The New York Rangers enter the 2022 season with heightened expectations.
An Eastern Conference Finals appearance and a solid free agency pool have allowed fans of the Blueshirts to think about just how good year two of the Gerard Gallant era can be.
Yet while the Rangers are some analyst’s pick to come out of the Eastern Conference in 2022, there are still several questions that will need to be answered ahead of the season opener at the beginning of October.
Here are five main questions the Rangers need to answer during camp in a couple of weeks.
How dependable is Jaro Halak behind Shesterkin?
The New York Rangers may have the best goaltender in hockey, but his backup is less of a sure thing. Jaroslav Halak was brought in as a cheap backup option to the Vezina winner, but is 37 years old and not the same goaltender he once was.
How Halak plays will also be an added question with the deep group of young goaltenders currently in the Rangers’ farm system as well. Dylan Garand and Olof Lindbom are solid young options for the team as they continue to develop, but they don’t have the experience that Halak brings.
For a game or two throughout the season, Halak could be a dependable option. But if Shesterkin were to go down for an extended period of time, could the old netminder find a way to pull out wins?
That’s a big question that needs to be answered for the Rangers.
How far are Brennan Othmann and others from making the NHL?
The Rangers have a young core of talented players, and an excellent group of prospects to boot. But just how far are these prospects from making the big league club?
Brennan Othmann is widely considered the top prospect for the Blueshirts, while Will Cuylle and others have shown their skillset during World Juniors. But are they ready to take on the everyday toll that is NHL hockey and play with skaters that are bigger and stronger than them?
New York has a deep roster as well full of players looking to make immediate contributions to the club as soon as possible. Are there as many spots available for young players like Othmann and Cuylle to make the roster even if they show they are ready to take the next step from the OHL?
The Kid Line: Are they ready to take the next step without each other?
Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko turned heads in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with their electric play. With all three expected to be with the club for the entirety of the 2022 season, the Ranger’s youth movement has come full circle.
But is the “kid line” ready to take that next step in New York?
Kakko recently signed a two-year contract extension, but injuries and the lack of a solid fit haven’t allowed the former second overall pick to blossom yet in the NHL. Then there is Lafrenière who has the pressures of being a top overall selection but will need to give a major increase in production to live up to his draft status. Or how about Filip Chytil who hasn’t put up more than 23 points in a single season for his first five seasons?
The Rangers have been rightfully patient with their young core of players. They could afford to be with the retooling of the roster. Now isn’t the case anymore. With free agent departures like Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome, the young major league players must step up in a big way, but will most likely be doing so on different lines than the others.
What do the Rangers do with Lundkvist?
Nils Lundkvist is buried on a deep defensive depth chart behind Braden Schneider and a plethora of young, talented defensive prospects.
It was no surprise then when reports came out that the Rangers were looking to shop the defenseman after he threatened to not show up to training camp.
Lundkvist was one of three first-round picks for the Rangers in the 2018 NHL Draft as the 28th overall pick. As a part of a blooming defensive core, Lundkvist is considered behind recently called-up Braden Schneider.
Does Panarin line up with Trocheck or does he stay with Mika and Kreider?
Almost every major NHL analyst has Artemi Panarin moving down a line to pair with Vincent Trocheck. In fairness, a Panarin/Trocheck line could very well be one of the best lines in all of hockey.
But there’s no guarantee that happens. Chris Kreider had a career season paired with his top linemates.
Would the Rangers be comfortable moving down Panarin at the expense of Kreider’s production? That’s a question that will be asked and observed throughout the earlier parts of the 2022 season.
How Panarin and Trocheck mix could very well determine just how far the Rangers actually go. If the pairing goes well and Trocheck is playing like an All-Star, then New York could very well be on the doorstep of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
If not, there could be much more tweaking going on with the Ranger’s lines than originally thought.
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