New York Rangers
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Rangers rebuild took a drastic turn in the offseason, and now they look to take another step in their development in 2019-20.

Dom Renna

Over the last three seasons, change has been a common theme for the New York Rangers. Now, as the club enters the 2019-20 campaign in year three of their rebuild, they will look to build off of the success they saw in 2018-19.

This year has a different feeling when compared to last year. A theme revolving around “potential playoff contender” continues to dominate. While all of the talk from management has been about building, there really is room to believe that New York can compete for one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. It honestly feels like the lack of playoff expectations could create a route for the Rangers to actually be one of the final 16 teams remaining come April.

The Rangers will have 13 players entering the season 26-years-old or younger one of the youngest rosters in the game led by rookies Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox and Libor Hajek. The Rangers expect all three to be solid contributors from the start even if there are some growing pains. Head coach David Quinn and management will give them time to grow, and while it might be painful to start, these players are capable of living up to those expectations.

So with that, ESNY has everything you need to know before the Rangers drop the puck Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets and the start of the 2019-20 season.

Key Losses

  • Kevin Shattenkirk
  • Neal Pionk
  • Jimmy Vesey

After two big trade deadline moves in 2018-19, the Rangers continued to make major cuts to their roster in letting three key pieces of their roster go in the offseason.

The team bought out the contract of Kevin Shattenkirk which allowed them to re-sign Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo. Shattenkirk became an expendable piece with two disappointing seasons on Broadway. Neal Pionk was shipped to Winnipeg in a pre-draft deal that brought star defenseman Jacob Trouba back to New York.

The only major loss for the Blueshirts with their group of forwards is Jimmy Vesey, who finds himself back with the Buffalo Sabres. His departure opens up a spot on the wing for a younger player like Kaapo Kakko or eventually a Vitali Kravtsov.

Key Additions

  • Artemi Panarin
  • Kaapo Kakko
  • Adam Fox
  • Jacob Trouba

All of the new additions the Rangers made this season brought them big-name talent that will have an impact on the immediate future and present.

The two big veteran names general manager Jeff Gorton and president John Davidson acquired are Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, who will both fill major holes the Rangers have had for years. Panarin becomes the go-to offensive player New York has been missing since the departure of Marian Gaborik and Trouba will look to replace Ryan McDonagh as the number one defenseman.

New York’s offseason plan all began with them being awarded the second-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery where they selected Kakko, who has done nothing but impress already. One of the priorities of the 2019-20 season is to make sure they don’t rush his development while still giving him as much time in the top-six as they possibly can. For Fox, the expectation is for him to become a constant in the top-four player defensively after posting an impressive rookie camp and preseason.

New York Rangers

Some New Toys On Offense

There is plenty to be excited about with the Rangers offense this year with the additions of Panarin and Kakko, but it’s two players from last year’s squad who must have big seasons if New York wants to contend for the eighth seed: Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich.

Zibanejad is coming off a career year that saw him score a career-high 74 points with his 30 goals and 44 assists. Most importantly, though, Mika established himself as a number one center eliminating a major hole left by the departure of the likes of Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard over the last few years. He will center a top line with Panarin and Buchnevich, who will be given a chance to prove the second half of last year was no fluke.

It looks like we know the type of player Chris Kreider is going to be from here on and out, and for the first time in his career, it looks like there aren’t any questions surrounding his game. Kreider will be leaned on this year in a secondary scoring role, compared to the last few years in which New York relied on him as a primary goal scorer. The only question mark surrounding Kreider this year is his contract status since he and the club were unable to reach an extension prior to the start of the regular season.

The most exciting aspect of the Rangers lineup this year is the additions of Panarin and Kakko, who bring an elite talent level that the Rangers have been craving over the last few years. Panarin has eclipsed the 70-point mark in every season he’s been in the NHL with Chicago and Columbus and it’s safe to say how the no player on the current Ranger roster has accomplished that feat. With Kakko, New York hopes he becomes that type of player and helps accelerate this rebuilding process.

Like any team in a rebuilding process, the Rangers do find themselves with some holes that could become problematic as the year moves along. Ryan Strome will start the year as the club’s second-line center with Lias Andersson and Brett Howden, while Filip Chytil was sent down to Hartford to start the year. They do expect to see Chytil back in the NHL this year, but him starting the year in the AHL is a major blow to their top-six, one that will need to be addressed at some point this year. For Andersson, he came to camp and really impressed everyone looking like a different player. He will center the third line to start the year.

Projected Opening Night Forward Lines

  • Artemi Panarin-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich
  • Chris Kreider-Ryan Strome-Kaapo Kakko
  • Brendan Lemieux-Brett Howden-Vladislav Namestnikov
  • Jesper Fast-Lias Andersson-Brendan Smith
  • Extras: Greg McKegg and Michael Haley

A Young Defense Gets Thrown Into The Fire

Last year, the Blueshirts tried to slowly integrate some of their younger defensive prospects into the lineup. That plan saw the likes of Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek all see time at some point in the year for extended periods of time. Now, in 2019-20, look for more youth to appear on the blueline.

