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Reasonable expectations for the Rangers 2016-17 Season

Bobby Bevilacqua

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Before the offseason started, there were talks about Jeff Gorton and the Rangers doing some minor tinkering and potentially entering the first phase of a rebuild. The team looked to have some major flaws and holes, an aging blue line and issues to address before opening night.

But Gorton made a lot of small, smart depth signings during Free Agent Frenzy, a trade for Mika Zibanejad, brought aboard a highly coveted NCAA prospect in Jimmy Vesey, and even made some changes to the coaching staff and management.

The moves made in the offseason show that the Rangers aren’t looking to rebuild and exit the first round this season, they’re looking to contend.

With a multitude of moves, Gorton addressed some of the biggest problems on the forward lines. If some of the rookies pan out as expected, as well as Mika Zibanejad, then the Rangers might have one of the deepest 13 to 14 forwards in the NHL.

Last year, the fourth line was a mess. It has been a sharp decline from the 2013-14 fourth line featuring Dom Moore, Derek Dorsett and Brian Boyle helped guide the team to the Stanley Cup Finals that year. Last year, featuring mostly Moore, Tanner Glass and usually Viktor Stalberg, failed to play consistent defense, maintain possession or do much offensively.

So Gorton went out and signed Nathan Gerbe, Michael Grabner and one of my favorite summer signings, Josh Jooris. Re-signing Marek Hrivik and Nicklas Jensen also created competition and even more depth for the fourth line. Jooris is a really nice signing because of his strong two-way game, good possession numbers, and ability to chip in and produce (12-12-24). Michael Grabner adds speed that the lineup was missing along with some scoring, and him and Gerbe both address an area that was severely lacking; the penalty kill.

He also signed Pavel Buchnevich to an entry level contract, as well as Harvard captain Jimmy Vesey. Neither are a definite “lock” to make the lineup per se, but Buchnevich can choose to go back to Russia instead of the AHL, and Vesey was signed to play quite a bit. So they will likely both start. And it’s reasonable to expect around 35+ points from both of them, with a high ceiling on a sheltered third line centered by Kevin Hayes.

jimmy vesey

On top of that, Brandon Pirri was signed to a one year deal. I wrote about his ridiculous offensive numbers HERE, and he gives the team even more insurance and depth on the scoring lines. He’s not really a fourth line player, and it is hard to find a spot for him on the other three lines considering Vesey and Buchnevich will both likely play, but Pirri could be a big contributor.

And while I was sad about the Brassard trade, the return was fantastic. A second round pick is very helpful, and the Rangers got Mika Zibanejad in return, a 23 year old center with steadily improving numbers who will be an RFA after this season, and potentially an important Ranger for a long time.

Looking at the forward group, the Rangers look like they could have one of the highest scoring teams in the league. The defense is where there are still question marks.

Can Dan Girardi and Marc Staal really be counted on to return to form? Is Brady Skjei ready for a top four, or even a top pairing role? (Article on that HERE) Do the Rangers have enough depth on the blueline without Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle?

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Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Apart from the Brady Skjei question, I really have no idea how anything will wind up working out. That could be the team’s Achilles heel, unless Henrik Lundqvist is back at god-like form (likely).

And if the defense does still have issues, Gorton made some moves to try and counteract that. Jeff Beukeboom was added to the Rangers coaching staff. You know him as a member of the 1994 Stanley Cup team and an AHL defensive coach/wizard that has helped mold the likes of Skjei, McIlrath, Mat Bodie and Ryan Graves.

Beukeboom could help out Dan Girardi to be in better positions to counteract his weaknesses in skating, similarly to McIlrath. He could also help Alain Vigneault come up with a way to utilize all of the defenseman in a better way, and potentially solving some of last year’s problems.

And if that doesn’t work, by dropping Tanner Glass and one of Gerbe/Jensen, they’d be able to add up to $8.89 million in cap space on trade deadline day. That leaves a lot of room for a potential trade for a forward or a defenseman, aka Kevin Shattenkirk, on March 1, 2017.

But looking at the team as is, it’s fair to say that this team should be a contender, if things fall into place as expected. It will also take smart utilization of his players by Alain Vigneault, which means developing Buchnevich and Vesey properly and patiently, not using guys like Tanner Glass on the fourth line when there are other options, and not giving Girardi top pairing minutes. If that’s all done, then we could see a pretty good team come together.

The Rangers still have a large portion of their core together, guys like Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, JT Miller, Ryan McDonagh and others. And combined with the new players, there’s a lot of playoff experience still on the roster. The Blackhawks have had tons of success using a combination of veterans, core players and players on ELCs. Granted, they’re constructed better and have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but that formula works.

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I think you’ll see the Capitals win the division, because they always tend to have success and perform exceptionally well in the regular season. The Penguins will finish second, but then I think you see New York finish just behind them in a closer race than expected.

I also think it’s reasonable to expect the following from players:

  • Mika Zibanejad surpasses his career high of 51 points and takes another step forward
  • Rick Nash has a bounce back season and hits 20+ goals and 50+ points.
  • Mats Zuccarello maintains his scoring pace
  • Jimmy Vesey or Pavel Buchnevich scores higher than 40 points
  • Ryan McDonagh, with the right defensive partner, returns to 2013/14 form
  • Henrik Lundqvist continues to carry the team and hits 30 wins again

In the playoffs, I think the Rangers will take their first round exit to heart and use it to make a run. A revamped fourth line along with a different defensive approach will help the team function and look much more like the 2013-14 team that went to the Finals.

Getting out of the east with the Caps and Pens will be tough, and teams like the Panthers and Lightning mean there won’t be any clear, easy path through the playoffs. But don’t expect the Rangers to be pushovers this year. Instead, look for them to be a dark horse pick, one that catches people off guard and wins a few playoff series.

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Posted on September 9, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m really hoping brining in Buekeboom will make a difference.I think they need some changes in their style of play on D for the reasons you stated. But I also think Girardi was playing hurt all year and should be better this year. As far as the forwards it may take a little time to get a good flow going. Don’t forget the year we went to the final the Rangers got off to a rough start and really didn’t get in a groove till half way through the season. I’m also hoping that early exit last year will help due to more rest and more motivation. Good news is we don’t have to wait too much longer to get started.

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