Our New York Rangers 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season.
The Rangers went 32-36-14 last year and were 7th in the Metro Division and 26th in the league. It was a bad season for points, they lost Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello at the trade deadline, and Lundqvist was not in his usual superhuman form. The Rangers were the bottom 10 in goals per game, and in the 10 worst for goals against per game. All of this of course means that it was a successful season! They were right where they should have been. Lose for Hughes or Crappo for Kappo. Full on team tank.
It worked. The Rangers were only 26th in the league, but the draft lottery gods smiled upon them and they moved up to second overall pick in the 2019 NHL entry draft. They selected Kaapo Kakko, a Finnish diabetic, celiac…who also is really good at hockey. Kakko looks like the type of player who can immediately play in the NHL, which is awesome for the Rangers, because as a rebuilding team, they happen to have lots of spots available for young players.
As a rebuilding team, you are expected to have a rough long season and see a lot of fresh faces get some ice time. It’s hard to know your team will not be competitive and get into the playoffs, but it can still be exciting to watch the development of young players, and know you have a shot at winning the draft lottery. This off season has been a very exciting one for the Rangers, and the newly appointed president of hockey operations, John Davidson, has seemed to breathe some fresh air into the team. It’s been a long time since the Rangers were called a young team, and now they truly are one. Most of the veterans have been shipped out to their Florida retirement home, Tampa Bay, or are only signed on for a couple more seasons. With the remaining vets likely to be trade bait, the core of the team is changing, and it’s super exciting.
Throughout all the success and rebuild, Henrik Lundqvist has been the constant on the team. He was there for the Stanley Cup Finals loss to the basement tank seasons, faithfully minding the net. This was one of his worst seasons, and it’s always tough to see a legend falter. Can he bounce back? Or will he lead the team to some more great draft picks?
The real story of the New York Rangers 2018-2019 came in the off season, so let’s dive right into it shall we?
Phillip Di Giuseppe
Well the breadman got paid. Artemi Panarin landed in New York, New York with a 7 year contract with an AAV of $11.64 million, a huge raise from his last $6 million per year deal. Panarin is already 27, so this deal will lock him down with a no movement clause until he’s 34. An absolutely ridiculous deal for Panarin. It’s hard to see Panarin, who is coming off a career high of 87 points be worth 14.29% of the team’s cap hit, but hey, if the Rangers want to blow money, I’m more than happy to see it as a fan of another Metro Division team. If they win a cup or two this deal will obviously be worth it, but we’ll have to keep an eye on Panarin in year 5,6 or 7 of the deal and see if he’s worth it long term.
Regardless of his contract, Panarin immediately makes this team better. He can play on the top line on the left wing, and he’ll quarterback the powerplay. His speed on the rush and his puck handling abilities will be sure to make him a fan favourite in the Big Apple. He’ll play with Mika Zibanejad as his centre, and could see fellow Russian Pavel Buchnevich. If Kaapo Kakko shows he can play first line right out of the gate, he could slot in alongside the two on the right wing. Panarin has a great shot, but can also dish the puck, so he could really play with anyone he has chemistry with. The Rangers would do well to pair him with someone he can run and gun with as we saw with his days with Patrick Kane in Chicago.
If Kakko drops down to line 2, he’ll be playing with left winger Chris Kreider and centreman Filip Chytil. This is a contract year for Chris Kreider, so he’ll be playing up his value for sure. With just one year left he could very well get traded before or at the trade deadline if the Rangers are not going to be making the playoffs. He’s a fast, big body forward who can play at both ends of the rink. Sounds pretty appealing to a playoff bound team looking for some last minute additions. If Kreider is moved, Panarin will be the next oldest forward on the team, which is pretty great considering he’s 27. The team is getting younger, and has a new core developing of Zibanejad, Panarin, and soon, Kakko.
The bottom six is pretty solid too, with Jimmy Vesey gone it has opened up a spot for a winger. The third line should be Vlad Namestnikov, Ryan Strome and newcomer from the Vitali Kravstov. Namestnikov is a great two way forward, Strome has bounced back quite nicely from his struggles in Edmonton, and Kravstov is set to be another young Russian to help boost the offense and eventually join the top six. He’s a 2018 first round, 9th overall pick of the blueshirts who has only played in the KHL so far. If he adjusts to North American ice he could see some time on the top two lines in some capacity this season too, as he plays any forward position. He’s the type of player that can move around the lineup as needed and perform any role.
The fourth line is looking like it will be, Brendan Lemieux, who came over in the Hayes deadline trade from the Jets, Brett Howden and Jesper Fast. Boo Nieves and Lias Andersson could also get some games in. The Rangers are suffering from a case of the “we have too many good forward prospects”-itis right now. There is a definite logjam here, but with so many of these guys still on 2 way entry level contracts, they would do well to just hang on to everyone for the time being and see who develops well into their systems. Not a bad problem to have really.
If the rookies and young newcomers do not pan out or face injury trouble, newly acquired former Carolina Hurricanes Greg McKegg and Phillipe Di Giuseppe can stand in as needed.
Well the major development on the Rangers blueline is that Kevin Shattenkirk will no longer be on the team. In a somewhat surprising move, Shattenkirk was bought out this off season. He took a hometown discount to play for the blueshirts, but his play never really elevated to where the club expected him to be. In the midst of the rebuild, Shattenkirk said he was committed, but in his two seasons with the team, he missed 45 games and scored 7 goals and 44 assists. For someone who has excelled on the powerplay his entire career, the club expected more production from Shattenkirk. He has never been known for his defensive aptitude, and without the production, he was bought out. Because of this the Rangers have about an extra $5 million in cap space this season, but next year they will have Shattenkirk on the books for $6 million, which will leave the team with a lot less cap space to leverage with pending unrestricted free agents Chris Krieder, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jesper Fast, and a number of restricted free agents without contracts. With Shattenkirk on the way out, it leaves a huge need for a first pairing defenseman.
