, where they will be playing a grand total of 3 games.
A couple of notable omissions from that roster are Filip Chytil (1st Round pick from 2017) and Vitali Kravstov (1st Round pick from 2018). The dudes are 20 and 19-years old respectively, and Quinn thinks they have some things to work on. I trust the man’s judgement, and as he said last week, what is the point of having an AHL team if you can’t send your young prospects down there to develop their game? Hartford will be in much better shape this year than it was in years past, and I don’t blame Quinn or Gorton for wanting these guys to dominate that level first before awarding them spots on the big boy club. These kids are too talented to stick in Hartford all year long, so don’t worry people. They will be up with the big boys soon.
As for the current NHL roster, I am excited to see several things this year.
1) Kaapo fuckin’ Kakko: Obviously. My man is an absolute beast with the puck, and all you hear out of Ranger camp is that he looks and plays like a veteran, not a guy that doesn’t turn 19 until February (member of the best Zodiac Sign, Club Aquarius; NBD). The duel between Kakko and Hughes for the Calder Trophy is going to be fun to watch.
2) Artemi Panarin (aka the Bread Man): Biggest Free Agent signing since Marian Gaborik. The Bread Man can ACTUALLY shoot it. Panarin is 27, in his prime, and ready to take on the challenge of being a star in New York City. A lot of people would shy away from the bright lights, but not Panarin. Can’t wait to see what this kid can do in Blue.
3) Progress from several young players: Big year for Pavel Buchnevich, who will most likely be put on the 1st line, flanking Zibanejad with Panarin. That is a LETHAL line and Buch is going to get a ton of open looks. Coming off a 21-goal season last year and his 4th season in the NHL, I am expecting big things out of Pavel.
Brady Skjei is going to be paired up with his boy (and the 2nd biggest acquisition of the offseason) Jacob Trouba. These two have the ability and talent to be one of the better shut down bluelines in the NHL. Skjei has been underwhelming since his rookie year, so it’s shit or get off the pot time in his 5th year in the NHL. Also, really excited to see what Jacob Trouba can bring to the table. He has been touted as one of the best young defenseman in the league and is a true two-way defenseman. He is only 25 years-young and the hope is that his best hockey is still in front of him.
Lias Andersson and Tony DeAngelo will also be a pair of guys that I am keeping a close eye on. Andersson has made some good progress, per reports from camp and this preseason. The #7 pick in the 2017 draft needs to start showing things on an NHL-level, as he was expected to be one of the most NHL-ready prospects of that draft. It’s been a nondescript start to his career so far, so let’s see what you got Lias. DeAngelo came over as a talented, yet combustible defenseman from the Coyotes last year, and showed some good things after taking several trips to the Quinn Bin (healthy scratches). He knows what is expected of him this year and wants a big contract. As long as he keeps his head on straight and keeps it chill on Twitter, I think we might have one of the best young offensive blue liners in the East. Hoping this is the year he puts it all together.
Lastly, Adam Fox is going to be to be FUN to watch. He will be making his NHL debut at the ripe age of 21 (another member of the Aquarius club) and the dude just smooth AF back there on the blue line. Fox isn’t the quickest guy, and doesn’t have the biggest shot, but his puck handling and vision are superb. Between Fox and Libor Hajek (key piece to the McDonagh trade), it will be a fun defensive pairing to watch progress throughout the year.
4) A REAL-LIFE POWER PLAY: The skill this unit will have, from PP1 to PP2 is going to be phenomenal. I’m not bullshitting you when I say this is going to be one of the better PP units in the league, and by far the best we have seen in New York since the turn of the century. Enjoy folks.
Lastly, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Chris Kreider. He is clearly one of the senior members of this club, and if not for his impending free agency, would probably be the Captain of this team (2nd year the Rangers aren’t naming a Captain; I expect that to end next year). CK has given everything to the Rangers over his career, and it’s a tough call whether or not Gorton should pay him the money he wants and deserves. Kreids turns 30 next season and will be on the wrong side of his career when the young Rangers are ascending. Whatever Gorton decides, I am okay with, but it should bear watching to see what kind of haul they can get for the big power forward. If he leaves, I will miss the guy.
5) What does Hank have left?: Our King turns 38 this season and has Georgiev and Shestyorkin breathing down his neck, ready to take the throne. Coming off the worst season of his career, Hank will be looking to bounce back. He will not have to shoulder as big of a load as he he is used to, so that might do him well to keep him fresh. Or will it be to his detriment, as Lundqvist has always loved getting as many starts as possible? We will see. All I know is, time is not on his side, and he only has one more year left on his contract after this year. We NEED to send Hank out with a Cup, so here’s hoping that he’s got two more solid years left in him. If I am a betting man (and I am), I would not bet against King Henrik.
Aside from all of that, I am excited to see Year Two of David Quinn. Year One was a success and I love how the team played under his tutelage. This year, the team is expected to take a jump up with the addition of talent. Is Quinn the guy to take this team into the future? Is he the Chosen One to lead this team back into contention for the Stanley Cup? This year will be a big stepping stone towards that.
There is excitement in the (smelly) air around MSG for the first time in a long time. The Rangers have the talent to take a big step forward this year. Put the rebuild behind you and make things happen in 2019.
Mr. Glass-Half-Full’s Take:
Can’t remember a Rangers team with this much raw talent on it since ’94. I have long begged for the Ranger Front Office to add some skill to a team that has always been full of heart, but lacking the necessarily skill to be considered a true favorite for the Cup. Gorton and Co. have done an amazing job stocking the cup board with talent.
The Rangers may still be one year away from being considered a true contender, but that doesn’t make this year any less important. The team needs to learn how to win, and they need to do that together. I expect that this team will take some time to figure things out, but come midseason, will be fun as hell to watch.
Barring bad injury luck, I think this team has the ability to contend for a playoff spot if things come together quickly enough. Quinn will have the team playing hard and his brand of hockey. The boys will be buzzing.
Prediction Time: I predict the Rangers will end up around 88-92 points by season’s end and battling for a 7th or 8th seed in the East. That would mark great progress from their 77 and 78 point campaigns over the last two years.
Let’s Go Rangers.
P.S. The #PlayLikeANewYorker hashtag stinks out loud. Somebody please fix it. Rangers, I am available for better ideas. Holler at me.