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Rangers 2021 season preview: The next step of the rebuild

Rangers
The Rangers start their season on Thursday night, hosting the Islanders.
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The rebuild is in maximum overdrive and the Rangers are about to take their first strides toward an even brighter future. 

After a season that saw them exceed expectations, largely thanks to the signing of Artemi Panarin the summer before, the Rangers snuck into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in the Toronto bubble only to be swept by the Carolina Hurricanes.

It was the best thing that could have happened to them as they received another stroke of good luck at the draft lottery, winning the No. 1 overall selection and taking star winger Alexis Lafreniere. 

Big things are ahead for the 19-year-old who will begin his NHL career on the Rangers’ young third line in hopes of adding more depth to a team that has lacked it in recent years. 

While it’s still a major concern, the team’s largest weakness is still its defense, which will see one major new face in its ranks. 

K’Andre Miller, one of the organization’s top prospects, is expected to slot in on the first pairing with Jacob Trouba in hopes of hammering down at least one bona fide blueline duo to build upon. 

The last thing the organization wants to do is leave its young star goaltender, Igor Shesterkin, out to dry as it did with Henrik Lundqvist during the final years of his Rangers career. Shesterkin dazzled in his first handful of NHL games before the COVID shutdown and is only expected to get better.

To see how we picked the Rangers to finish this season, check out our national NHL preview. For now, here is what we see their opening-night roster looking like:

Rangers projected lines, pairings, goalies

1st Line

LW: Artemi Panarin

C: Mika Zibanejad

RW: Pavel Buchnevich

One of the top dynamic duos in all of hockey is found on the Rangers’ first line. Panarin was a Hart Trophy (MVP) finalist in his first season with the Blueshirts last year while Zibanejad benefitted the most, scoring 41 goals in 57 games.

2nd Line

LW: Chris Kreider

C: Ryan Strome

RW: Kaapo Kakko

Kreider is as reliable as they come on the Rangers’ left-wing, providing a scoring flair with hard-nosed hockey. But depth questions immediately begin with Ryan Strome’s ability to replicate his career year while Kakko — the 2019 No. 2 pick — will try to fill the shoes of Jesper Fast.

3rd Line

LW: Alexis Lafreniere

C: Filip Chytil

RW: Julien Gauthier

All eyes will be on Lafreniere as he makes his much-anticipated NHL debut. He’ll headline a line of youngsters with Chytil and Gauthier looking to bolster down their reputations as every-day NHL contributors.

4th Line

LW: Brendan Lemieux

C: Brett Howden

RW: Phillip Di Giuseppe

Lemieux has quickly become a Rangers fan favorite with his bombastic style of play, but he is the only constant on the Rangers’ fourth line for now. Kevin Rooney and Colin Blackwell are waiting in the wings if the bottom line struggles.

Defensive Pairings

K’Andre Miller – Jacob Trouba

Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox 

Jack Johnson – Anthony DeAngelo

Goalies

Igor Shesterkin

Alexandar Georgiev

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