During the 2021-22 National Hockey League season, the New York Rangers finished second in the Metropolitan Division. Under the guidance of head coach Gerard Gallant, they were able to reach the Eastern Conference Finals before losing in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After going as far as they did last spring, the expectations for this team are already very high as they prepare to kick their season off against Tampa Bay on home ice, less than a week from today.
The Rangers will have a new captain heading into 2022-23 named Jacob Trouba. During the offseason, Trouba was named the 28th captain in franchise history and three years into his Ranger career has established himself as a top-pair defenseman and a leader on the ice and inside the Rangers dressing room. Nevertheless, Trouba now has to prove he can handle being the captain of a Stanley cup contender and to understand how the 2022-23 Rangers may do, let’s look at their roster and where it needs to improve.
Which NY Stadium/Arena has the best fan atmosphere?
Yankee Stadium - NY Yankees
Citi Field - NY Mets
Madison Square Garden - NY Rangers
UBS Arena - NY Islanders
Madison Square Garden - NY Knicks
Barclays Center - Brooklyn Nets
MetLife Stadium - NY Giants
MetLife Stadium - NY Jets
A Cup Contender Needs Forward Depth
Artemi Panarin led the Blueshirts in point-scoring (96 points) last season, but he plays on the Rangers second line and their first line is the one to focus on. The first line has a dynamic duo which includes its center Mika Zibanejad and his left-wing, Chris Kreider, who scored a career-high 52 goals last season, which was just two shy of the franchise record (54). However, it’s obvious how important all three are to the Rangers, but the big question surrounding this team is what are they going to get from their depth forwards?
For the Rangers to get more scoring depth from their second and third lines, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere must contribute more than they did last season. Last year, those two were wings on ‘the Kid Line’ centered by Filip Chytil and none scored much more than 30 points but they did show something in last year’s playoffs. On that run, Chytil scored seven goals, which ranked third on the team while Lafreniere’s seven assists were a solid effort. On the other hand, Kakko had just five points during the playoffs, but injuries plagued him during the regular season, so if he can stay healthy he could play much better this year.
When Rangers did not re-sign second-line center, Ryan Strome, it left a hole in their top-six forward group. In response, general manager Drury went out and signed Vincent Trocheck, who played that role for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. If Trocheck plays as well as he did last year, he will be a good addition to the top six, but it bears repeating that Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp also left and they were both top-six forwards. As a result, one of the main tasks Gerard Gallant will have during the early part of the upcoming season is to find someone who can play on Panarin’s opposite wing on the second line.
How Good are the New York Rangers Defensemen?
With a former Norris trophy-winner and their captain part of an already good blueline, there are not many jobs up for grabs. Last season, K’Andre Miller became a very solid left-handed defenseman on the first pairing. In addition, the New York Rangers’ second pairing will continue to showcase Adam Fox and his partner Ryan Lindgren and do not overlook that second defensive pairing either. Fox is the team’s power play quarterback and a stellar talent while Lindgren brings an edge and physicality that no other Ranger can match, so keeping these top two pairings together throughout the year is key to their success.
In terms of the third pairing, there is one possible issue which is, what defenseman is going to be paired with Braden Schneider? As a rookie last year, Schneider earned a spot on the third defensive pairing and never let go. The only problem was Gallant did not have a half-decent defenseman to play with Schneider. This has opened up a spot for prospect Zac Jones to perhaps step in, but many wonder if someone standing 5’10’ and weighing 178 pounds can thrive in the NHL. It’s a reasonable question but then how did Torey Krug (5’9″, 185 lbs.) finish fourth in the voting for the Calder Trophy when he was around Jones’s current age? The answer is that he did it and Jones can too.
The main reason it seems likely that Jones earns the last open spot on the Ranger blueline is simple; he is the best skater of the defenseman left on the team’s roster. Jarred Tinordi is also still on the roster but has not played more than 28 games in one season during his entire career. It is clear that while not possessing good size, Jones has the skating ability to be on the Rangers third defensive pairing this year and it’s very likely that he will.
Assessing the New York Rangers Goaltending Situation
Describing what the Rangers goaltending situation is much like this: does the egg and Taylor Ham sandwich that I buy always taste great? Of course, Taylor ham tastes great no matter what and Igor Shesterkin plays great no matter what, too. Last year, Shesterkin led the NHL in save percentage and goals-against-average on the way to winning his first Vezina trophy, but there was one slight issue with the team’s goaltending. That was Alexandar Georgiev, who did not play well but he is no longer with the team, so who’s going to back up Shesterkin this year?
This offseason, the front office signed Jaroslav Halak and Louis Domingue to answer this need. As we stand almost at the end of the preseason, Domingue has been sent down to the American Hockey League and Halak is still with the team. The 37-year-old Slovakian may be aging but he has been a reliable backup each of the last two seasons and can be that for this Rangers team this season. If he gives the team 20 starts, that will be more than enough, and the Rangers need him too.
Overall Expectations for Gallant’s New York Rangers
Overall, when evaluating the New York Rangers roster, it’s clear that it has stars on its first and second forward lines, on defense and in the net but it has a few question marks. As NHL on TNT analyst, Rick Tocchet said during the broadcast of a Rangers’ preseason game, the Rangers “should finish in the final four [make the conference final] at least” but fellow TNT analyst, Paul Bissonnette was not as certain that the Rangers will make it there.
Gerard Gallant is heading into his second season as the head coach of the New York Rangers and they are already being taken seriously as contenders for the Stanley Cup. What remains to be seen is can a group that is still very young generally, take the next step and become a team that is not just thought of as contenders but who are capable of lifting the greatest trophy in professional sports.
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