Last year’s Rangers team saw their mini-rebuild completely pay off, mostly thanks to one man. Their underlying numbers were overall average, but they received some of the best goaltending we have seen in a long time. Igor Shesterkin didn’t win the Hart Trophy, but there was certainly a case there. New York saw a ton of rentals leave this offseason. Are their skaters strong enough to get them back to the Conference Finals, where their 2021-22 season ended.
Offseason additions: F Vincent Trocheck, F Ryan Carpenter, G Jaroslav Halak, G Louis Domingue, F Jimmy Vesey (PTO).
Offseason subtractions: F Ryan Strome, F Andrew Copp, F Frank Vatrano, F Tyler Motte, G Alex Georgiev, F Kevin Rooney, D Patrik Nemeth, D Nils Lundkvist, F Greg McKegg, D Justin Braun.
Last season was a magical one for Chris Kreider, who will have trouble replicating it due to how amazing his year was. Kreider scored 52 goals with 77 points in 81 games. His previous career-highs were 28 goals and 53 points. While he did have a 20.2 percent shooting rate, its inflation wasn’t the only reason why Kreider went off. He led the league with 26 power play goals and 11 game winning goals in the regular season, and scored 10 more goals in 20 postseason games. Maybe Kreider’s dominance stunted the ridiculous scoring rates that Mika Zibanejad had been on during the two shortened seasons. He still scored 29 times, and focused on being more of a playmaker. Zibanejad had 52 apples to set a career-high in points with 81. The Rangers rocked a kid line in the playoffs that was very successful, but they need to break it up as their depth took a hit. This would mean that Kaapo Kakko would go back to the top line. The second overall pick in 2019 is yet to live up to that status. He had just 18 points in 43 games last season, even after an increase in ice time. Kreider, Zibanejad, and Kakko were the only Ranger forwards (minimum 500 TOI with the time) with an expected goals for percentage over 50 during the regular season.
While he still had 16 points in 20 games, Artemi Panarin’s playoff performance was underwhelming, aside from a huge goal to win the first round versus Pittsburgh. He clearly wasn’t as dominant as he can be. Panarin almost averaged an assist per game in the regular season, with 74 in 75 games. He added 22 goals to break his career-high in points by one. Panarin’s regular center, Ryan Strome, could not be retained in free agency. The replacement will be Vincent Trocheck, who comes in on a seven-year contract. Trocheck was a fantastic second-liner in Carolina, scoring 21 goals with 51 points. He had 78 penalty minutes, which is too much for a player with his skillset. That is not to say that Trocheck is not physical. He had a career-high 185 hits last season, and has triple-digit checks in each of the past seven seasons. A trade request put Vitali Kravtsov in an awkward situation last year. He didn’t play at all in North America, but is in Rangers training camp for now. Kravtsov went back to the KHL, with 13 points in 19 games, and 10 in 15 playoff matches.
Kakko’s disappointment on the score sheet has often been compared to Alexis Lafreniere, the top pick in the 2020 draft. However, Lafreniere provided solid production in his sophomore season. He scored 19 goals with 31 points, then had nine points in the playoffs. He also had the fourth-best xGF% on the forward core. That was right ahead of Filip Chytil, who has had either 22 or 23 points in each of the past four seasons. He broke into the league at age 18, but has just settled into the third line center role, which isn’t a terrible thing. However, he has won just 40.5 percent of draws in his career. If New York does keep the kid line together, then Sammy Blais is a top contender to play on the top line. He was a part of the Pavel Buchnevich trade with St. Louis that has backfired on the team, although that is not on Blais. He had four assists in 14 games before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season.
The Rangers traded a draft pick before last season for Ryan Reaves, and got exactly what they wanted from him. Reaves had just 13 points in 69 games, but all of those points were an added bonus. Reaves had 279 hits, second among forwards to just Nashville’s Tanner Jeannot. He also had just 43 penalty minutes, continuing a promising trend from the end of his Vegas tenure, as he was still a physical force while limiting time spent in the box. The Flames signed former Rangers fourth line center Kevin Rooney, so naturally he was replaced by Ryan Carpenter, a deadline acquisition by Calgary. Carpenter had 12 points in 67 games for the Flames and Blackhawks last year, with 136 hits. New York traded for the rights of Barclay Goodrow last offseason, then signed him to a six-year deal. The offensive production in his first season was more than the Rangers were even looking for, as he scored 13 goals with 33 points, both career-highs. More importantly, he was a leader and a physical presence while contributing to the penalty kill. After having a limited role with the Panthers and Coyotes, Dryden Hunt earned a regular spot with the Rangers last season, dressing for 76 regular season games and three more in the postseason. He had 17 points with 153 hits. While Julien Gauthier dressed for 49 games last season, he had the lowest average time on ice among Rangers with at least 15 games played. The former first-rounder had seven points.
He wasn’t able to defend his Norris Trophy, but Adam Fox still finished fifth in voting for best defenseman. He set a career-high with 74 points. His 63 assists alone would have been the record, although the shortened season in 2020-21 plays a factor into that. Fox is also the best defensive-defender on the team, along with partner Ryan Lindgren. While he only had 15 points, Lindgren had 141 blocks and 129 hits, plus a 2.29 xGA/60.
The Rangers finally named their first captain since Ryan McDonagh was traded, and it was surprisingly Jacob Trouba. In his third year with the team, Trouba’s 39 points was the second-highest of his career. He is also a force to be reckoned with on the ice. He had 88 penalty minutes with 177 blocked shots and 207 hits. The most untapped potential on the defensive core comes from K’Andre Miller, a six-foot-five monster who has a lot more to offer offensively than his 20 points from last season suggests. Miller was never eased into the NHL, getting a large share of ice time in both of his seasons.
The only lock on the third pair for now is Braden Schneider, a 21-year-old who played in 43 games in his rookie season last year. Schneider added 11 points with 52 blocked shots. Miller, Lindgren, and Schneider were the only three Ranger defenseman with under two goals against per 60 at even strength. The other spot is a competition between Zac Jones and Libor Hajek, with other entries encouraged. Jones has much more upside, with the 2019 third-round pick scoring 35 points in 52 AHL games last year. He has six assists in 22 career NHL games. Hajek has played in 94 games over the past four seasons, but the results have not been good. He had a 41.67 xGF% in 17 NHL games last year, and a 40.33 percentage in 44 games the season prior.
Shesterkin’s 2021-22 season was so good that it feels impossible for him to replicate. He had a 2.07 GAA, a .935 save percentage, a 44.9 GSAA, and a GSAx of 37.2. He led the league in all four of those categories, and it wasn’t particularly close. Shesterkin easily won the Vezina Trophy, and was third in Hart voting as well. He continued to carry the team in the postseason, with a .929 save percentage. He now has a veteran to share the workload with in Ranger killer Jaroslav Halak. The 37-year-old Halak played in 17 games in a forgettable Canucks stint in which he had a .903 save percentage.
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Kaapo Kakko
Artemi Panarin – Vincent Trocheck – Vitali Kravtsov
Alex Lafreniere – Filip Chytil – Sammy Blais
Barclay Goodrow – Ryan Carpenter – Ryan Reaves
Scratched: Dryden Hunt, Julien Gauthier
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller – Jacob Trouba
Zac Jones – Braden Schneider
Scratched: Libor Hajek