That youth movement on defense begins with Fox who New York traded two draft pics for early in the offseason. The 21-year-old rookie entered camp off an impressive Traverse City Tournament and continued to impress the coaching staff, winning the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award for the best rookie in training camp. Already, it looks like Quinn will feel comfortable relying on him in big moments.

The other youngster joining Fox this year is Hajek, who will serve as the sixth defensemen on the Blueshirts’ roster. Hajek was impressive in his short stint in the NHL a year ago and beat Ryan Lindgren for a starting role with the big club. He and Brendan Smith will rotate in out of that slot as the year goes on, and there will be some instances where both Smith and Hajek are in the lineup together with Smith playing the wing.

Jacob Trouba serves as the major addition for the Rangers on the blueline. The former Winnipeg Jets standout will start the year paired with Brady Skjei as David Quinn looks to create a shutdown defensive pair that has the ability to move the puck and create offense. Skjei’s 2018-19 season was full of ups and downs, but his training camp saw some real positive results that lead you to believe this year could be the breakout year most around the Rangers think he’s capable of having.

This year is going to be a big one for the likes of Tony DeAngelo, who will be playing for a new contract after signing a one-year deal in the middle of training camp to end his hold-out. DeAngelo looked really solid in his one preseason game, along with the occasional bursts of solid work he put it in last year at times. No. 77 might be the most offensively gifted defenseman the Rangers have the moment, the only that has been keeping him from putting it all together is himself and his off-ice/behind the scenes issues. Should he put those issues behind him, he is poised to have a big year and change the perception of him around the league.

Marc Staal returns as the elder statesman on the blueline after playing in all but three games a season ago. Quinn will be relying on his experience to help usher in the likes of Hajek and Fox much like he’s done with the development of DeAngelo and Pionk. Also, expect to see Staal do some work with Ryan Lindgren who is expected to be with the club at some point this year.

Projected Opening Night Pairings

  • Brady Skjei-Jacob Trouba
  • Marc Staal-Tony DeAngelo
  • Libor Hajek-Adam Fox
  • Extra: Brendan Smith

All Kinds Of Possibilities In Between The Pipes

For the first time in 14 years, there are some questions about how the Rangers will handle their goaltending situation.

Henrik Lundqvist is still considered the starter, after taking on more of a backup role towards the end of 2018-19 to let Alexandar Georgiev continue to get a taste of NHL action. This year, Lundqvist seems to be in a great place mentally and it showed in his play on the ice in the action he saw in the preseason. However, the major question surrounding the man they call “The King” is whether or not he’s capable of putting together a full season.

In 2018-19, Hank was dominant to start the year and was the lone representative for the Rangers at the All-Star Game. But once the second half started, it seemed Lundqvist was not as engaged as the Rangers have become accustomed to with all of the trade deadline rumors surrounding the club. This year those distractions don’t seem to be there and Lundqvist appears to be in great shape looking to prove his doubters wrong.

Should Lundqvist need it, the Rangers have themselves a more than capable backup in Alexandar Georgiev, who can handle the extended playing time if needed. We’ve seen Georgiev play better with regular time on the ice. It’s safe to assume that if this team didn’t deploy a legendary goaltender, Georgiev would have been the primary goaltender in between the pipes much sooner.

It doesn’t appear Georgiev will be on the Hartford shuttle like he was a year ago with Igor Shesterkin expected to get the majority of minutes down in Hartford. Shesterkin also could be apart of the Rangers goaltending mix since he’s been appointed the heir apparent to Lundqvist’s throne once No. 30 decides to hand the pads up. While seeing Shesterkin for a significant amount of time might seem like a longshot, it’s just one of the many options New York has at its disposal.

Goaltending Depth Chart

  • Henrik Lundqvist
  • Alexandar Georgiev
  • Igor Shesterkin

Bold Predictions

With the season just about the start, now is the time to think out of the box with some predictions that may or may not come true.

  • Chris Kreider does not get traded at the deadline despite not signing a contract extension.
  • Ryan Strome is the number two center all season.
  • Michael Haley plays in more games than Vitali Kravtsov.
  • Rangers are buyers at the trade deadline.

Predictions

Team Awards:

  • MVP: Artemi Panarin
  • Rookie of the Year: Kaapo Kakko
  • Best Defenseman: Brady Skjei
  • Most Improved: Lias Andersson
  • Biggest Disappointment: Brett Howden

Metropolitan Division:

  • Washington Capitals (104 points)
  • Philadelphia Flyers (102 points)
  • New York Islanders (100 points)
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (97 points)
  • Carolina Hurricanes (90 points)
  • New York Rangers (83  points)
  • New Jersey Devils (80 points)
  • Columbus Blue Jackets (77 points)

*Teams in italics make the playoffs

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