2021-22 Rangers Preview: The book is outside at ceiling height
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Ready or not, here’s the New York Rangers.
No, this isn’t a warning to opposing teams in the NHL or their fans, but more of the mindset of those who support the Blueshirts as the tweaks drop in the 2021-22 season Wednesday night in Washington against the Capitals.
The sweeping off-season changes have left new boss and general manager Chris Drury with the same front-line skill and prowess backed by the team’s new philosophy of physicality – something that team owner James Dolan was looking for after his side was toying with him. Same capitals last season. Not to mention the competing islanders in Croistown.
First-year head coach Gerard Gallant was brought in to implement a no-nonsense philosophy at Madison Square Garden—the Western Conference winner with the Vegas Golden Knights expansion four seasons ago.
Drury has given him the muscles to make sure Rangers won’t be as easy as before. Two-time Stanley Cup champion Barclay Goudreau was taken over from Tampa Bay Lightning’s relentless third streak to run a blocker to the likes of Philip Chettle and Vitaly Kravtsov.
In the fourth line, pest-like Sammy Bliss played in front of goal alongside Ryan Reeves’s imposition to hope the Rangers’ bottom three would be as effective as the islanders’ “best fourth streak in hockey” in Matt Martin, Casey Sisikas and Cal Clutterbuck.
It’s their presence that will keep teams honest rather than making the rounds in a Rangers swarm of offensive talent.
Galant looks set to keep Mika Zibanijad – who has scored a total of 65 goals in his last 113 games – in first-line position, while Hart 2020 finalist Artemi Panarin will be healthy, controversy-free and cementing the second streak from a left-wing spot.
It will surround the always-reliable first line and star sophomore Alexis Lavrinier, with the hope that the latter will take a huge step forward in becoming the offensive menace many have come to expect. #1 overall in 2020.
Meanwhile, in the second line, Panarin will continue to augment Ryan Strome’s playmaking capabilities – once a spinoff of the Islanders and Edmonton Oilers – along with Kaapo Kakko’s No. 2 pick for 2019.
Rangers expected offensive lines, 2021-22
Chris Kreider – Mica Zipanjad – Alexis Lavrenier
Artemi Banarin – Ryan Strom – Capo Kaku
Barclay Goudreau – Philip Sheetil – Vitaly Kravtsov
Sammy Bliss – Kevin Rooney – Ryan Reeves
On the Blue Line, the Rangers defense that used to be a responsibility continues in the right direction with the age of majority under 24 years old.
Norris Award winner Adam Fox will stay with Ryan Lindgren in the first duo. Both are only 23 years old.
Kandrey Miller and Nils Lundqvist, both 21, will be paired with the older statesmen in the Rangers defence.
Miller, who showed promise last season, will be in the second duo with 28-year-old Jacob Troba while rookie Lundqvist will make his National Hockey League debut alongside 29-year-old Patrick Nemeth.
While Fox has proven to be one of the game’s best defensive players, the development of Lindgren, Miller and Lundkvist will be essential to the Rangers defense that represented the midfield unit in the Eastern Conference last season.
Predicted Rangers defensive pairs, 2021-22
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox
Candry Miller – Jacob’s Oven
Patrick Nemeth – Niels Lundqvist
In goal, Igor Shesterkin will continue to build on his reputation as Henrik Lundqvist’s second comer. He certainly lived on billing during his first two seasons in the NHL, going 26-16-3 with 0.921 saves and 2.59 goals-to-average.
However, this should be his first season to see a full workload as the No. 1 bona fide choice. Most of the games he played in a season at the NHL level are just 35 last year. Expect this number to rise with the capable Alexander Georgiev in reserve.
What should we expect from Rangers?
This is a team with enough skill from their first two lines to be an overwhelming threat in the capital division. But will they be able to keep up with some of the most battle-tested teams like the Islanders, Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins?
This is a team that should be courting a great spot this season, but the division is pretty deep with the aforementioned teams along with the Carolina Hurricanes that could be near the top of the standings:
The expected ranking of the capital division
- New York Islanders*
- Washington Capitals *
- Carolina Hurricanes*
- Pittsburgh Penguins **
- New York Rangers
- Philadelphia Flyers
- New Jersey Devils
- Columbus blue jackets
* Denotes the playoff team
** Denotes the Wild Card team