College Football has a new upset every week, the NFL is in mid season form and the MLB playoffs are in full effect. So of course that means its time to sharpen the skates and get back on the ice, the NHL is coming!
The NHL is the always known as the 4th most popular sports in the States, even 5th if you include college football but not here at AVS. We love the puck based sport, with all of our support behind the New York Rangers. The past few years have been a wild ride from the Stanley Cup Final appearance to an early playoff exit last year. This will be a very important year for the franchise so lets look at the year ahead.
Rick Nash-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich
Jimmy Vesey-Kevin Hayes-J.T. Miller
Michael Grabner-Josh Jooris-Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Kevin Klein
Nick Holden – Adam Clendening
Henrik Lundqvist – Antti Raanta
Below are the 3 biggest questions that will need to be answered in order for the Blueshirts to have success this season
Will current D lineup be enough?
Captain Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein are two players that the Rangers hopefully will not have to worry about on the Bluelines. They know what they are going to get and they get both at a reasonable price. But that is were the fun starts.
The Rangers are without Keith Yandle ,who got paidddd by the Cup hungry Panthers. The Yandle traded now looks real bad, with no cup to show for it, the Rangers traded a first round pick and future star, Duclair,for a year and half of Yandle. It hurts even more because the D men we did pay (years ago) Girardi and Staal had absolutely terrible years in 2016. For the Rangers to be a threat in the East they need both players to find the fountain of youth and play like the players that earned those contracts. It will be a issue all year if they don’t improve at all. Both played hurt most of the year so health will be a factor for both in order to stay in the lineup.
The final pairing will be a mix of players all year, I would prefer a set lineup but no one has locked in those spots just yet. You’ll notice Brady Skjei is noticeably absent from my starting lineup. He started for the Rangers in the playoffs last year and was very impressive at times but the issue here is his contract. He doesn’t need to clear waivers like McIlrath or Holden do. I expect to see Skjei soon but not yet. As I am writing this it looks like Dylan Mclirath got beat out by Adam Clendening and might be on the move. Dylan would of been the Rangers enforcer so not sure who will do the fighting for the Blueshirts, so looks to teams to try and beat them up.
New York has a HoF goaltender in net but a major key to their success will be if the D can take the load off Lundqvist so he doesn’t have to do it all himself. I’m not sold though, they need to make a mid season move for top 4 D man in order to make a run, prove me wrong defense.
What is left in Rick Nash’s tank?
The talent has never been a question for Nash but as he is now past 30, what can the Blueshirts expect? Last year was a injury riddled for Nash only playing in 60 games and scoring 15 goals. That will not due for the high priced Nash. New York tried to move him all offseason but didn’t feel like the pieces coming back where worth it. If Nash is healthy, he will need to produce early. He is a very streaky scorer so him getting off to a hot start will be very important, just don’t expect it.
As I mentioned over the summer, I don’t think the Rangers are done dealing and if they want that top 4 D man, Nash will have to go (with a young forward most likely too). That may be how he helps this team the most in the next few years. If Nash does start off healthy and shows the talent, a change of scenery will be coming.
Rick will have a bounce back year and contribute big things, scoring 25 and putting up over 50 points but they won’t all be with the Rangers.
Will the youngsters grow up fast enough?
The Rangers couldn’t afford to completely re-build and waste the final years of King Henrik in net. So they are forced to work on the fly and try to revamp a contender while getting younger and cheaper. I think they have done it well.
Taking advantage of the college player staying in school then becoming a Free Agent has become the Rangers go to move to accomplish this partial re build. A few years ago it was Kevin Hayes. After putting together a stellar rookie year, Hayes fell off last year. Rangers will be counting on a return to rookie form from Hayes.
This summer the Vesey Watch was in full effect for NHL fans and yet again the Rangers won that battle. But do not let the hype get you too excited. Vesey is a talented player but he wont be a top 6 player this year, he might turn out to be soon but not yet. The college game is very different from the NHL and he will need time to adjust, expect him to play on 3rd and sometimes 4th line. If he can match Hayes’ rookie year numbers (17g – 28a) consider it a win.
Vesey may have stole the rookie spotlight in the offseason but the Rangers need Pavel Buchnevich to be the real rookie star. The former 3rd round pick, 21 year old, will be playing big minutes and needs to prove the hours of foreign highlights I watched will continue in the NHL. He will be on most exciting line for the Rangers. The Rangers traded away favorite Derek Brassard for a younger version of him in Mika Zibanejad. Mika scored 20 goals in his first two years on the ice and shows signs that this is just the beginning. Mika and Pavel will be paired with the ever frustrating Chris , BDK, Kreider. Kreider’s speed and size will always leave fans thinking he can be an unstoppable force in the NHL and he has shown it at times. He got paid this year so it is time to show he is that force. This line will be shown as the #2 lineup but they will need to perform like a true young #1 and become the staple of the Rangers for the next decade.
The last young kid I want to mention is JT Miller, former 10th overall pick. Miller has had is ups and downs with the Rangers and Rangers management. Last year it seemed to start to click for JT. He flashed the skill that made him a first rounder. Finally played a full season in the NHL and scored 22 goals. Rangers will hope for even more this year, 30 would be real nice, he is still only 23 but he needs to be a leader for this team.
So where will the Rangers finish this year? The Metro division is stacked, the Caps will remain the favorite to win the division and last year Champion Penguins will be right there. The Rangers aren’t in the same tier as those two teams but they are a playoff team. I expect them to finish 3rd in the division and have about 94-97 points
If they can keep Lundqvist fresh, never count out a Cup run. The talent around him though isn’t enough and the King comes up short again on his Cup quest, it is looking more and more likely that Lundqvist might never win a cup and go down as the best player without a Cup in history, the old Dan Marino of the NHL.
Rangers make a run but lose in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Puck drops Thursday!
Also published on Medium.