Jack Hughes, Anders Lee, Artemi Panarin
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The Rangers, Islanders and Devils all made impact decisions that epically revamped the state of New York hockey. 

Frank Curto

Since the regular season concluded, the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils have all made roster moves that vastly improve their teams. Of the three local teams, the Islanders had the less impactful upgrade with the verdict still out on who did better between the Blueshirts and the Jersey Boys.

Number 1 Overall Pick

At the NHL Entry Draft last Friday night in Vancouver, general manager Ray Shero and the New Jersey Devils began the evening with the number one pick overall. The Devils made American Jack Hughes the No. 1 overall pick.

The 18-year-old is an immediate game-changing player for the Devils and will most likely be in the opening lineup come October. Hughes was the projected No. 1 selection all year, though following the World Championships in May, Kaapo Kakko’s name surfaced as maybe drawing the top honors.

The Devils were not finished. The team then wasted no time as they continue to improve trading for the Nashville Predators P.K. Subban. The most interesting defenseman and voted most overrated by his peers) will be taking his skills to the state of New Jersey.

First Subban had to find out where the heck New Jersey was. The veteran defenseman will add depth to the blueline. The 30-year-old had a down season last year with the Predators appearing in just 62 games. He recorded nine goals with 31 points, but the Devils should see more production out of him while playing in Newark.

New Jersey Devils

Subban’s strength is on the power-play where he produces points. The Toronto, Canada native has scored 35 power play goals along with 133 helpers with the man advantage in his career.

The people of New Jersey are going to love the way Subban embraces their community. They will have to accept the turnovers that come with his aggressiveness on the ice, but that’s what makes him so much fun to watch every night. He is the kind of player that can single-handedly win hockey games.

To conclude a two-week segment of improving, the Devils went and signed a familiar face in our area and another Nashville Predator. Wayne Simmonds, a nemesis from the days when he played for the Philadelphia Flyers, signed a one-year contract to come back to the I-95 corridor.

The 6-foot-2, 30-year-old right wing brings a hard-hitting, feisty style of hockey that almost everyone within the local hockey area is used to seeing. Simmonds can still register the points as he had 17 goals with 30 points while splitting time with the Flyers and Predators, though he only had one goal in 17 games as a Predator.

The Devils had a great start to the summer, but it has been countered with another promising run by a rival across the Hudson River. The New York Rangers.

Its Kaapo Kakko Time

Jeff Gorton had his work to do when the season ended. What he has done up until now is worthy of the executive of the year plaque at next year’s NHL Awards ceremony.

Gorton and the Rangers started off by trading for defenseman Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes. The organization then signed both Vitali Kravtsov and G Igor Shesterkin to entry-level contracts.

The Blueshirts needed an upgrade on the defenseman and they found their man in Winnipeg. Gorton traded D Neal Pionk and the 20th overall draft pick in this year’s draft in exchange for Jacob Trouba.

New York Rangers

The 25-year-old is a top-pair defenseman that fits in perfectly with the young players on the club, but one that has plenty of experience. He should be paired with Brady Skjei to start the year.

Want some more great news? The Rangers kept on going by drafting Kaapo Kakko second overall in the draft. The Finnish player, ranked second overall in most pre-draft listings, will pay immediate dividends for the Blueshirts. Fans were patiently waiting to hear his name called when Gorton hit the stage in Vancouver and they did get their wish.

But wait, there is more. The team now had to address the best player available in free agency, Artemi Panarin. The club would immediately revamp the team’s mantra from “rebuilding” to “let’s go for it” if the Bread Man could be snagged.

Minutes into the opening of the free agency period, the announcement came. Panarin signed a seven-year $81.5-million deal to play on Broadway. The new favorite Blueshirt (No. 10 in your programs) is an offensive threat every team would want, but few could afford.

An incredible offseason for the club and the summer has officially taken shape. The organization also hired former goalie and broadcaster, John Davidson, as the team’s new president. This may very well be one of the most successful offseasons in the history of the Rangers.

The Captain Stays on the Island

The good news for the New York Islanders is that captain Anders Lee re-signed with the club. A seven-year contract will keep him in the blue and orange. It is always good to see when a player wants to be with a team, and that was the case with Lee.

The 29-year-old (whose birthday was on July 3) has only played for the Islanders. He made his debut in the 2012-13 season and became a full-time player two years later. The team rewarded him for his service by including a full no-trade clause the first five years of his new deal and a no-move clause over the last two years.

He has plenty of work to do on the ice as the team addresses the mishandling of where they call home. The team will continue to split home games between the Barclays Center and NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.

New York Islanders

The Isles, needing a goalie after parting ways with Robin Lehner, signed Semyon Varlamov to a four-year deal. The 11-year veteran stood between the pipes for Colorado for the past eight seasons. He will battle for the number one spot with goaltender Thomas Greiss.

Looking at how things transpired, the belief is the Islanders were the least improved team out of the three. Yet, with Lou Lamoriello as the general manager, the team always has a chance to improve, especially since they would like another shot at making the playoffs again next season. Their battles occur as much off the ice as on, which is a reason they may be having trouble signing players.

The Rangers and Devils are neck-and-neck pertaining to who enjoyed the greater offseason. The draft started out the same way, as the two clubs were one-two in the first round. The Devils drafted the best player available, and the projected top player in about every projected mock draft. They also further improved on defense and in the grit department.

The Rangers improved in every category they needed to, but have a lot to work out on the Blueline. The rebuild tag is no more; they are now a hockey team looking to make the playoffs.

Final Thoughts

The Islanders, though, the only team of the three to make the playoffs last season, have not kept up with the improvements of the Rangers and Devils. Last season, they played the “us against the hockey world” game and far exceeded their expectations.

The Rangers and Devils have two things in common; they both were playing golf when the playoffs began and both have teenagers carrying the weight of their franchises on their shoulders but haven’t been on their home ice rinks yet.

The Devils need to find a way to keep the pressure off Hughes as he starts of his career.  A player like Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier will need to teach him the ropes and be the offensive force the club is looking for, and sooner, rather than later.

Across the river, the Rangers are in a different position altogether. The word of the past two years has been patience. That needs to continue now, even though the team has made so many improvements to their roster.

Kakko needs to learn the North American style of hockey on the fly along with Vitali Kravtsov. The rookies from last year will have to step up to carry the club as these newer players figure out how hard it is to play in the NHL.

Henrik Lundqvist is at the crossroads of his life. Two years remain on his no-trade deal and the team is probably the best it has been since 2014. His goal of winning a Stanley Cup is still not within reach, so making the playoffs will have to do.

The first battle of these rivalries will take place in a preseason game Sept. 18 at Madison Square Garden when Hughes skates against Kakko for the first time as professional hockey players.

A few nights later, the Blueshirts face off against the Islanders and the bragging rights contest will be in full force.

Is it October yet?

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