The New York Rangers seem prepared to hit the ground running in early October with the start of the 2023-24 NHL season approaching. After a summer filled with many off-season moves, the pieces seem to be set for another run at the Stanley Cup.
Although the Rangers did not make as large of a splash as some other organizations, GM Chris Drury made every effort possible to strengthen the roster, mainly replacing the talents of Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane in the top six. As the new season grows nearer, many fans question if the top six saw any significant improvement.
Rangers’ young star could finally break out into an elite forward
With Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad remaining on the Rangers’ first line, the two forwards are projected to be joined by former second-overall draft pick Kaapo Kakko. The chemistry between Kreider and Zibanejad has grown and flourished throughout the last few seasons, and Kakko should hopefully be a nice addition to the trio.
Kakko’s development has been significantly slow throughout his career. A rough transition from European ice and a string of coaches who refused to give him top-six minutes has ultimately led to a somewhat underwhelming career from Kakko thus far.
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Now that HC Peter Laviolette intends on slotting Kakko on the first line, a breakout campaign may finally ensue. He’s shown all the characteristics of an elite NHL player but doesn’t have the points to solidify himself in that title.
“In theory, Kakko should continue to grow into his role as a top six winger. He provides a nice complement to both Kreider and Zibanejad, doing the dirty work while Zibanejad finds space and Kreider parks himself in front of the net. Unlike his other youthful counterparts, Kakko is most ready for all three zone work and to be the work horse winger the Rangers need on the right side.”via Blue Seat Blogs
It will be difficult to tell if Kakko will serve as a suitable replacement for Tarasenko on the first line until the season gets underway. Tarasenko managed to tally 21 points in only 31 regular season games with the Rangers, while Kakko only hit 40 in a full 82-game season.
It may not be evident right away, but the potential for Kakko to excel past the talents of Tarasenko is there. Depending on if Kakko succeeds, the first line could be interchangeably called an upgrade or a downgrade.
New veteran signing adds more than just point production to Rangers’ second-line
This summer, the Rangers signed veteran forward Blake Wheeler to a cheap, one-year contract. Barring any unforeseen changes, Wheeler will most likely be joining Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck as the second-line right winger. Replacing a player such as Patrick Kane is no easy task, but Wheeler has an abundance of attributes to his game that some would consider to be an upgrade.
Despite not producing as many points as Kane does, Wheeler is somewhat better defensively. Having both Panarin and Kane on the second line posed a defensive liability for the Rangers. Although Wheeler is only better by a small margin, any upgrade helps. Wheeler’s strength also comes on the penalty kill, an area of special teams that the Rangers needed significant help on.
Although Wheeler only tallied 55 points last season, he should still be a welcome addition to the Rangers’ second line. Kane spent his entire tenure with the Rangers playing through an injury, so he was never at his top level of performance. He also had difficulty re-igniting past chemistry with Panarin, causing a mess of problems figuring out where to place him in the lineup.
Although it’s possible that Kane could still re-sign with the Blueshirts later on in 2023-24, having a healthy Wheeler slotted next to Panarin and Trocheck should for now be considered an upgrade.