With the hiring of Peter Laviolette as head coach of the New York Rangers, it’s now or never for most of the franchise to finally create the winner they’ve been talking about over the last few years.
Laviolette brings a fiery personality to New York and has extensive experience as a head coach. Over 750 career victories mean the Rangers brought in a guy that knows how to win in several different places. But winning with the Blueshirts is no easy task.
There’s a blend of young players trying to find ways to break out, and veterans who have not answered the call in big moments. That will be one of many questions the 37th head coach in team history will need to figure out over the next few months – how to blend a team with different players into a cohesive winner.
There are five players on the Rangers roster that will be impacted the most (and need to be) for the team to end their decades-long championship drought with a new head coach.
One of the big questions Laviolette will need to answer is how he intends to play and handle the young core of forwards the team currently possesses. Kakko is coming off a career year to this point and should be in line for an increase in playing time/chances. Laviolette has had a so/so history with prospects in his past and will need to get the most out of the former high draft picks for the team to be successful.
How Kakko looks under his new head coach could make or break the Rangers’ future.
Speaking of young players, there may not be one under more pressure next season than Lafreniere. Complaints of his inability to improve his game have been rampant over the last season and a new head coach will need to figure out how to get through to the former first-overall pick. When Laviolette was in Philadelphia, he helped turn Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux into stars but also struggled to get the most out of young players in Washington years later.
If Laviolette can get Lafreniere to become a better skater and performer overall, it could help the Rangers get back to a level of dominance they haven’t had in quite some time.
Figuring out how to get the most out of young players isn’t the only problem Laviolette and the Rangers need to solve this season. Getting Panarin to be a consistent performer when it matters most is another major challenge for the new coach. Panarin was non-existent during the Rangers’ first-round collapse at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
Putting the 90-point scorer in a system that emphasizes puck discipline should help the team limit bad turnovers throughout games. The safe brand of hockey may be boring to some, but it’ll make Panarin a smarter player as he continues into his prime.
In a system that emphasizes pressure, K’Andre Miller might be the one defenseman that is impacted the most by a new head coach. Miller may have put up career numbers in 2022 but he was also a part of the defensive pairings that gave up the most goals in hockey last season.
Laviolette’s system should change things for Miller. Pressure on the forecheck is paramount and the aggressive style that he brings could take Miller to a level that surpasses his 2021 jump. While younger players as a whole should benefit from the new head coach, it’ll all come down to how Laviolette ends up communicating with some of these guys.
One main constant from Laviolette’s many stops across the NHL is that he loves puck-handling defensemen. Miller and Adam Fox should be in line for big seasons, but another young player that should be impacted the most is Zac Jones. Jones didn’t really get a fair shot with the big league club last season with Gerard Gallant wanting big defensemen over those who could handle the puck well.
With Laviolette at the helm, not only do Jones’ skills match up nicely, but he should be able to get plenty of playing time with Braden Schneider on the starting line.
Jones recently signed a two-year extension with the Rangers which tells me they also see how his skill set should be perfect within Laviolette’s system.