Which is why the blueshirts went out and acquired right handed defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. Trouba has had his issues with the Jets, so it’s no real surprise he is set to suit up for a different club this season. To remind you, let’s go through his last few years with the Jets. Before the 2016-2017 season, Trouba asked for a trade and later rescinded the request. Following the season, he was a restricted free agent and went to arbitration. Trouba was asking for higher than $7 million, and was awarded a 1 year $5.5 million contract. This summer Trouba’s contract was up, but he was still a restricted free agent coming off a career high. The cap strapped Jets flipped him to. The Rangers acquired a career high 50 point season Jacob Trouba without a contract, and were set to go to arbitration themselves with the defender. They eventually avoided that and signed him to a seven year, $8 million average annual value contract. It seems like a bit of an overpay, but that was sort of the Rangers thing this off season.
Regardless of the contract, the 25 year old Trouba will bring some offense to the blueline, something Shattenkirk was supposed to do. The Rangers gave up middling defenseman Neal Pionk and the Jets’ own first round pick New York had acquired at the 2019 trade deadline for Kevin Hayes. That’s an expensive RFA, but the Rangers got their man, so hopefully it works out. A plus is that Trouba is locked up for long term, so can’t threaten to go to arbitration for a long time.
Trouba will pair up with Brady Skjei to do that hockey. Skjei is a lefty defender who is a slick skater and has a little more defensively sound than Trouba. The two should pair up very nicely together. Skjei’s offensive stats have dipped since his rookie debut, but the Rangers team should be better offensively this season as a whole, so playing with a better partner will give him a nice boost.
The second pairing is where the Rangers get a bit shaky. Veteran left handers Marc Staal and Brendan Smith should slot in here, but both have been declining the past few seasons. Brendan Smith is only one season removed from being demoted to the AHL, due to not coming to camp ready to play. These two will probably battle for the second pairing left side, with the loser playing third pairing. However, they could potentially bury Smith in the minors again or move one of the two in a trade if they get outplayed by rookies looking for a spot.
Europeans Libor Hajek and Yegor Rykov will be looking to make the team on that left side. Hajek saw some brief NHL action and played the rest of the year in Hartford last season and Rykov will be making the jump from the KHL. The 21 year old Czech, Hajek was acquired with Vlad Namestnikov in the February 2018 deadline deal that sent Ryan McDonaugh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay. Rykov, now 22, was acquired with a second round pick in the 2018 draft deal which dealt Michael Grabner to New Jersey. Expect them both to get seasoned on North American Ice in the AHL this season, but threaten to make the team next season. They are both young defenseman that still need to improve their game to play at the NHL level.
On the right side Adam Fox will be looking to impress this training camp and pre-season. Fox is a dynamic defenseman who played for Harvard in the NCAA. The Rangers traded a couple picks to Carolina for him this off season. Fox could look to make the squad out of camp, or he could go back to Harvard for his last year and start up with the Rangers for the 2020-2021 season. Third pairing right hander Tony DeAngelo is an unsigned restricted free agent still at this point. The Rangers offered a one year around $1 million and with Fox on the cusp of making the team, they really won’t need to negotiate too heavily with DeAngelo, who is coming off a career high of 30 points last season. It’s unfortunate for him that he had a career year and the team has some cheaper more viable options, so I can see him getting a shot somewhere else. If he doesn’t sign the blueshirts can always trade his rights for a team looking for some cheap depth. The Rangers are looking set with all these young defenseman close to making the team and they have one more NCAA defenseman developing nicely, K’Andre Miller. Miller looks like he could plug into the roster in a few years once he’s done playing collegiate hockey.
The blueline depth will be huge for the Rangers in a few seasons as they completely come out of the rebuild and start to contend.
As with a lot of teams, the season could come down to goaltending. In his fourteenth season starting for the Rangers in Madison Square Garden, Henrik Lundqvist finally looked human. Lundqvist was 35 last season and made 52 starts. He was relied upon as he always has been but started showing his age. He played a lot last season early on, but his time decreased after the middle mark as he got less starts. This could be a trend going into this season, as Alexandar Georgiev has shown he is a competent backup and can be a decent starter when Lundqvist needs a break. It’s unknown if Georgiev has a long future in New York as the Rangers have one of the best goalie prospects out there.
Igor Shesterkin is a 2014 4th rounder of the Rangers and will finally be coming to North America from the KHL this season. If everything goes smoothly with the transition, Igor should get some valuable AHL seasoning this season, and maybe the odd start in the NHL. However, if Lundqvist or Georgiev is traded, he could get a lot more time with the big club. I’m not sure if Lundqvist would accept a trade, but it’s likely his only shot at a cup.
New York Rangers 2019-20 Prediction
5th-7th Metro Division
The future is bright for this club, with the amount of young talented prospects joining the team this season, they will be fun to watch. Combine that with some grade A talent in Artemi Panarin and the team will be in a lot of highlight reels this year. Henrik Lundqvist is a huge question mark as to whether he will play less and bounce back, or continue his slide in stats. A couple off season large cap hit and long term signings could eventually hurt the team, but the Rangers will be hoping the cap increases enough or they become competitive enough that it won’t matter. The Rangers have gotten better but need one more season before their very young team can put it all together and be a playoff contender in the tough Metro Division.