A new era has begun for the New York Rangers. Peter Laviolette is less than a week away from opening up his first training camp as head coach of the storied hockey franchise. Along the way, the Blueshirts have molded the incoming roster in a way that will look different than the group that went to two straight playoff appearances under Gerard Gallant.
The main constant over this stretch has been general manager Chris Drury. Now entering his third season as the head of the Rangers’ organization, pressure has mounted for Drury to finally build a winner after going through two different coach hirings.
To the former player, this Rangers team is perfectly equipped to handle the pressure coming for them.
“It’s a new year and a new challenge, and I think everyone’s excited – not just to get into training camp but to try to get into the regular season and to try to reach our first goal of making the playoffs,” Drury said Thursday morning.
New York spent all offseason molding the roster differently than they have had over the years. Veteran players like Blake Wheeler and Nick Bonino are now in tow, while the team locked up some of their younger core players. As with any new Rangers season, the development of their young core will be just as important as the wins they produce.
Players like former first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Brennan Othmann will get plenty of chances to compete for top roles in the 2023 club. In regard to Lafreniere and Othamann, it appears that Drury is leaving all final roster decisions to the new coach but expects both players to have some time playing on the right side of the ice.
Drury’s comments on Lafreniere were quite interesting in regard to the former top pick. Lafreniere has made it known in the past that he prefers to play on his natural left-hand side but does have experience on the right. To better fit what the Rangers want to do with him, moving Lafreniere to a top line with players like Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck would give him the ice time he has been hoping for.
Speaking of Panarin, as superstars go, his struggles in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been well-documented. He recorded just two points in the Rangers’ first-round loss to the New Jersey Devils last season. New York knows they’ll need to have the All-Star playing at a top level this season if they want to be even more successful.
“Artemi is a world-class player and anyone who knows him personally knows what a great person he is. I know he did express some frustration at breakup day & I know he’s worked extremely hard this summer on his mental and physical game and trying to have another terrific regular season to get another crack in the playoffs,” Drury explained to Mollie Walker of the New York Post. “I think he’s itching for it and wants to have a good playoff.”
Getting Panarin at his best would certainly help the Rangers compete in a loaded Metropolitan division. The New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes are considered top dogs in the division with other teams in the Atlantic making the Eastern Conference an absolute war to get through.
That, in part, is why Drury decided on free agents that brought toughness to the team instead of overall skill. In his mind, that veteran presence will be very much needed come playoff time.
“I think all of our players understand that to have success in the regular season + in the playoffs, you have to be able to take care of all 3 zones. I think guys are ready to accept that challenge,” Drury said.
Can the Rangers compete for a championship in the first season under Laviolette? Time will tell but the mental makeup of the group is now older and more experienced. If the Rangers are not going to be looking for new management next offseason, it’ll be up to the roster that Drury constructed to finally get over the hump.