The 2023-’24 New York Rangers season is ready to start with high expectations, lingering line combination questions, and one final goal- a Stanley Cup Championship.
The New York Rangers team that ended last season with a first-round loss to the New Jersey Devils is different from the team that will take to the ice in Buffalo for their season opener on Thursday night.
Peter Laviolette is now the new head coach behind the bench. He and an all-new coaching staff of Phil Housley, associate head coach, and Dan Muse and Michael Peca, assistant coaches, now have the responsibility to take these 22 players to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and beyond.
Looking to build on the past season’s success
Last season, the Rangers posted a record of 47-22-13 with 107 points, third place in the Metropolitan Division.
The tribulations of an excellent regular season didn’t last long, with their first-round departure in seven games to the Devils.
This year, Laviolette is bringing a system that he and the coaching staff anticipate will better prepare the team to advance deep into the playoffs.
Laviolette has not shied from letting everyone know that the regular season is a stepping stone to a strong playoff run.
The Rangers’ Lineup Surprises
At the start of training camp in September, the team seemed set on who the top 12 forwards would be come opening night. The only competition was for the sixth defenseman slot, the 13th forward, and the seventh defenseman.
Turns out Will Cuylle had something to say about that. The Rangers drafted Cuylle in the 2020 NHL Draft 2nd round (60th overall).
Cuylle officially made the team following Thursday’s last preseason game.
“He was noticeable all the time,” said Rangers Head Coach Peter Laviolette following Saturday’s practice. “He was noticeable in practice; he was noticeable in games. I liked his speed; I liked his physicality. He generated a lot of offense. He scored goals, he put pucks to the net. He could have scored a few more. He’s a big presence out there, so he did a lot of things, and he did them consistently through camp. He earned himself this opportunity.”
Time will tell how long Cuylle can keep himself in the lineup, but if his work effort on and off the ice is any indication, you can expect Cuylle to be on Broadway for most of this season.
The Blueline was not as dramatic, with Eric Gustaffson winning the sixth defenseman position. His NHL experience and tutoring in practice sessions were evident throughout camp.
Zac Jones will be on the roster as the seventh defenseman and will see game time as the season unfolds.
Laviolette never used the same lineup twice throughout the preseason schedule. The coach bounced players from the left side to the right side (not just Alexis Lafreniere) as much as he changed suits for games.
Kreider – Zibanejad – Kakko
Panarin – Chytil -Lafreniere
Cuylle – Trocheck – Wheeler
Goodrow – Bonino – Pitlick
Lindgren – Fox
Miller – Trouba
Gustafsson – Schneider
As Laviolette has shown throughout the six exhibition games, nothing is etched in stone. In the Rangers’ last practice, he had Cuylle on the right side with Chytil and Panarin and Lafreniere on the left wing with Trochcek and Wheeler.
Vesey and Pitlick may rotate games in and out of the lineup until one decisively earns the spot full-time.
Johnathan Quick was the biggest concern throughout camp. The three-time Stanley Cup winner struggled to stop the puck. The team, at least publically, didn’t seem concerned, but if the Blueshirts want to have a good season, they will need Quick to bring his “A” game every night.
The first powerplay unit seems to be familiar;
The second Powerplay unit looks slightly different. On the point, K’Andre Miller has taken the spot usually held by Jacob Trouba.
The Penalty Killer pairings will be ;
Jimmy Vesey could also see plenty of PK time when he’s in the lineup.
The long offseason is over. A new coach, a new staff, and a new system need to be executed flawlessly so that the team doesn’t feel the pressure of playing catch-up early in the season.
Game 1 of the Rangers’ season is Thursday night in Buffalo.
Follow Frank on X at @RangerProud