The New York Rangers look to bring an improved lineup to Broadway as they play their first preseason game of the year on Wednesday night.
Two seasons of trades, draft picks and farewells to familiar faces has brought the New York Rangers to this point in time.
A hockey club that was once represented by the familiar faces of Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey and Mats Zuccarello now boasts Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Vitali Kravtsov and Kaapo Kakko.
The turmoil that has surrounded this club has been overwhelming. A club that has not seen the postseason since 2017, the Rangers fired their coach in 2018 and hired David Quinn in May of that same year. The new head coach has been laying the foundation to bring the club out of adversity.
Most of the pieces are in place, but haven’t been bonded by the mortar needed to build a program that is necessary for New York City.
John Davidson, along with Jeff Gorton, knows there is more to this process to make a true run at the playoffs. The personnel that is about to take the ice in a preseason contest against the Hudson River rival New Jersey Devils is an outline of what the final product needs to look like in October.
Center Is Concerning
John Davidson spoke of the team’s concern at the center position when he held his press conference at the start of training camp. He was asked about which position group has the most to prove during training camp, he answered without any hesitation.
“Our center ice position is something we’re going to look at and try to improve and see who’s going to step in and give us some games there,” he told Vincent Mercogliano of Lohud.com.
The club has acknowledged that Mika Zibanejad is the team’s No. 1 center. The gameplan now is to lay the groundwork for the center position on the three other lines.
That begins with Filip Chytil. Quinn is going to use him as the second-line center where he will likely see time alongside Chris Kreider and Kakko.
The coaching staff recognized a difference in his demeanor right from the beginning of training camp.
“He looks different this year,” said Quinn to Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post. “He just looks different. He looks a little bit more mature, he looks more confident. There was an awful lot going on for him last year. He’s just carrying himself differently. I think he thinks he belongs.”
Chytil will be relied upon to fill a vital role on the Rangers. He will need to play a tight defensive role on his own end, create scoring opportunities in the opposition’s end of the ice, and most importantly, will need to maintain possession of the puck on important draws throughout games.
The final two center positions will be filled by Lias Andersson and Brett Howden.
Naturally, every position will be evaluated and monitored. In years past, the preseason served as a way for players to get in shape and work on their skating skills and stick work.
This year’s preseason has more meaning and importance. The final score of each game is meaningless. Wins and losses have no standard right now, as team chemistry will take center stage.
The coaching staff has six games to work out all the kinks. Six games to find the correct mixture of veteran and rookies to choose from.
Quinn, along with his staff, will need to continue to work with this young group, making sure everyone is on the same page in what will be a new system for much of the team.
The veterans will play a pivotal role early on. Kreider, Brady Skjei, and Jesper Fast will need to serve as a buffer between the new guys and the coaching staff as the team looks to become a unit of five every shift, every night.
The season may be just three weeks away from opening night, but there is so much work to be done in such a short period of time. Players will have to learn and respond to the demands of a second-year coach who no longer has a learning curve to hide behind.
The future of the Rangers begins at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. No preseason in the last 20 years is as important as the one that is about to take place.