Projecting the Rangers’ new opening night roster for the 2023 season

Rangers
Apr 5, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) celebrates his goal with right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91), center Mika Zibanejad (93) and defenseman Adam Fox (23) during the first period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have a new look heading into the 2023 season following a busy offseason by GM Chris Drury. Many signings were made throughout the summer, prepping the Blueshirts to make another run at the long-sought Stanley Cup.

A strong start to the season is essential to the overall success of the team, as proven by last year’s rough opening. In order to keep up with the top teams in the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers must have an upgraded opening night lineup compared to last season’s to get off to a hot start.

Rangers’ top six is significantly improved by one player

When looking at the Rangers’ forward corps, the projected top six to open the season seems to be mostly unchanged. The first line is projected to start as Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Kaapo Kakko, exactly how the 2022-2023 season opened.

The sole change when comparing opening night rosters comes in the form of replacing former Ranger Vitali Kravtsov with newly signed Blake Wheeler. Kravtsov was undoubtedly one of the most disappointing draft picks the Blueshirts have made in recent years. Having two separate stints with the Rangers, the young Russian forward only tallied 10 points in 48 games.

Wheeler is a massive improvement over Kravtsov. Starting the 2023 season with not an experiment, but a proven NHL star, should help elevate the Ranger’s second line to the next level. Wheeler will also be able to contribute defensively on the penalty kill, an area of the game the Rangers need to make improvements upon.

“In 72 games, he (Wheeler) scored 16 goals and 39 assists for 55 points. With over 1100 games played and over 900 points scored in his NHL career, Wheeler will be a leader and a veteran presence for the Rangers, while still being capable of producing on the ice.”

via Puck Prose

While the only difference being one player may not seem like a significant change, the quality difference between Kravtsov and Wheeler will prove to be one of the biggest upgrades the Rangers have made to their opening-night roster.

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The Rangers got much older with veteran signings

What used to be a young, quick, exciting Rangers team last season may no longer be the case in 2023. Throughout the last few seasons, the team has quickly grown older. Just three seasons ago, New York’s average age was 25 years old, as compared to an average age of 28 heading into the 2023-2024 season.

There’s certainly no problem with aging a few years as players develop, but it does mean that the style of play the Rangers utilize will have to grow and change as well. Having a strong physical presence yet also ensuring the older players remain energized throughout all 82 games will play a major factor in determining the Blueshirts’ success.

The increased age of this Rangers team should not be a problem heading into the 2023 season. It may actually be seen as an improvement, bringing in new veteran leadership and experience. This potential won’t last forever, so the Rangers must capitalize on this opportunity before the roster gets too old.