There’s no reason for the Rangers not to have another phenomenal season. Yes, last season was disappointing, but only because they didn’t come home with the Stanley Cup after winning the President’s Trophy and making it to the seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals. This year, they’re still loaded with talent.
Alain Vigneault is back as head coach and he’s been the biggest asset. He’s gotten his core group of players to adapt to the quick, transition-attack style. It might take some getting used to for the newest additions, but a strong foundation already exists with major core players returning.
Who are the some notable new faces? Take a look at Emerson Etem, Jayson Megna, Brian Gibbons, Raphael Diaz, Jarret Stoll, Viktor Stalberg and Antti Raanta. Gibbons scored the opening goal in the preseason victory against the New Jersey Devils. Megna followed it up by netting two of his own. Hopefully, this is an indication of some added offensive firepower.
Who did we say goodbye to? Carl Hagelin, Martin St. Louis and Cam Talbot were the biggest losses. It’s tough to see Hagelin go, especially because he’d been so consistent for so long.
Who are our core guys? Henrik Lundqvist, Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, Dan Girardi, Keith Yandle, Dan Boyle, Marc Staal and Kevin Klein. They’re all returning players with important roles. I expect 22-year-old J.T. Miller to eventually be added to this list of names as he continues to prove himself after an impressive playoff performance.
Expectations are high for these returners, especially Nash who had a terrific scoring year. Again, it felt like most of his productivity came during the regular season while some of that dominance seemed to wear off come playoff time.
Welcome back, Zuuuuuuuuc! It was a tough loss last season when Zucc took a slapshot to the head that left him out for the rest of the playoffs. I expect him to come back energized and add to an explosive offense.
Kreider is one of my favorite offensive players to watch. There’s pure talent, speed and tenacity in him. The only thing that’s missing is consistency. The Rangers need him to become a more consistent threat especially in the wake of losing veterans like St. Louis and Hagelin. It’s time for Kreider to light up the ice.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Derek Stepan’s big-money, six-year contract. I’d like the think that he’ll live up to the $39 million. Stepan was the first Ranger center to record 50 or more points in 3 consecutive seasons since Wayne Gretzky. Stats like that don’t hurt when it comes to bargaining.
On the defensive end, workhorses like Girardi and McDonagh probably won’t find a reprieve this season. Other defensive heavyweights like Staal, Yandle, Boyle and Klein will continue to be forces to reckon with.
And let’s not forget King Henrik. The 33-year-old is still a top goaltender (.928 save percentage). Injuries last year might have some questioning his durability, but I expect that only to fuel his fire. Henrik is a fierce competitor and his reign will continue.
My prediction: the Rangers make it to the Stanley Cup Finals or at least the Eastern Conference Finals.