Rangers set to open the season: Lines, outlook, predictions and more
Following another season of a disappointing playoff exit, an offseason full of questions and speculation, the New York Rangers are back for the 2017-18 season with a re-tooled roster and Stanley Cup aspirations to boot.
To start, I want to address my long absence from blogging. I hit a wall last year, overwhelmed with balancing school work to end my senior year of college and writing lot of the articles myself, I unfortunately lost motivation to keep it going. In doing so, I didn’t deliver what my readers wanted and fail in that aspect to cover a really exciting and important offseason for the New York Rangers.
Because of my work schedule and the time’s that I work, which is largely late nights until 2 or 4 AM sometimes, I won’t be able to cover and recap each individual game like I have in the past. But I do want to continue to write about the Rangers and cover what I can, and I hope my readers will come back and support the site again.
But with that out of the way, tomorrow night is the first game of the season for the New York Rangers, facing off against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden with the beginning of a new era for the Blueshirts.
This offseason, the Rangers parted ways with two of their longest tenured Rangers, Derek Stepan and Dan Girardi, who were traded to Arizona and bought out, respectively. Girardi had seen his effectiveness dwindle while being forced into a top 2 role by Alain Vigneault, and that coupled with the plethora of Rangers prospects on the blueline meant Jeff Gorton though it was time to move on and hand the keys to guys like Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith and Anthony DeAngelo.
DeAngelo was acquired in the trade with the Arizona Coyotes along with the 7th overall pick in the NHL draft for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. While the loss of another quality backup goalie is hard to handle for the Rangers, losing Derek Stepan’s leadership in the locker room, consistent scoring and two way play can potentially have an even larger impact, which remains to be seen.
However, Jeff Gorton made some great moves and draft picks this summer to keep this Rangers team competitive and keep the Stanley Cup window open despite what some writers and experts have said. Signing Kevin Shattenkirk to play alongside Ryan McDonagh and man the power play, re-signing Brendan Smith to solidify the second pairing, and drafting Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil in the draft are just a few of the moves and adjustments the team made to becompetitive.
The Rangers lines for practice today, and likely for tomorrow’s opening game, were announced this afternoon, and it presents a lot for both the fans and the franchise to look forward to;
Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich
Rick Nash-Filip Chytil-Mats Zuccarello
Michael Grabner-Kevin Hayes-JT Miller
Jimmy Vesey-David Desharnais-Paul Carey
Ryan McDonagh-Kevin Shattenkirk
Brady Skjei-Brendan Smith
Marc Staal-Antony DeAngelo
I think for the way the team is right now, with Jesper Fast still recovering hip surgery this offseason, this is about as good as the lines can get, so well done by Vigneault and Co. here.
The first line is the future of the Rangers all combined into one fast, skilled, and promising line. Zibanejad, fresh off of a strong postseason and a five year contract extension, is ready to take over primary center duties with Stepan now a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Chris Kreider broke out with a career high 28 goals and 53 points, and showed a lot of chemistry with Zibanejad throughout last season.
On top of that, we finally get to see Pavel Buchnevich hopefully get a consistent shot in the top 6. His underlying metrics last year showed that when given the ice time and the opportunities, he was producing at a rate better than basically anybody on the team. Alain Vigneault needs to give him the same leash that Vesey got last season and let his offensive skills flourish on a line with two of the best offensive forwards on this current roster.
The second line is where I think all eyes will be for tomorrow night’s game. Filip Chytil, who just turned 18 a month ago, will be centering Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello to begging the 2017-18 season. After a spectacular preseason where he showed he could adapt to the speed of the NL game, the smaller rink and his size was not an issue. Chytil did an excellent job facilitating offense and clearly likes to have the puck on his stick.
Vigneault made a really smart choice to put Nash and Zuccarello on the wings. Chytil will have two forwards who are reliable defensively and can take some pressure off of him as he adapts to the league, excellent goal scorers and offensive players, and veterans who have gone through what Chytil is going through now and can guide him through that process.
Let’s be clear. I know there is hype and excitement around Chytil, but temper your expectations. This is an 18 year old who is talented, yes, but not at the level of a Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. If Chytil puts up 40 points, that would be outstanding and probably beyond what is expected. However, I do think he’s a very important player for the team and their forward depth.
The line of Grabner, Hayes and Miller is a familiar sight that will provide the Rangers with depth and a lot of scoring from a third line. Hayes and Miller work very well together and both have strengths that work well with each other, like Hayes’ puck possession and creativity combined with Miller’s nose for the net and physical play, while Grabner gives the line a lot of speed and defensive responsibility.
Jimmy Vesey will start the season on the fourth line with new Ranger David Desharnais and Paul Carey who surprisingly won a spot out of the preseason. It remains to be seen how this line will work and I have some concerns, because I’m not sure if this trio will be astute defensively or a checking line that Vigneault sometimes likes to employ.
The defense is where there’s probably the biggest change and the most improvement for the Rangers. Kevin Shattenkirk, the New Rochelle native, will play his first game at Madison Square Garden for his favorite team growing up in front of 120 family and friends on the Chase Bridge tomorrow night. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone this excited to join the Rangers, and he’s exactly what this team needed.
A power play specialist, a puck-moving guru and a solid defensive presence, Shattenkirk will pair with Ryan McDonagh on the top pairing. Shattenkirk is a much better match for McDonagh with his playstyle and I think this pairing will allow McDonagh to return to his Norris Trophy caliber self from the 2013-14 season while Shattenkirk racks up power play points and run the offense from the blue line.
Smith and Skjei played extremely well together in the playoffs and have a lot to build off of moving forward. Skjei was great defensively and better than expected offensively, and will now be trusted for more responsibility moving forward.
Marc Staal will go to the third pairing, which will likely allow him to be more effective and rested more throughout the season while helping mentor DeAngelo in his first full season in the NHL.
And in net, Henrik Lundqvist will look to bounce back from the worst statistical season of his career. Personally, I have all of the confidence in the world in Lundqvist and having a much better defense in front of him will take the pressure off of Lundqvist to make 35 saves a night and cover for the countless turnovers made last season.
Hopefully this marks a new era of Rangers hockey where we talk about how good the defense is at making plays and shutting down opposing offenses instead of marveling at how Henrik Lundqvist carries his team to and through the playoffs for another season. Look for Lundqvist to have a bounce-back season in net for the New York Rangers.
The Metropolitan Division is the toughest one in hockey, but the Rangers have all of the tools to contend this season. The defense is vastly better, and while the offense does have question marks, the potential for greatness is there. Get excited Rangerstown, the 2017-18 season is here!
Posted on October 4, 2017, in In the Crease and tagged Filip Chytil, Henrik Lundqvist, Kevin Shattenkirk, Mika Zibanejad, National Hockey League, New York Rangers, New York Rangers blog, New York Rangers opening night, NHL, NHL opening night, Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers, Rangers blog, Rangers lines, Ryan McDonagh. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.