Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 New York Rangers.
2018-19 New York Rangers Preview
The New York Rangers finished the 2016-17 National Hockey League regular season with a record of 48-28-6 and finished with 102 points and secured the first Wild Card slot in the Eastern Conference. In the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they defeated the Montreal Canadiens in six games to advance to the second round and squared off with the Ottawa Senators. The Rangers and Senators had a dogfight of a series, but in the end, the Senators defeated the Rangers four games to two and knocked the Blueshirts out of the postseason. Summer came early for the Rangers but the front office had big plans for the squad.
The Rangers bought out the remainder of veteran defenseman Daniel Girardi’s contract first. Then on the day of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the Rangers dealt forward Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Tony DeAngelo and the Yotes first-round draft pick, the pick which would ultimately be Swedish forward Lias Andersson. The Rangers also made a huge splash on July 1, 2017, when they signed defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to a four-year contract deal.
A Disappointing Season and “The Rebuild”
The Rangers opened the 2017-18 NHL season with a 3-7-1 start but eventually climbed their way up the standings. However, newly signed D-man Shattenkirk was sidelined for the remainder of the season in January of 2018 with a knee injury. This was the beginning of a dark time for Rangers fans. The team continued to slump, and could not string together wins. Inconsistent play and injuries caused the Blueshirts to struggle. At the 2018 trade deadline, the Rangers front office issued a letter to the fans which read that the team was beginning a rebuilding phase and that some fan favourites would, unfortunately, be on their way out of New York.
— RNYRF (@RNYRF) February 8, 2018
The trade deadline saw the departure of defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh and center J.T. Miller (traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning) as well as Rick Nash (traded to the Boston Bruins), and Michael Grabner (traded to the New Jersey Devils). The Rangers, in return, acquired forwards Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, and prospects Libor Hajek and Brett Howden. The Rangers decided to go out with some of their older players and bring in some younger talent. However, these moves did not provide a monumental turnaround that would send the Rangers to the postseason.
Coming Up Short
The New York Rangers missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2018. An upsetting season ended shortly, with many fans questioning the future of the team. The Rangers once again stated at the end of the season that their focus and commitment is towards a full-on rebuild and restart of the franchise.
A New Man Behind the Bench
The Rangers once again had another busy off-season; the first move was the removal of Alain Vigneault as head coach of the team. A couple of months later in May, the Blueshirts hired Boston University head coach David Quinn as the new head coach of the club. Quinn was a great choice to bring in as the new bench boss of the Rangers. A young and enthusiastic coach from the NCAA, Quinn developed players such as Jack Eichel and Charlie McAvoy in his time at BU.
NYR source tells me that David Quinn, the Boston University coach, has now been hired as coach of the Rangers.
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) May 22, 2018
Contracts, Contracts, Contracts
The 2018 summer also posed as a challenge for the Rangers- forwards Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes and Ryan Spooner were all in need of new contracts. It was going to be tough to try and bring back all three players under reasonable contract terms, but fortunately, the Rangers made it work. Jimmy Vesey was signed to a two-year deal, Hayes to a one-year extension, and Spooner to a two-year deal. Also, defenseman Brady Skjei was inked for six more years and newly acquired forward Namestnikov, who became a free agent over the summer, to a two-year deal. The Rangers also brought in goaltender Dustin Tokarski on a one-year contract deal to add depth to their goaltending column.
On the eve of training camp, the Rangers made a trade with the Boston Bruins. They acquired veteran defenceman Adam McQuaid, in exchange for Steven Kampfer, a fourth-round pick and a conditional seventh-round draft pick. McQuaid brings his experience to the Rangers blue line.
The Rangers certainly have a new look going into the 2018-19 season. A mix of veteran forwards welcomes the new, young talent that is being brought up. The first line of Kreider, Zibanejad, and Buchnevich will be the Rangers top line, most likely being shuffled around with the likes of Zuccarello and Namestnikov, for these are the seasoned veterans of the team and bring the firepower. However, having veteran Kevin Hayes in the bottom six will be helpful in both sparking his own game as well as the younger guys around him.
Both Chytil and Andersson made appearances last season but spent most of their time maturing in the minors. This year will be a huge step up for them and they will be in the spotlight on a consistent basis. The Rangers fourth line (projected) of Vesey, Spooner, and Fast will provide the Blueshirts with a boost of speed. The fourth line is a major part of NHL hockey nowadays and it is imperative that the Rangers can keep a solid core at the bottom line.
The Rangers forwards have been used to being shuffled around in the past, and it is still uncertain if new head coach Quinn desires to continue that, but if he chooses to, there would be no issue in doing so. The top six can all play with each other in different combinations.
Once again, the Rangers face a new look on their squad. The Blueshirts defence is missing a key piece in Ryan McDonagh but will be regaining a vital piece in Shattenkirk. He should be ready to go for training camp and the start of the 2018-19 campaign. He and Skjei will most likely make up the Rangers top defensive pairing, with Skjei being able to move the puck nicely from one end of the rink to the other. Add that to the all-around skill of Shattenkirk and you find a trustworthy and smart defensive pairing.
