The 2018-19 season is here! Pre-season is done and dusted, and for those aiming for a spot on their respective teams, it’s a crucial time. The New York Rangers young guns more so as the rebuild is in full swing. This is a key opportunity to have a look at who is going to break out and make an impact this year.
New York Rangers Young Guns
The Rangers need to be more aggressive in the offensive zone. Last season saw the Blueshirts failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season. They finished at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division with a meagre 77 points. A big culprit was the offence as the team scored a mere 231 goals.
The Rangers have a number of young hopefuls eager to make their mark this 2018-19 season. Let us have a look who has performed well during the pre-season and who are likely to be ones to look out for.
The 23-year-old was recalled from the Hartford Wolfpack after the Rangers woeful injury issues last season. The Minnesota native is quick and scrappy, and plays a similar game to Mats Zuccarello, although he is not quite as talented. The Rangers have been severely lacking fighting spirit in the last few years. Lettieri can provide this with gusto. Regardless of only scoring one goal and achieving four assists, Lettieri has the potential to be a valued depth forward. Starting the first game of the season with NHL prospect Brett Howden and former Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov. This bottom six combination has the potential to really pack a punch with enough game time. Watch this space, however, as it will be a tough fight for Lettieri to keep his place.
Much has been said regarding this Swedish forward, opinions are divided. But the 19-year-old, 2017 seventh-overall pick’s NHL push has been filled with disappointment so far. After failing to make an impact in training camp last year and not selected for the team again this season. It’s a case of the Rangers organization preferring “big fish, little pond” in Andersson. Having the young centre playing on the top line with the Wolfpack is better than playing limited minutes in the NHL. Andersson is young, quick and skillful, showing this by scoring two pre-season goals against the New Jersey Devils. It was thought the young prospect had done enough this time to prove his worth. But there is no rush right now, his time will come. However, keep an eye out as the season progresses. You might see him called up for an appearance later in the year.
Although no stranger to the Rangers lineup, playing 115 careers games in two years. The 23-year-old fell victim to previous coach Alain Vigneault‘s poor decision making. Only deemed a bottom-six forward, and playing an average of around 15 minutes per game. The young Russian is an underrated talent. Joining the ever-growing injury list last season with a concussion, the six-foot-three-inch winger’s production should only increase this year. The Rangers rebuild strategy will play a large part of this. Boosting the young forward to top-line status, playing alongside the formidable offensive duo of Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. This added mentorship can only mean good things going forward.
Another young player who needs to turn heads this season, the 25-year-old has two years under his belt. On this team, he is already considered a more seasoned Ranger than many of his teammates. He is another forward who did not receive the opportunities to really shine with a limited 14:20 average ice time last season. In saying that, the Boston native has 33 career goals, with 22 assists equaling 55 points. It is certainly promising, the winger is proving to be a fast capable forward. Being repositioned with Kevin Hayes and Zuccarello will likely give the Rangers an impressive secondary scoring line.
The Russian forward is worth a mention when discussing new impact players. The 25-year-old just couldn’t break through with the overwhelmingly stacked talent at Tampa Bay. Namestnikov joined the Rangers at the latter part of last season when there just wasn’t much left in the tank for the team. Naturally a two-way forward, Namestnikov can score goals. It is hoped that he can impact the Rangers poor offensive production. As there is already good chemistry between Namestnikov and Lettieri. Although when Boo Nieves and Matt Beleskey return don’t be surprised to see a bottom six reshuffle if players don’t step up.
The 19-year-old was the 21st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and impressed in his first pro season. He got a nine-game tryout with the Blueshirts, picking up his first NHL goal and three points. He also put up 11 goals and 31 points in 46 games with the Hartford Wolfpack. Chytil impressed in training camp and again earned a spot on the NHL roster. The Rangers are bringing him along slowly, putting him on the third line with Jesper Fast and Ryan Spooner to start the season. He is also getting time on the second power-play unit. The Rangers will hope to see him continue to develop and progress his way up the lineup in the coming years.
The Rangers have the potential to really cement a new attacking generation for seasons to come with these key young players. And will be really interesting to watch moving forward.
The Rangers defence has been disastrous in recent years. It is not predicted to improve anytime soon, particularly with the large void left by top defencemen and captain Ryan McDonagh, who is now in Tampa. However, all is not lost, the young guns rising from the ashes of last years failure will be the Rangers saving grace.
Another example of a young player considered to have valuable experience within the Rangers organization. The 24-year-old played all 82 games last season, as well as playing 80 games in the 2016-17 season. Now more than ever, it’s time for Skjei to step up. Trying to fill McDonagh’s skates in never going to be an easy task. But the strong skillful defencemen is dependable. He put up a 47.2 Corsi-For percentage last year, but with a relative Corsi-For of +1.7. These numbers are not terrible considering the team’s performance on a whole. With the return of defensemen Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk, who were unreliable at best when healthy, there is a great deal of expectation on young Skjei’s shoulders.
The current pairing with Adam McQuaid is an interesting one. Skjei will learn from the veteran’s experience but McQuaid does rack up penalty minutes. He was noticed in the pre-season for a rough and tough attitude which the Rangers have lacked, so it may be a positive thing. Although when Anthony DeAngelo recovers from injury this may change. Skjei will be more suited pairing with Shattenkirk.
An offensive defenseman that will go far with the Rangers in the coming seasons. Playing 28 games in the latter part of last season. The 23-year-old had one goal and 13 assists for 14 points in those games. Putting the young gun with an experienced player like Marc Staal will only instill confidence in Pionk.
What Will This Mean For the Rangers Going Forward
With most of the Rangers defence coming back from injury or largely untested. It will be a shaky period for the team. It’s up to goalie Henrik Lundqvist to fill the deficit, which is nothing new. Although there are growing concerns about how long the 36-year-old can withstand a beating every night. It is hoped that Alexandar Georgiev will provide some solid game time to carry some of the slack.
It’s not expected that the Rangers will reach dizzying heights this year, the rebuild has commenced. However, there are some young guns that are going to make an impact on the team. It will be an interesting season that may surprise a few people.
Main Photo: OTTAWA, ON – APRIL 29: Brady Skjei #76 of the New York Rangers skates against Zack Smith #15 of the Ottawa Senators in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre on April 29, 2017, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova / Freestyle Photography / Getty Images)