With the 2023-24 NHL season just over a month away from opening night, the New York Rangers are prepared to make another run at the Stanley Cup. General Manager Chris Drury has made it clear that he views the team as a championship contender, setting high expectations for the Rangers after a disappointing defeat in last year’s playoffs.
While the Blueshirts are filled with elite talent that has the potential to thrive this season, there are certain players who must up their game in order to achieve their lofty goals.
Lafreniere must begin to break out for the Rangers
One of the key storylines from this year’s offseason was Alexis Lafreniere’s contract situation. Although the Rangers were eventually able to re-sign the young forward to a two-year deal, there was discussion on whether or not the organization should even want to extend Lafreniere in the first place.
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Throughout the three years of his entry-level contract, Lafreniere only tallied 91 points in 216 games. While these numbers are decent, it’s not enough for a player who was drafted first overall. Of course, not every first-overall pick is going to immediately score 100 points per season like Connor McDavid, but there needs to be some sign of growth from Lafreniere this upcoming year.
An improvement from Lafreniere is not only crucial for the sake of the Rangers, but for the success of his career as well. With only two years to prove his worth on the Blueshirts, Lafreniere’s breakout campaign must come immediately.
Rangers’ new backup needs to have a bounce-back season
After signing Jonathan Quick to a cheap, one-year deal, the Rangers should have a decent goaltender to backup superstar Igor Shesterkin. As a future hall of famer, Quick brings an abundance of Stanley Cup-winning leadership and experience that will be beneficial to the Rangers’ locker room.
Despite his successful career, Quick’s age has caused his numbers to dramatically decrease over the last few seasons. Throughout his 2022-23 campaign, the veteran goalie only played in 41 games and finished with a record of 16-15. Although the test of time has been the leading cause of Quick’s regression, there were a few other factors in play last season as well. Multiple injuries, as well as changing teams for the first time in over a decade, contributed to the weakest season of Quick’s career.
Hopefully, a fresh start with the Rangers will be enough to help Quick bounce back. The Rangers need to stop solely relying on Shesterkin to steal the team games and put more faith in a suitable backup.
Panarin must play smarter while on the ice
Artemi Panarin has been one of the greatest offensive contributors for the Rangers in recent years, scoring 341 points in his 268 games with the organization. Despite managing to score over a point per game, Panarin has been a defensive liability for the Rangers.
Just last season, Panarin gave away the puck over 100 times. There are many times where he has an open shooting lane, but will still opt for a cross-ice pass that gets intercepted by the opposing team. These offensive turnovers from Panarin have cost the Rangers crucial puck possession, and these issues have overflowed into the postseason many times as well.
“The 31-year-old is entering the upcoming season with a different look, namely, his newly bald head. And while jokes have been made of Panarin shedding his locks to change his hockey juju, it might be exactly what he needs.”via Forever Blueshirts
Now that Panarin is expected to play alongside Blake Wheeler, another defensive liability, he’ll need to step up his game and play much smarter. The points will continue to flow for the elite star, but Panarin must ensure he is not costing the Rangers points as well.