When the horn sounded in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the New York Rangers came off the ice defeated by a team with more playoff experience than them.
An upstart group led by the Vezina winner in Igor Shesterkin and a young core of players had exceeded the Rangers’ faithful expectations of the team with series wins over Pittsburgh and Carolina. There was no shame in bowing out to the then back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
The NHL offseason came and went, and with it, the expectations of what the Rangers can be has risen tremendously. No longer can New York squeak through amongst the very best in the Metropolitan division. Gone are the days they’ll be underdogs to Sidney Crosby or the Canes.
The New York Rangers enter the 2022-23 NHL season with expectations of greatness. From the young talent looking to break out, to the star-studded veterans, to the role players looking to earn their stripes every night, New York is ready and capable of going on another deep playoff run.
“We’re really excited about starting the new year tomorrow night. Training camp is long and it’s a grind but we’re down to our team and getting ready and excited to start the season for sure” head coach Gerard Gallant said after practice Monday.
Gallant enters his second season with the Blueshirts. Of the ten seasons of coaching in the National Hockey League, Gallant has only led a team to back-to-back playoff appearances once. Can the 59-year-old coach buck the trend and get New York back in the postseason again?
He certainly appears to have the right combination of players to do that.
Veteran savvy Leads New York
For a team with a plethora of experienced talent, the Rangers are still a young group compared to other units in the Metro division. Five players are currently over 30 years old with Artemi Panarin, and Chris Kreider both at 31 right now.
It means the best of the Rangers roster is still in the prime of their careers, while some have new titles to their name.
Jacob Trouba was named team captain during the offseason: the 28th Ranger to be given the title.
“It’s a privilege to be a Ranger and play in this city. I don’t take lit lightly.” Trouba said. New York’s front office was adamant about the role change with general manager Chris Drury saying ” As we look to take the next step as an organization, he (Trouba) is a role model for all of our players to follow and the perfect choice to be our captain.”
Mika Zibanjead, Chris Kreider, Barclay Goodrow, and Artemi Panarin were all named as alternate captains days before the team’s first game which means the same leadership team roams the halls of the Rangers practice facility as last year.
With that leadership comes the understanding that excellence on the ice and off it is paramount. The Rangers have the necessary vets to lead their team further than they went last year. With Zibanejad, Kreider and Panarin expected to lead the charge, they offer a dynamic approach to what the Rangers could be.
Taking the next step in the youth movement
The Ranger’s rebuild is over. The plethora of first-round picks assembled over the last five years has been turned into young and hungry talent all across the major league roster.
Blossoming stars like Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller have taken the next steps to become household names across the league. Miller specifically is coming off an incredible season of his own just last year.
But the Rangers know what they have in Fox and Miller. The real key to the Rangers’ success in 2022 will be their young talent on offense.
Often having to rely on a strong powerplay and excellent goaltending, New York will need to rely on young talents like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, and Vitali Kravtsov if the team is looking to make the necessary jump from surprising playoff performers to true title contenders.
Some of the young core became famous during the Rangers’ playoff run last season with the “Kid Line” being dubbed to Lafreniere, Chytil, and Kakko. The three young talents accounted for 23 points in the playoffs and brought a new aggressive approach to the Rangers.
But the kid line won’t be surprising anyone this year. For the Rangers to get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the young core of offensive talent must make the necessary jumps in their play to dominate. According to some on the team, that jump is already happening. When speaking to AMNY Monday morning, K’Andre Miller touted Alexis Lafreniere as the one young player that is expected to break out this season.
“He’s really skilled with the puck. I think it’s just a matter of finding that stability and confidence within himself and he should be filling up for a 50-point year again.” Miller said.
With New York under the microscope as a cup contender, Lafreniere will be just one of several key young players that will need to take the necessary jump.
The Trocheck-Panarin relationship
Much will be made about Vincent Trocheck signing a seven-year, $39,375,000 in the offseason with the Rangers. New York had been looking for potential replacements for Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp and found it in a complete player in the former Hurricane.
The relationship between Trocheck and Artemi Panarin will now be the one that could decide the course of the Rangers’ season. While the relationship is just beginning, the expectation is that there will still be communication issues as the group grows together. Through the short time the two played together in the preseason, it appeared the two were a little off.
That isn’t a concern according to the Rangers head coach though.
“We’ll see how it goes. I’m not worried. They are both good hockey players and they’ll figure it out.” Gallant said after Monday’s practice.
In a loaded Eastern Conference, and Metro division, the Rangers may not be afforded an easy start o their season. If the Trocheck-Panarin pairing doesn’t produce results early, it could put the team in a position to have to move lines around early and often.
Igor Reigns Supreme
Igor Shesterkin may be coy when discussing what he worked on during the offseason, but coming off a Vezina trophy, the Rangers’ top goaltender is ready to continue to help his legacy as the best goaltender in the NHL.
Shesterkin is coming off a year in which he led the league in save percentage (93%) and goals against average (2.07). The former fourth-round selection in 2014 was just as good in the playoffs though with a .929 save percentage and a 10-9 record.
The Rangers go as Shesterkin goes. It was true last season in the regular season and the playoffs. With Alexander Georgiev gone as the backup, the netminder reigns unchallenged on the depth chart and in the hearts of Ranger fans.
But the goal for Shesterkin and the Rangers remains the same.
“Our team only has one goal and that’s winning the Stanley Cup. I believe that we’re fully capable of that. Everybody wants to put in the work. Everybody can put in the work and I think we can do it.” Shesterkin said during training camp.
Shesterkin’s words have been echoed throughout the locker room. It’s no longer good enough for the team to simply make the playoffs anymore. With a blend of veteran savvy and young enthusiasm, the gauntlet has been set:
Anything less than a Stanley Cup won’t do.