Veteran Marc Staal will be on the second pairing with young Neal Pionk, who made some appearances last season and quite honestly did well. He has the ability to generate some offence in the zone as well as get back to play defence. Having Staal matched with him will serve well in helping train the young defenseman. And on the third pair, we find John Gilmour and DeAngelo.
Newly acquired defender Adam McQuaid can slot into the lineup if a defender is injured or struggling. Brendan Smith may make an appearance but as of last season, he was struggling to find his competitive level of play and was sent down to the American Hockey League to work on his game.
Alexandar Georgiev/Dustin Tokarski
Henrik Lundqvist turned 36 this past March and will be turning 37 in the middle of the 2018-19 season. Lundqvist is getting older, and it’s a fact that Rangers fans must face. Last season was rocky for “The King”. Between some ugly performances himself and rotten play from the defence, Lundqvist struggled. His 2.98 goals-average-against was the worst of his career, and his .915 save percentage was the second worst of his career. Granted he faced 2,036 shots against last season (up from 1,650 the year prior), Lundqvist still did not look as elite as he has in the past. But that is part of the rebuild. A young defence in front of him certainly doesn’t help the cause.
However, expect the Rangers to give backups Pavelec and Tokarski more time in net than past seasons. The Rangers will be looking to alternate goaltenders more than usual, and most likely in order to give Lundqvist a rest, and to see how their backups fare. Still, there is no doubt that Hank will be the go-to starter for the Rangers. His heart and determination cannot be matched and he will do all he can to earn the win for the Blueshirts.
Players to Watch
Every single player on the Rangers roster is under the microscope for this season. However, there are several that will really be the focus on both the coaches and the fans.
To start, Kevin Hayes will be under a watchful eye. The forward was just re-signed to a one year deal after many rumours of a possible trade. It is still apparent that the Rangers front office sees great things in him, however, he needs to step things up this season and produce. Last season, Hayes had 44 points, down five from the year prior. While this may not seem so awful, the one thing that was bad was Hayes’ lack of consistency. Hayes’ points were scattered and spread out all season long. It was hard to find a consistent stream of contributions from him. If Hayes wishes to earn another long-term deal at the end of the upcoming season, he needs to establish himself not only as a leader on the team but as a contributor- a player who can be looked at to score when it is needed.
Namestnikov also earned himself a short-term deal (two years). The deadline acquisition has time to work himself into becoming a top six forward. He saw plenty of playing time towards the end of last season and was able to familiarize himself with the Rangers offence.
Now, after a full summer to work out and train, the young forward needs to head into training camp fired up and hungry. He has the skill set to be a great player, and now is the time to utilize it. The Rangers will be looking for players to step their game up and provide the team with offensive contributions. The two-year contract is a perfect window for him to earn himself another deal to stay in New York and be a contributor.
Rangers fans did not get to see a whole lot of Shattenkirk last season due to his injury, but a new season provides him with a clean slate to start over on. Shattenkirk will most likely be the Blueshirts top defenseman. He is a veteran blueliner who has plenty of experience both at even-strength play and on special teams. If he stays healthy, he should be a big-time player for the Rangers, providing both defensive prowess and an offensive spark.
Players on the Rise
Brady Skjei is a huge reason for Rangers fans to be excited. The young defenseman has tons of talent and as matured a multitude over the past couple of seasons. He is fast, smart, and can move the puck, generating offence. Skjei is expected to be on the top Rangers defensive pairing this season. He has earned himself a top four spot on the blueline. Lack of playing time caused his point total to decrease. Vigneault did not play Skjei as much as the year before due to line shuffling and experimenting with different defensive pairings. But, expect big things for the young blueliner this season, especially if he plays with Kevin Shattenkirk.
Players on the Decline
Let’s face it- Marc Staal is getting older his play has declined. There is a place for Staal on the Rangers defence, but he is a player on the decline. He is a veteran leader and a great mentor for the younger Rangers players but his play hasn’t quite been all that spectacular. In 72 games last season, Staal only tallied eight points, his lowest since 2011-12 (five points, but only played 46 games due to injury).
Staal has been out on the ice for a multitude of turnovers and sloppy plays as of late. He is struggling. Staal will still be a valuable piece to the Rangers for his role as a leader. However, how long does he have left in a Rangers uniform? Who knows, but it is definite that he is not what he used to be.
There are so many reasons to be excited as a Rangers fan this upcoming season. New coaches, new players, and some returning favourites. It will be interesting to see Jeff Gorton’s rebuild be put to the test after a very busy off-season. However, the Metropolitan Division is as competitive as ever. Unfortunately for the Rangers, this means that they must fight hard for a shot at the postseason.
Quinn has the tools to put together a playoff team, but it takes time. The Blueshirts most definitely have a chance to crack the postseason, but this will not be the year. The Rangers will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive year. Jeff Gorton’s rebuild is not over yet, so expect more moves to be made down the line. However, there is a lot of hope and opportunity for the Rangers.
This will be a different team, a resilient one, one that will not give up and die. The Rangers are young, and have plenty of players who have not played a full season yet in the NHL. It takes time, so be patient. The Rangers may not make the postseason again this year, but this season will not be as near of a disappointment as last season.
NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 15: Mats Zuccarello #36, Brady Skjei #76 and Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers have a conversation in the first period against the New York Islanders during their game at Barclays Center on February 15, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)