As the first week of NHL free agency winds down, this may be how the New York Rangers look going into training camp – come September. Here are five things to look forward to for the fans.
First, a full season of Kaapo Kakko.
The 18-year old will play for the New York Rangers and likely on the second line with power-play time. Kakko was the second overall pick of the 2019 NHL Draft. Some debated vociferously that he should have been the first. All that matters for the fans is that the 190-pound right winger plays like an NHL-caliber player already. He is built for the league and could easily contribute 50+ points for New York in 2019-20.
The reason for the increased speculation is that Vitali Kravtsov could be moved to left wing. That is because Jimmy Vesey was traded setting the stage for Kakko to debut on the second line. It may not materialize right away but fans need to be patient. This will happen in time.
Honestly, the whole column could have been five reason why Kaapo Kakko should be something to look forward to for New York Ranger fans. However, there is more.
Second, New York acquired Jacob Trouba
The New York Rangers’ defense was atrocious last season and that may be a kind assessment. What Henrik Lundqvist saw in front of him night after night had to feel like a horror version of “Groundhog Day”.
Acquiring Jacob Trouba for essentially giving the Winnipeg Jets their first-round pick back was pure genius by Jeff Gorton. Trouba costed the Rangers a fraction of what they should have paid simply because the defenseman only wanted to go to a couple select locations – as his girlfriend wants to pursue her medical residency.
He is a 50-point defenseman who can eat up rather tough minutes. The 25-year old played nearly 23 minutes a night last year for Winnipeg and could play anywhere from 23-25 minutes as a top defenseman for New York this season. His possession numbers were slightly positive relative to the Winnipeg team which is encouraging. His power-play presence will be a help as well and he can kill penalties which was another thing New York struggled at all year.
Third, the Rangers traded for Adam Fox
The New York Rangers could have just waiting a bit over a year and signed Fox for free, but they wanted him on the roster now. Who could blame them? Fox plays like an offensive defenseman who rushes the puck up the ice exceedingly well. That was an aspect the Rangers were sorely missing from their lineup last season.
He does not possess blazing speed or very big (5’10”, 180 pounds) but Fox knows what to do with the puck in each zone and knows instinctively when to go in and when to hold back. At Harvard, he averaged 1.14 points per game as a freshman and then 1.45 points per game last season. Yes, points are skewed a bit because he plays in the ECAC. However, Fox’s mental acumen suggests a higher offensive ceiling than most, nonetheless.
Fourth, a rejuvenated Henrik Lundqvist
Although, Lundqvist is 37-years old and his skills are slowly eroding, he still has more than enough to carry this New York Rangers team. This is an accelerated rebuild after all. Also, the first two months of last season could provide a blueprint of what the Rangers and Lundqvist can do. Lundqvist was 9-8-2 in his first 20 starts with a 2.61 GAA and .920 save percentage. Those are numbers that probably could get the Rangers into the Wildcard or at least contend for a playoff spot.
Now, can New York count on Lundqvist for 60 games this season? That answer is obviously no but there should be enough solid backup goaltending that the Swedish netminder can start 50-55 games. The Rangers feature an improved team defense in front of Lundqvist that should not falter like it did in 2018-19. Defensive improvement in all phases should see Lundqvist’s shot load go down and chances go down as well.
Finally, did we mention Artemi Panarin?
We saved the best for last. Artemi Panarin signed a seven-year, $11.642 million AAV deal to be a New York Ranger. Panarin, in his four seasons in the league, never dipped below 74 points. Also, he had 87 points for the Columbus Blue Jackets last year. He is one of the best players in the league when Panarin possesses the puck.
The left-winger is a possession dynamo and will likely play with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider this season. This will also boost the power-play as well. New York is paying a lot, but fans will realize they are getting so much more with Panarin. Again, the best defense is often a good offense. Panarin can keep the puck out of the defensive zone and has 30+ goal, 60+ assist potential.
Lastly, the New York Rangers may not make the playoffs this season, but they will contend for at least a wildcard spot. They are going to be dangerous to play against and fun to watch.
By Chris Wassel