Oh, it’s a big, new, beautiful season. The 4-0-0 Oilers are at MSG to take on the 2-0-0 NY Rangers at 11 AM MST on Saturday. I’ve got some questions about these NY Rangers for Mike over at SB Nation’s Blueshirt Banter. Mike was happy to oblige.
- Like the Oilers, the Rangers have started off with a perfect record to begin the 2018-19 NHL season. There’s not a whole lot to dissect in two games, but what’s been clicking so far?
I think it’s safe to say that the top line of Artemiy Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich has been clicking. Thus far, that trio has scored four goals at 5-on-5 and has yet to be scored on by the opposition. Aren’t small sample sizes fun?
We don’t expect Zibanejad to post four points in every game this season, but we do expect big things from that top line this year. It wouldn’t be surprising if Buchnevich gets rotated out for Kaapo Kakko at some point, but for the time being there’s no reason to fix what ain’t broke on the top line.
2. Kappo Kakko was selected second overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. It’s been only a few games, but how’s he looked so far? What’s a fair expectation for him in his rookie campaign?
There are things that Kakko does on the ice that no teenager should be able to do at this level, which is why Rangers fans are acting like a bunch of squares who are seeing the Beatles perform for the first time. His ability to shield the puck with his body and find passing and shooting lanes is awesome for a player his age. He’s still hunting for his first NHL point, but no one’s concerned about that after only two games.
Setting an expectation for him in his rookie campaign is tricky due to the Rangers’ lack of center depth. For the moment, he’s on the second line with play-driving winger Chris Kreider and former Edmonton Oiler Ryan Strome. Strome has found himself in the good graces of the Rangers’ front office and coaching staff after shooting over 22 percent in 63 games with the Blueshirts last year. Needless to say, having Strome as the center of the second line is far from ideal for the Rangers and for Kakko. Still, it would be shocking if he finished with anything less than 40 points given his production history in Liiga and at the Worlds.
3. Not too long ago, the Rangers looked like they were headed into a full rebuild mode. Since last season, they’ve made strides to suggest that they’re trying to shake that moniker. They picked up Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. Artemi Panarin was brought in to score some goals. There’s a youth movement on the way. As far as rebuilds go, where are the Rangers in all of this?
Well, the Rangers are telling their fans and the media that they are no longer in rebuild mode; they’re in “build” mode. We’re still not entirely sure what that means, because there’s still a lot of work to do and many of the team’s best prospects are not on the NHL club yet.
The moves that the Rangers made in the offseason – the Trouba trade, the Adam Fox trade, and the Panarin signing – effectively accelerated the rebuild and gave the Rangers some key pieces to build around. But until Vitali Kravtsov, Filip Chytil, K’Andre Miller, Igor Shesterkin and a few other prospects get into the mix at the NHL level, this rebuild is still very much underway. A cursory glance at the team’s blue line and center depth makes that abundantly clear.
4. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has had a star studded career with the New York Rangers. The Vezina-winning two time All-Star goaltender finished last season with declining numbers. Does the transition to goaltender Alexander Georgiev begin this season, or do the Rangers play it by ear?
When you look at the numbers, the transition away from Lundqvist began last season.
Hank is expected to play fewer games than he did last year and could start fewer than 50 games. Essentially, the Rangers have a timeshare with Georgiev and Lundqvist, and that is for the best. Georgiev has been a roaring success thus far considering the fact that he was an undrafted free agent. It’s also possible that Shesterkin – who is widely considered one of the best NHL goaltending prospects on the planet – gets called up and sees some starts in the NHL this season.
Down the road, the Rangers could investigate moving Georgiev or Shesterkin if one establishes himself over the other as the clear successor to Henrik’s throne. For the moment, the smart money is on Shesterkin.
5. Finally, does this club see the playoffs in 2020? Why, or why not?
The Rangers are not a playoff team this year. The bottom line is that they are a work-in-progress. David Quinn has a blue line with Marc Staal and two rookies on it and a bottom-six that will be hard-pressed to generate offense. The top line will be great and Trouba could crack 50 points again this season, but the Rangers won’t be able to compete with teams that have real depth, especially down the middle.
There’s also the matter of how deep the Atlantic Division is. It’s entirely possible that both wild card spots go to teams in the Atlantic and the Metropolitan Division only sends three teams to the 2020 Playoffs. If that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine the Rangers finishing third in the division unless a team like the Penguins are unraveled by injuries all season long.
Thanks to Mike from Blueshirt Banter for his time.
Visit Mike on Twitter at @DigDeepBSB