The New York Rangers went 46-27-9 in the 2015-2016 regular season and entered the post-season with designs on going all the way. Unfortunately, the Blueshirts ran into the Pittsburgh Penguins and lost in a disappointing first round series. New York only won one playoff game before hope evaporated and it was back to the proverbial drawing board for general manager Jeff Gorton.
The off-season saw the departures of Dominic Moore, Eric Staal, Derick Brassard, and Keith Yandle among others. And it saw the arrival of Brandon Pirri, Mika Zibanejad, Michael Grabner, and celebrated free agent Jimmy Vesey. While the losses hurt, there’s a lot to like about the Rangers’ new arrivals and the club should be able to come up with enough offence to account for losing top-scoring Brassard and the puck-moving Yandle.
New York scored 236 goals and allowed 216, which put them in the middle of the pack in both categories. There was nothing spectacular about the season as a whole, with even the Rangers’ power play and penalty kill very average by league standards. The goal now is to push beyond the average and to achieve some semblance of playoff success once more.
After the departed Brassard, Mats Zuccarello led the charge in goal-scoring. He had 26 goals last season and added 35 assists for a total of 61 points in 81 games. Seven of his goals came on the power play. The 29-year-old Oslo native averaged 18:28 of ice time a game and is a gifted and creative player, even if he lacks the size and physicality for the NHL.
Derek Stepan continues to slot in as the top centre in the depth chart. He had 53 points in 72 games last season. Five of his 22 goals came on the power play and he maintains a versatility that allows him to play at any forward position. He averaged 17:45 of ice time a game and is a sublime playmaker. The 26-year-old plays a strong positional game, but he can struggle against bigger opponents.
J.T. Miller had a very good year, with 43 points in 82 games. He averaged 15:02 of ice time a game and can play either centre or wing, which has given him a consistent role as a depth player. The 23-year-old is a speedy and shifty forward and he can win battles along the boards, but head coach Alain Vigneault wants more consistency.
Rick Nash is the traditional choice for top line duty, at least theoretically. The 32-year-old can still put points on the board, but he lacks the takeover ability that brought him to the dance. He had 36 points in 60 games last season. 25-year-old Chris Kreider is another forward with streaky tendencies. He had 43 points in 79 games last season, including 21 goals.
The Rangers lose mobility on the blueline without Yandle in the picture, but 27-year-old Ryan McDonagh is a pretty safe bet. He had 34 points in 73 games last season, including two goals on the power play, and he put up 22:21 of ice time a game. McDonagh plays a lot of minutes and can wear a lot of hats. He’s good in shutdown situations and delivers the goods with a heavy shot.
32-year-old Dan Girardi continues to be a fixture on the Rangers’ blueline. He had 17 points in 74 games last season and logged 20:19 of ice time a game. He likes to block shots and can move the puck well, plus he’s a tough player with a tendency to play hurt. Girardi’s veteran presence anchors New York’s defence.
Kevin Klein is another solid presence. Like Girardi, the 31-year-old likes to block shots. He logs over 20 minutes a game and had 26 points in 69 games last season, including nine goals. The Kitchener native shows up on most special teams, too, so he’s a safe bet for some additional situational play. With Marc Staal rounding out the top four, the Rangers have a good if not overly explosive group in their own end.
New York has been relying heavily on Henrik Lundqvist ever since his emergence as one of the best netminders in the NHL. The 34-year-old has held the Rangers in many games and has given them chances to win when the team hasn’t played its best hockey. He went 35-21-7 last season and suffered a disappointing playoff, but King Henrik could be ready to bounce back in 2016-2017.
27-year-old Antti Raanta is the backup. The Finnish goalie went 11-6-2 last year, with a 2.24 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. He put up good numbers in Europe and is a potential starter. He plays a prepared game and is a compact positional netminder, but some suggest he’s a touch on the small side for the NHL.
Vesey has to top the list in terms of sheer anticipation, as the 23-year-old Boston native has been a big part of the headlines over the summer. Drafted by Nashville in 2012, Vesey has had his pick of the litter for years. He’s a goal-scoring forward and can play in high traffic areas, so the Rangers will be hoping he’s ready to pan out and put up some big numbers in short order.
Russian winger Pavel Buchnevich is also worth a look. The 21-year-old is highly skilled and likes to dangle, plus he’s known for beating defencemen one-on-one. The knock on him appears to be his play without the puck and his defensive coverage, but improvements can be made in time as he adapts to the team game.
The Path Ahead
It’s hard to argue that Rangers have taken many huge strides in the off-season and it appears to be business as usual down on Broadway. They still boast one of the best goalies in the game and a defensive group that plays a simple, forthright game. And they still lack that explosive scoring talent, even if there is some excitement to come in the prospect pool.