When you cross the goal line and go from a playoff hopeful to a contender, you’ve firmly laid a goal on your back and you’re there to be shot by the rest of the league. This will be the case for New York Rangers entering the new season and they will need their core to continue evolving in order to avoid a wake-up call.
It’s been a strange season for Rangers who have added so much talent through the 2022 NHL draft entry, but arguably they haven’t done enough in the free agency in terms of boosting a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
Of course, salary cap constraints were the driving force behind it, but the fact is that the Blues lost Ryan Strom as well as four players that General Manager Chris Drury had on the trade deadline in Andrew Cope, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Mott and Justin Brown. .
Cobb, Vatrano and Mott in particular provided depth for the sorely-missing Rangers, and they all played key roles in the team’s access to Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals against all odds. However, the three, along with Braun and Strome, were allowed to leave at the Free Agency with Vincent Trocheck signing as a similar replacement for Strome and bringing in Ryan Carpenter to fill the bottom six.
While Trocheck expects it to be a comprehensive upgrade for Strome – especially if paired with Artemi Panarin – there is a fair argument to make the roster heading into the 2022-23 season weaker than it was last year. It definitely lacks depth and there are large holes that need filling. Bringing veteran striker Jimmy Vesey back on the PTO probably isn’t the answer either.
Some Rangers will need to step up and carry the load in 2022-23
Instead, Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant will have to hope that his top players such as Mika Zibanijad, Chris Kreider, Banarin and Adam Fox will continue the upward trend and not retreat offensively, but more importantly, it is imperative that some players continue to that. Evolve and go in the right direction.
Igor Chesterkin will need to produce another season of the Vezina Trophy caliber between the tubes, Braden Schneider will hope to avoid the sophomore slump and play at the high level that has pushed potential defender Nils Lundqvist near the exit door, and Jacob Troupa will need to focus. At his own game though, he is the proud owner of the “C” on his chest.
Perhaps most important, though, is whether Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko can continue to raise the bar for their games and build on their impressive performances from last year’s playoffs. Lafreniere quipped that he could be the kind of top-six attacker who could thrive in the contemporary NHL, while Chytil is finally starting to deliver the kind of attack he’s long been expected with nine points (seven G, two A) in postseason.
Kakko, who is hoping to put the now infamous Game 6 behind him, showed promising signs of progress last year and his first-six role in 2022-23 could help him unleash the potential Rangers thought he had when they drafted him for second. Generally in 2019.
Sami Bliss staying healthy and having a year of rebounding would be a great bonus for Rangers as well, and it would help hugely if enigma Vitaly Kravtsov could finally stick in the NHL and develop into the attacking lover he’s been teasing for a long time. And if Trocheck can benefit from playing alongside Panarin and improving on the 78 points (21 G, 30 A) he put into the Carolina Hurricanes in 2021-22, that would also help replace some of the scoring depth that was wasted.
But, make no mistake about it, if the New York Rangers are to repeat last season’s highs, they will need continuous development from all the players above who will need to step up and take on more of the burden given some of the depth they lost this off season. If they can’t, the front office may have to deal with some of those many assets they have at their disposal on the trade deadline. Or risk one bumpy crash back to Earth for a team that will have a lot to prove this season.