Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

It’s an exciting time for the New York Rangers, the young team that’s already entering Stanley Cup Playoff contention status. 

Dom Renna

Believe it or not, the New York Rangers have not been legitimate postseason contenders since the 2016-17 season. While that’s not too long ago, it feels like a decade since the Blueshirts have played hockey in the month of May.

In the two seasons since New York has missed the postseason, they’ve acquired a boatload of young talent who will start to have an impact on their roster in 2019-20. Add the acquisitions of superstar Artemi Panrin and all-star defenseman Jacob Trouba, and New York looks to be primed to make a run at the postseason with this new core of players.

It won’t be easy for a group of first and second-year players to make a run at the hardest trophy to win in sport, and as a matter of fact, there is a better chance New York misses the postseason this year than finishing as the number eight seed in the east. Even with the odds not necessarily in their favor, this club should be viewed as playoff contenders for many reasons.

Growth of Young Talent

This year, there is going to be a heavy reliance on the young talent drafted in the 2017 NHL Entry draft in Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil.

Chytil is primed to enter the year as the Blueshirts’ No. 2 center behind Mika Zibanejad, the position he was drafted at when New York used the 21st overall pick on the now 20-year-old. While his rookie campaign was full of ups and downs while playing on the wing, Chytil showed the league the type of player he’s capable of becoming. The talent is clearly there, and with him likely starting the year in a top-six role, he might just be able to get the early results he was unable to get a year ago.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Should Chytil be able to become a more steady presence offensively and defensively, the Blueshirts’ questions at center can quickly disappear. Obviously, it will take a lot more for those questions to fully disappear, but Chytil developing into a legitimate threat down the middle will answer them and help the Rangers make a run to the postseason.

For Andersson, he is facing an important year from a development standpoint. He’s having a solid training camp and looks to be part of the Rangers plan to start the year, a major difference compared to the last two seasons. As presently constructed, Andersson would be a bottom-six role player to start the year, but his importance goes beyond that. His development as a defender can help a penalty kill that struggled a year ago along with matching up against other teams with great depth at center.

Andersson and Chytil’s growth and impact on the Rangers roster can/will serve as a major reason for whether or not New York becomes playoff contenders this year. Without the two of them taking the next step, it’s hard to see New York making a run.

The Addition of More Game-Changing Talent

When the Rangers were consistently Stanley Cup contenders, there was one major piece that seemed to be missing: game-changing talent. Yes, those teams were fun to watch with the perfect combination of second and third-line players surprised the league by making it as far as the Stanley Cup Final. But what came back to hurt those teams was not having someone to go out there and score the big goal when they needed it.

Entering 2019-20, New York will have three legitimate game-changing players on the ice with the possibility of having five at some point in the season. It’s all going to start with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin who have the skill to change the outcome of a game every second the puck hits their stick. Yes, Zibanejad has been around for some time now, but his game from a year ago should carry over and with the addition of Panarin all the pressure won’t be just on him.

Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov round out the other possible players who can become game-changers for the Blueshirts this year. While Kakko might be the more immediate game-changer, don’t be surprised if at some point this year Kravtsov is having a major impact on the ice. Now, both players will be rookies this year, so asking them to become immediate game-changers would be unfair. But if New York finds a way to enter the postseason this year, the two of them are going to have a major impact on that thanks to their skill alone.

The ability to roll lines with the talent the Rangers can potentially have this year is a different look for New York. While you can’t always win games based on talent alone, it can go a long way in determining New York playoff fate.

No Playoff Mandate

There’s always pressure when you play in New York, it’s what a player signs up for when he puts his signature on the dotted line of a new contract. Even with that pressure, the teams who are the most fun to watch are the teams who surprise everyone and come out of nowhere to make the playoffs, just look at the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues.

Everyone in the Rangers organization, from John Davidson all the way to David Quinn, are not saying “playoffs or bust.” They realize the team is still in the development phase and making the playoffs would just be bonus points at the end of the year. When expectations are not like that, teams become more dangerous. No one expects New York to be in the hunt this year and that should give them more motivation to go out there and prove everyone wrong. Remember, being an underdog is underrated.

Nobody is claiming the Blueshirts are entering this year pressure-free. Artemi Panarin has to go out there and prove he was worth the contract he signed. Kaapo Kakko has the weight of the Rangers franchise on his shoulders, while Jacob Trouba looking to show his game can translate on the worlds biggest stage.

But all of that pressure can be made a little bit easier without the playoff mandate, and who knows, it might actually help New York make a run down the stretch.

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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.