New York Rangers
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Dom Renna

The New York Rangers might not have too many expectations this season, but that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. 

This season feels rather weird if you are a New York Rangers fan. The expectation is that the team will be at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, that reaching the playoffs would be a nice surprise.

Some feel that in a season like the one the Blueshirts are about to enter, it’s not a big deal if the team surprises you. But, that will not be the case because so much can go wrong for the Blueshirts this season. So much that it can actually change the course of this rebuild.

Obviously, it is too early to tell what the 2018-19 Rangers will look like considering training camp has yet to begin. But, that doesn’t mean we can look at some possible roadblocks the Blueshirts can encounter along the way.

Contending Come February

It would be pretty ironic should the Rangers come out of the preseason off to a hot start. As a matter of fact, it would probably be the worst case scenario for the Blueshirts right now.

Right off the bat, the Blueshirts will be tested opening up against the Nashville Predators, the best team in the Western Conference a season ago. A mighty test for the young Blueshirts on the big lights of opening night at Madison Square Garden. The schedule eases up a bit after as they have matchups against Buffalo, Carolina, Calgary and Florida in the month of October.

Now should the team get off to a fast start and take the league by storm, that changes the entire course of what is to come in 2018-19. The team could possibly fall out of top spot in the draft lottery. They could also become buyers at the trade deadline instead of selling possible veteran pieces like Mats Zuccarello or Kevin Shattenkirk.

Sure winning games is nice and so much more fun to watch than what we saw from the team in 2017-18. But, remember this is season should not and is not about winning this year as it is about winning for the next 10 years.

Acquiring A Star Player For Prospects/Draft Picks

Let’s face it, this Rangers team should not be like the 2013-16 Rangers who went out and acquired big talent to help the team in the long run. But, that does not necessarily mean the team can be fooled by a hot start and commit to giving up draft picks and prospects for a veteran player to help win now.

Already, the Rangers have been linked to the likes of Artemi Panarin. It would be absolutely foolish to go out and give up a potential top-10 pick in the draft, and high-end prospects for a guy who will be a free agent at the end of the season. And even so, you have to ask yourself in July if he is the type of player that can help jumpstart the rebuild. If the Rangers have learned anything from the last seven years, it is what trading away draft picks and prospects can do to your organization. Perhaps if the Rangers did not trade some of those picks, this rebuilding process would not have to be a lengthy one.

The moves this season need to be focused on bringing in more young talent. Young talent that will help this team 10 years from now, not just in the next three seasons. Yes, Panarin is 26-years-old, and he might be the exception here. But, you cannot give the young talent you worked so hard to acquire just a season ago. Wait until the off-season, see where you are and then go after him, and maybe even go after Tyler Seguin. That might be a stretch, but these are moves to consider after this season, not during.

Player Regression

Big things are expected out of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, and Brady Skjei this season.

Zibanejad had a career year a season ago scoring a career-high 27 goals. He will be seeing time as the team’s number one center again and expected to do even more than he did a year ago. We all saw how the team missed the 25-year-old in the 10 games he missed. He and Kreider are two of the most important players the Blueshirts have. The team will only go as far as they take them.

If one player cannot afford to regress this season it is Kevin Hayes. Hayes returns on just a one year contract, instead of a multi-year deal that most thought he would get. He had the best all-around season of his career last year and will be relied upon in a bigger way this season. For his sake, a bad season means he won’t get the payday he thought he would be getting come end of the season. For the team’s sake, they lose production making competing so much more complicated.

Young Players Are Not Given A Legitimate Chance

There should be absolutely no excuse (aside from injury) for the likes of Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Neal Pionk, or Tony DeAngelo not seeing time at the NHL level this season.

One of the reasons Alain Vigneault was let go was because he did not let young players see the ice time they needed to showcase their talents. That’s why David Quinn was hired, to be the guy who gives young players the chance to grow and develop at the NHL level. Now that doesn’t mean if Chytil, Andersson, Pionk, or DeAngelo fail to produce it’s all on Quinn, but he has to at least give them the chance to showcase their skill.

Now you might be asking what a legitimate chance might mean. It does not mean Chytil centering the Rangers first line or Pionk playing on the team’s number one defense pairing. It means that ice time is being distributed by performance. Not by how old a player is, or how long they have been in the league for. Cody McLeod should not be seeing time over Vinni Lettieri or Boo Nieves because he’s been around longer. Performance has to mean something.

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Dominick is a graduate of Canisius College. He has covered the Rangers for the last seven seasons and the Yankees for the last four.