Twenty-seventeen has been full of ups and downs for the New York Rangers, but there are still things for fans to be thankful for.
As the NHL gets set to go on their one-day hiatus for Thanksgiving break, its time to sit back and reflect on what the team should be thankful for.
This year, we witnessed a heartbreaking elimination in the second round of the playoffs. We watched them trade away their number one center and backup goaltender for a pick and borderline NHL defenseman. The team got off to a bad 3-7-2 start, which included horrific losses that could have easily been won.
Although it all seems so bad on the surface, here we are on Thanksgiving with the Rangers right in the middle of the playoff picture once again. Even though things didn’t look so pretty to start, Ranger fans still have plenty to be thankful for.
Offensively, Zibanejad has turned into one of the best centers the game has to offer. Coming into Wednesday night’s game against Carolina, Zibanejad leads the team in points (20) and goals (10). His elevated play is making his new contract look like a reasonable deal for an up-and-coming center. Zibanejad has also been a major factor in the Rangers’ power play, becoming one of the best the league has seen this season.
Kevin Hayes took a major step in the 2016-17 season after a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Hayes was arguably the Rangers’ best center at times last season, which played a major role in the departure of Derek Stepan. This season, Alain Vigneault has asked Hayes to play a role that he has not yet played in the NHL. Hayes has quickly become the Rangers’ shutdown center going against the likes of Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby.
The emergence of Hayes and Zibanejad as a one-two combo has done wonders for the Rangers. The future for these two looks bright, with Zibanejad just 24 and Hayes 25.
Stronger Defense Core
In the offseason, the Rangers were tasked with improving their defense which consisted of aging veterans in Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein. Klein retired and the team decided to buy out Girardi’s contract, leaving two spots open for 2017-18.
After years of rumors, the Rangers were able to land Kevin Shattenkirk, who took a discount in the free agency to come play for his hometown team. Although Shattenkirk has his moments defensively, overall he has found some success with the Blueshirts, playing alongside the phenomenal Brady Skjei.
Skjei is continuing to emerge as a potential top pair defensemen for the Rangers, making it hard to believe he was just a rookie last season. This season Skjei doesn’t have the points like he did last year, but that’s because he’s playing with a point machine in Shattenkirk. Currently, Skjei doesn’t appear to be a victim of the sophomore slump and is a big reason for the Rangers turning around their season.
Marc Staal appears to have turned a corner after struggling the last couple of seasons. Ryan McDonagh remains one of the best defensemen in the league, despite his slow start and Brendan Smith is starting to see more consistent ice time.
After what looked like a weak core defensively just one year ago, the Rangers have turned that liability into a strength.
Continued Success at Home
One of the things that Alain Vigneault has stressed throughout his tenure as head coach is playing well on home ice.
After a shaky start at home this season, the Rangers have turned things around winning their last six home games. Over the last two seasons, the Rangers have combined to go 30-20-5 at the world’s most famous arena, ultimately giving fans something to cheer about.
The Rangers will look to bring that home-ice advantage over to Citi Field when they take on the Buffalo Sabres in this season’s Winter Classic. Although the Rangers won’t be the home team, it’s expected to be a Rangers-friendly crowd especially considering that the Rangers fan base travels well.
Despite falling short of the Stanley Cup once again in 2017, there is plenty for Ranger fans to be thankful for. They’re hoping that the success they found this year will continue and that the Cup will be back in New York come the end of the season.