Like the Stars, the Rangers boast impressive firepower up front. They were led by Artemi Panarin (pictured) with 92 points and 29 goals last year, good enough for 17th in league scoring. Not to be outdone, first-line C Mika Zibanejad finished right behind him with 91 points (39 goals). Zibanejad’s wingers are Chris Kreider, who put up 36-18-54 and a +18 in 79 games last season, and Alexis Lafreniere, a high draft pick whose career had gotten off to a slow start but is starting to come on – 16-23-39 and a +10 last season.
I wouldn’t be surprised to him crack the 20-goal mark next season. Filip Chytil centers the second line, and he put up career numbers all-around last season, going 22-23-45 and a +15. On Chytil’s other side is newcomer Blake Wheeler, a core player for the Winnipeg Jets for years before he was bought out last season. You can bet even at 37 years old he’s coming to this Rangers team motivated to do some damage.
The third line is impressive as well, centred by Vincent Trocheck, who put up 22 goals and 64 points last season for the Rangers, pretty impressive for a third liner. Barclay Goodrow, a victim of the cap crunch that has hit the Tampa Bay Lightning the last few seasons, keeps doing his thing putting 11-20-31 up last season. Rounding out the line is Kaapo Kaako, the other high draft pick who just like Lafreniere his career has gotten off to a slow start, but appears to be turning a corner now as he broke out last season with 18-22-40 and a +12. Don’t be surprised if he leapfrogs over Wheeler either later on this upcoming season or next season at the latest.
The fourth line is a bit of an unknown this season as it features winger Jimmy Vesey, who put up 25 points and a +13 last season, along with newcomers Nick Bonino, a veteran center of 823 NHL games, and onetime Oiler Tyler Pitlick, who will be looking to find an NHL home somewhere after landing on his sixth NHL team in six years.
The Rangers blueline is even deeper than the Stars. Adam Fox finished last season eighth in scoring amongst d-men, just behind Heiskanen with 72 points. His partner is K’Andre Miller, a guy who broke out last season with 9-34-43. Personally, I would rate that one of, if not the, best first pairing in the NHL. The second pairing is not as impressive but still solid with Jacob Trouba (30 points) on the right side and Ryan Lindgren (18 points, +29) on the left.
On the bottom pairing is a still wet behind the ears Braden Schneider and veteran stay-at-home guy Erik Gustafsson, a veteran entering his 10th NHL season who was actually drafted by the Oilers in the fourth round of the 2012 draft but never played a game for them as they never bothered to sign him. Amusingly, the Maple Laffs last season traded away one of their best young d-men in Rasmus Sandin to acquire him, only for him to bolt to the Rangers in free agency this season. What TO was thinking in this transaction I don’t know, but hey that’s why I call them the Maple Laffs.
In goal the Rangers have as a starter one of them I’d say top three best goalies in the league in Igor Shesterkin, so they got this as far as their goalies go. Backing him up is 37 year old ex-long time LA King Jonathan Quick, who is on the sunset song of his career and to be honest, is in the perfect situation for him. He won’t be asked to take on a huge workload – at one time he was one of the best goalies in the league who backstopped the Kings to two cups, but he’s way past his prime at this point. However, he’ll be a reliable veteran who can play 20-some games for the Rangers this year to give Shesterkin a rest once in a while.
They may have been upset in the playoffs last year by the Devils, but don’t fool yourselves – if they play their cards right they could be in the cup finals this year (hopefully playing the Oilers). From an Oilers point of view if they face the Rangers in the Playoffs at least they made the Cup final.