Excitement grows as the Rangers enter training camp
After an unexpected playoff run last June, the New York Rangers look to build upon their success this upcoming season.
Sep 23, 2022
“Stanley Cup Contender” are words New York Rangers fans have not heard since the days of Henrik Lundqvist and his dazzling saves. However, the emergence of a young goaltender Igor Shesterkin has brought hope and fervor back into the hearts of Rangers fans. Following a seemingly miraculous run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Rangers are looking to turn what some call a flukey postseason into the start of a period of dominance in the NHL.
As training camp and the season approach, most of the core lineup remains unchanged from last season, but much of the surrounding cast is new. The key players leaving are Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Justin Braun and Alexander Georgiev. Those entering the lineup this year include Vincent Trocheck, Sammy Blais and Jaroslav Halak. The Rangers could also potentially promote top players already in their system, such as Libor Hajek and Vitali Kravtsov.
The most significant change to the roster is the addition of Trocheck, who is expected to replace Strome as the second-line center. The 29-year-old forward inked a 7-year $39.375 million contract this offseason, making him a part of the Rangers organization for the foreseeable future. Entering his 10th year in the league, the Rangers are relying on Trocheck for his excellent offense, skating and ability to create scoring chances in all areas of the ice.
Last season, a significant weakness of the Rangers was their lack of speed and physicality in the middle-six forward group, which Trocheck is expected to help fix. The Rangers also hope that Trocheck can improve the team’s abysmal 48.1% faceoff win percentage — Trocheck won 54.6% of the draws he took last year. Expect Trocheck to score between 20 and 25 goals this season, along with 20 to 30 assists. More important than his production, the Rangers will be looking to Trocheck for his leadership.
For the Rangers to contend, their trio of young forwards — Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko — must elevate their games and contribute on both sides of the ice. Lafreniere and Kakko were selected 1st and 2nd overall, respectively, and are supposed to be the franchise’s future, yet neither player has come close to their potential. Both have failed to score more than 40 points in a season and seem to be struggling in their development. Despite the slow starts to their careers, the “kid line” had a strong playoff performance last season, becoming more reliable throughout the postseason. The Rangers are hoping that Trocheck, among other veterans, can help accelerate the trio’s development and silence critics.
A common stereotype about the Rangers is that they are a one-line team comprised of Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider. Ironically, Panarin does not play with the other two, except on power plays. Nevertheless, the crux of this narrative is that the team lacks depth, which has been true. However, if Lafreniere and company can replicate and build off their playoff performance, this perception will quickly fade into the past.
The Rangers are hoping to ignite their offense this season and spend much less time in the defensive zone, providing relief for Shesterkin while also allowing the extremely young defensive corps to develop. It is a risky strategy, but their playoff performance last season demonstrates that it can work.
If Shesterkin can get close to repeating his success from last season, and the defensive corps develops and the Rangers’ offensive acquisitions payoff, another cup run is certainly realistic, and perhaps likely. While this logic may seem very hypothetical, all three of these necessities are quite possible. Shesterkin has only improved since his debut in 2020, the Rangers defense grew increasingly capable all season long and the offense looks poised for massive development.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2022-23 season, expect to watch an exciting dynamic team this year.
Contact Ahaan Sabherwal at [email protected].