The Rangers begin the 2019-20 season tonight against the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers lineup tonight will feature:
- New Players: Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox
- 5 Players 21 and under: Brett Howden (21), Libor Hajek (21), Adam Fox (21), Lias Andersson (20), Kaapo Kakko (18)
- 6 Players that have played fewer than 100 career NHL games: Brendan Lemieux (72), Brett Howden (66), Lias Andersson (49), Libor Hajek (5), Adam Fox (0), Kaapo Kakko (0)
- Average Age: 26.2 (NYR Game Notes)
- “According to NHL Stats and Information, the Rangers are the only NHL team that has eight players who are 23 years old or younger and the only NHL team that has five players who are 21 years old or younger on their season-opening roster.” (NYR Game Notes)
- $1.129 million in cap space
The Athletic projects that the Rangers will finish the season with a record of 37-34-11 and they enter the season with an 18% chance of making the playoffs. (The Athletic)
Chris Kreider, Vlad Namestnikov and Jesper Fast are pending UFAs while Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo, Alex Georgiev and Ryan Strome are pending RFAs.
John Davidson said at the start of training camp, “when you go into a year like this, you want improvement for sure. I’d love to make the playoffs, this is a very close and young league. We aren’t going into a league of 15 years ago where the average age is way up there. Playoffs is a goal for sure but there has to be improvement the right way, that you can count on long-term to get something with gratification for the season.”
David Quinn said, “Internally our expectations are higher than last year, we certainly think we can compete for a playoff spot. We want to keep getting better daily, we feel that moving forward we are going to continue to move forward whereas last year there was also the situation we were in where we were putting ourselves in a position to start what we said we were going to start a year ago last February. We are fully onboard with moving forward and our expectations will incrementally get higher.”
Quinn said on ESPN Radio on Wednesday, “last year was a hard year because, it wasn’t really spoke in the locker room, but there was this feeling that we were still in the middle of tearing down our organization and our team, we were still in the process of where we were going to make a few more moves and then move forward, I think that cloud hung over our team for most of the season and after the trade deadline when reality set in and we were in that situation. I think we are in a different mindset this year because of what happened this summer.”
Adam Rotter: With the teardown part of the Rangers rebuild over and the building part of the rebuild underway, expectations are surely higher this season than last. The Rangers should be better this season but so much of it comes down to Henrik Lundqvist and the overall defensive structure in front of him. If the Rangers play with a structure and Lundqvist, along with Alex Georgiev, are able to make the needed stops they should be in the mix for a playoff spot throughout the season. Will they ultimately return to the playoffs this season? Besides goaltending and defense, the Rangers need development from a number of players that have played less than a full season’s worth of games (Andersson, Howden, Lemieux, Hajek, Chytil when he is eventually called up) and strong rookie campaigns from Kakko, Fox and, when he likely gets called up, Vitali Kravtsov.
In terms of what to expect from the rest of the lineup. They have what looks to be a spectacular top line and PP with a true gamebreaker in Artemi Panarin. Panarin himself makes the Rangers better up front but he has the chance to help make Mika Zibanejad into an All-Star and bring out the best of Pavel Buchnevich consistently, something he started doing on his own at the end of last season.
Jacob Trouba will look to fill the skates left empty since Ryan McDonagh was traded and pair with Brady Skjei to give the Rangers a number one pairing. Tony DeAngelo has a chance to put healthy scratches behind him for good and Brendan Smith will swing up and down, and work on the PK, when he’s in the lineup.
The other intriguing forwards are all intriguing because their contracts are expiring. I’d expect, at some point during the year, that Jesper Fast signs an extension to remain with the Rangers for another 2-3 years, at least. There is a reason why he keeps winning the Rangers Players’ Player Award and I think the organization will work to give him a chance to continue winning that. Vlad Namestnikov is ultimately going to be traded, though I have expected that to happen since just about the minute he was acquired. I still think he can be a valuable player for a playoff team and the Rangers, even if they are in the race, will probably move him a a rental. Ryan Strome is an interesting one because he was great for the Rangers in the last part of the season but the fact that he started training camp as a wing makes it seem like he could eventually be moved. He’s still relatively young and an RFA, albeit with arbitration, so the Rangers aren’t at risk of losing him for nothing this summer and this could be a situation punted to the offseason. Then, as always, it comes down to Chris Kreider. As a pending UFA it seems like he’s going to be moved but if the Rangers are in a playoff race and have no one that can replace what he brings in the lineup, the Rangers may keep him and possibly make a run at signing him. An extension seems unlikely unless Kreider is determined to stay and is willing to leave a lot of money on the table. It’s a situation that will be discussed heavily until the trade deadline.
So the Rangers will and should be better and probably be within 6-8 points of a wild card spot for most of the season. A few extra saves, some middle-six forwards developing and Panarin, Trouba and Kakko living up to the hype could put the Rangers back in the playoffs, but at the very least this is going to be a very fun team to watch and one that should return to being a lock for the playoffs in the next couple of years.