After an early exit from the 2022-23 NHL postseason, the New York Rangers are looking toward this upcoming season in a quest for redemption. The team made many offseason moves to strengthen their roster, as well as making improvements behind the bench.
In order to make up for a disappointing ending to last season, the Rangers’ first step is ensuring a return to the playoffs. But to achieve that goal, the Blueshirts must achieve three main objectives to keep pace in an increasingly competitive Metropolitan Division.
The kids must excel on the Rangers’ top lines
Heading into the 2023-24 season, it is more likely than not that most of the “kids” will have the opportunity to play in top six positions. Kaapo Kakko is projected to replace Vladimir Tarasenko as the first-line right wing. There is also a chance that Filip Chytil will receive significant time as the second-line center, swapping places with Vincent Trocheck throughout the course of the year. The least likely possibility is that Alexis Lafreniere fills in as the second-line right wing, but it’s not impossible.
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If the kids are truly going to be receiving top-six minutes on a nightly basis, it’s essential that they begin to tally top-six level points. Chytil has been the most promising of the three young stars, notching 45 points in 74 games last year. As the oldest of the bunch, he’s had the opportunity to develop the most, but he needs to keep improving with a surplus of future minutes.
Kakko appears to have the biggest opportunity in front of himself, earning a first-line role alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. If he fails to produce on the top unit, that would only bring the team down and hurt the Rangers’ chances of making the playoffs.
The Rangers’ goaltending must continue to be elite
It’s no secret that the Rangers would not be as successful as they are without their superstar goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Throughout the last few seasons, countless games have been stolen by the world-class netminder, keeping the Rangers in contention during games they absolutely should have lost.
“Finalizing their positional rankings for this season, the NHL Network ranked Igor Shesterkin as the #2 goalie in the league right now, behind Andrei Vasilevskiy. Shesterkin was ahead of Ilya Sorokin and Connor Hellebuyck. This quartet is the upper echelon of goaltenders in the NHL, with a sizable gap between them and the next tier in NHL goaltending.”via Blue Seat Blogs
In order to secure a playoff spot this year, Shesterkin must continue his greatness. He saw somewhat of a regression last season, as he finished the year with a record of 37-13-8. These are still incredible numbers despite it being considered a down year for Shesterkin. However, the Rangers know that his ceiling is much higher, and Shesterkin may need another career year in order to propel the Blueshirts into the postseason with ease.
Even strength play must significantly improve
In the 2022-2023 regular season, the Rangers only scored 180 even-strength goals at 5v5. That total was good for 10th in the NHL, but it is nowhere near where the Rangers should be if they are truly eyeing down a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. While scoring a total of 273 goals throughout the course of the year, this means that only about two-thirds of the Rangers’ total scoring came at even strength.
Outside of goal scoring, there are many other aspects of the Rangers’ 5v5 play that must improve as well. It seemed as if the opposing team consistently maintained puck possession, and there was very little movement from the Rangers’ players to defend them.
Finding success on special teams is essential, but it’s difficult to find success when those are the only areas of hockey the Rangers excel in. In order to safely secure a postseason spot in 2023-24, the Rangers must find a way to improve their even-strength abilities.