It’s been two years since the New York Rangers made the postseason, but that’s not dampening hopes for local fans, who are optimistic coming off a busy offseason acquiring new, young talent.
In particular, fans will be watching 18-year-old Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko, snagged as the second overall draft pick. There’s also Russian Artemi Panarin, 27, a coveted free agent who signed a seven-year contract with the Rangers this summer after racking up 28 goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets. On defense, Jacob Trouba, 25, came over from the Winnipeg Jets.
"This all represents a big infusion of new talent, so it’s very exciting in that regard," said Chris Maisano, 36, a database administrator from Brooklyn. "Kaapo Kakko for Rookie of the Year, pending disaster."
A lifelong Rangers fan, Maisano admitted that “they don’t offer you much typically in the way of joy.” While he doubts the playoffs are likely this year, “I think they are probably going to have stretches where they overachieve and do well and raise people’s hopes and expectations.”
Lauren Immiti, 33, an accountant and Rangers obsessive from Staten Island — who had her engagement photos taken on the ice at Madison Square Garden — is more hopeful.
“I don’t want to jinx anything… but I have a much more optimistic outlook to make the playoffs,” she said.
She’ll miss forward Mats Zuccarello, though, who was traded to the Dallas Stars back in February. She understands the trade, she said. Still, “Everyone kind of loved him. He pumped up the crowd.”
Fred Brand, a 68-year-old university administrator from Hackettstown, New Jersey, became a Rangers fan in the 1960s before the New Jersey Devils arrived, and “bleeds Ranger blue.” He said veteran Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist could be headed for an “Eli Manning kind of situation” this year. Like the recently-benched New York Giants quarterback, Lundqvist is in his late 30s. This will be his 15th season with the Rangers.
“He’s had moments of dominance, but how much does he have left in the tank?” Brand wondered. “When do you… put him in a backup role?”
Some Islanders fans, meanwhile, are feeling jilted after a comparatively less-flashy offseason.
“I’ll admit it was definitely hard to see the two other teams in the immediate vicinity, the Rangers and Devils, improve at least on paper,” said Jeff Zeitler, 28, of Farmingdale, Long Island. “Whereas the Islanders for the most part just stayed pat.”
“They were trying to get a superstar free agent and for whatever reason they couldn’t make it work,” echoed Islanders fan Rob Gunther, 35, a radio producer from Astoria. “The Rangers definitely made a huge get with Panarin. That really sucked up a lot of oxygen.”
“I’m just hoping they can build off the surprise success of last year,” Gunther added, pointing to rising talents like center Mathew Barzal.
The Islanders made it to the second round of the playoffs in the spring, only to be swept by the Carolina Hurricanes.