Rebuilding in Manhattan
The Rangers proclaimed a rebuild last year that looks like it could quickly turn into a retool. With a new coach and a plethora of young talent, the Rangers road back to the playoffs might not be as long as some think.
Average goaltending and offense combined with well below average defending led to the Rangers missing the playoffs. The Rangers generated a decent amount of chances but lacked finish which led to a bottom-10 result in goals scored.
What went right:
With Ryan McDonagh gone, Brady Skjei established himself as the best defenseman on the Rangers’ roster. Skjei led the team in completed stretch passes, possession-driving plays, blocked shots, and blocked passes, showing off a strong 200-foot game. Mika Zibanejad demonstrated his talents at both ends of the ice too, leading the team in goals with 27 while also finishing 25th in the league in defensive plays among forwards.
What Went Wrong:
The Rangers had a rough season marred by injuries to key players like Zibanejad, Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Kreider, leading to a sub-500 record at the trade deadline. In February, they sent an infamous letter to their fans saying that they should expect to see some familiar faces be moved as management decided to go into a rebuild. They followed that statement by trading McDonagh, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Nick Holden, and Michael Grabner. Unsurprisingly, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Henrik Lundqvist posted solid numbers as usual with a .915 save percentage but received little help from his team as he faced the 4th most shots per game in the NHL.
Key Additions: Fredrik Claesson, Adam McQuaid
Key Departures: David Desharnais, Ondrej Pavelec
Other Key moves: Fired Head Coach Alain Vigneault, hired Head Coach David Quinn, re-signed Brady Skjei, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes
The Rangers stuck with their rebuilding plans this off-season and avoided flashy moves, opting to keep their own rather than chase free agents. Breakout defenseman Brady Skjei inked a 6-year extension and is expected to be the leader of the defensive unit now that McDonagh is in Tampa Bay. Vladislav Namestnikov was one of the pieces acquired in the McDonagh trade and he struggled initially, with only four points in 19 games but he showed some flashes, such as a team-high in completed rush passes and the second-lowest turnover rate among Rangers forwards during his time with the team, both at even-strength. New York retained the restricted free agent on a two-year deal a $4M per. Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey also returned on one and two-year deals, respectively. Hayes hit a career-high with 25 goals and led the team in inner slot shots, while Vesey was second in inner slot shots on the powerplay.
Next season preview
What could go right?
Expect plenty of playing time for the Rangers younger players. Pavel Buchnevich will be looking to build on the 43 points he put up in his first full season in the Big Apple. Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, 1st round picks in 2017, will be looking to crack the lineup full-time after both making cameos last season. Anthony DeAngelo showed flashes of the puck-moving skills that made him a first-round pick in 2014, as he led the team in possession driving plays per-20 over his 32 appearances.
What could go wrong?
With so many young players scattered throughout their lineup, Rangers fan should expect some exciting hockey, but also a lot of growing pains as the youngsters adapt to the NHL. Lundqvist is 36-years old and won’t be able to stop the kind of barrage he faced last season much longer, especially since the defense in front of him didn’t add any pieces. This is year one of the rebuilding process for the Rangers, expect their record to reflect that.