2. New York Rangers
- 2014-15 Finish: 1st Place
The New York Rangers are bringing back much of the same cast of characters that brought them within a game of the Stanley Cup FInal just a year ago. Martin St. Louis retired and backup goalie Cam Talbot was dealt off to Edmonton. The biggest hole was left when speedy forward Carl Hagelin became a cap casualty and was dealt to Anaheim for Emerson Etem.
The Rangers will look to Etem and Jesper Fast to fill the role vacated by Hagelin. It is safe to assume Rick Nash will be Rick Nash and Derrick Brassard will be Derrick Brassard. The Rangers really need Chris Kreider this year. Kreider has enormous ability, but struggles with consistency. Heading towards free agency this is an important season for him. He needs to prove he can be dominant scorer in the league. The Rangers also need J.T. Miller to keep improving. Miller really began to his stride late last season and is poised to be a difference maker this season. Center will continue to be the Rangers weakest position. Brassard has settled in nicely on the top line, and the underrated Derek Stepan makes a nice second center. After that things are not so certain. Does Oscar Lindberg finally make the team? Or what about free agent Jarret Stoll? Or maybe last year’s biggest surprise, Kevin Hayes, gets moved back to his natural position? One thing is for certain, if the lovable Dominic Moore sees time as the Rangers third center, things have gone bad.
The strength of this team still lies from the net out. Henrik Lundqvist will once again be counted on to be an elite goaltender. The men in front of him, lead by captain Ryan McDonagh, will continue to be one of the NHL’s top defensive units. The Rangers defense, while not overly physical, are built on speed and puck movement. The biggest question mark on the Rangers blue line is trade deadline acquisition Keith Yandle. When the Rangers acquired Yandle, fans thought the squad got themselves a dynamic two way defenseman who would see big minutes and lead the power play. None of that really happened. Yandle struggled to find his way defense in the Rangers system and it certainly distrubed his offense. The Rangers better hope that a full camp in a Rangers uniform will be just what he needed to straighten his game out.
Way too much was made of the Rangers off-season losses. But let’s be real. What did they really lose? A back-up goaltender, a 41 year old winger, and a third liner who kills penalties. The Rangers will survive those losses. The Rangers will continue their fine run and finish near the top of the division and once again be a force in the NHL playoffs.