Rangers: 3 storylines heading into penultimate preseason game of 2023-24

new york rangers, kaapo kakko, rangers, nyr
May 9, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in game four of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers will face off against the New Jersey Devils tonight at 7:00 EST in the second-to-last preseason matchup of the year. The Rangers currently have a record of 1-3, while the Devils have gone undefeated in five straight. It will be a difficult matchup for the Blueshirts, who are looking to get back in the win column after back-to-back losses. Although winning isn’t the main objective of the preseason, it’d still be a nice sight to take down the Devils.

Heading into tonight’s game, there are a handful of players and storylines to keep an eye on. As preseason is quickly coming to a close, the Rangers must soon finalize their lineup. Certain players still have a lot to prove, setting up an entertaining conclusion to the 2023-24 preseason.

Quick will look to regain his abilities

Per Vince Mercogliano, head coach Peter Laviolette has confirmed that veteran goaltender Jonathan Quick will be the Rangers’ starter tonight. He’ll likely split the playing time with prospect Dylan Garand, but Quick will be the one under a microscope.

Quick has been disappointing in every preseason game he’s played in so far. He only signed a one-year contract with the Rangers to serve as backup to Igor Shesterkin, but his lackluster performances have already caused fans to question the stability of his NHL status. If he doesn’t begin to find his game, it’s possible that Garand may find an opportunity to have an early call-up to the NHL.

Tonight is Quick’s chance to prove his doubters wrong, and show that he can still perform at an elite level. The Devils are a young team filled with immense talent, so it will be an uphill battle for the 37-year-old veteran. It’s likely that Shesterkin will get the start tomorrow night to close out the preseason, so this will be one of Quick’s final opportunities to prove his worth before the regular season gets underway.

Kakko can finalize his role in the top six, while Lafreniere has been skating as an extra

One of the major storylines for the Rangers throughout preseason has been Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere’s competition for a top-six role. There are two open spots that need to be filled, with three players eyeing them down. Initially, it was projected that Kakko would end up on the first line, Lafreniere the second, and Blake Wheeler would be demoted to the bottom six. However, that projection seems to have been wrong.

Looking at tonight’s projected lineup, Kakko remains on the first line while Wheeler is on the second. Kakko has looked solid throughout preseason so far, and he’ll have the opportunity to lock in his top-six status with another elite performance tonight. Wheeler has also been one of the better Rangers in what has been an underwhelming preseason campaign.

“It’s been a little more learning than last year, but we still have a couple of more games left before the real games. Time to get better and we’ve been better every day.” 

Kaapo Kakko via The Hockey News

Lafreniere has had a rough preseason, only tallying one assist in three games played. He was seen skating as an extra today, indicating that he will not be playing tonight. Despite his poor performance, that likely was not a factor in this decision.

NHL regulars usually do not play in every preseason game, and Laviolette is probably saving him for tomorrow night’s finale. While Kakko may have an early opportunity tonight, Lafreniere could very well get the last laugh tomorrow.

Gustafsson is the likely candidate for the Rangers’ third defensive pairing

Heading into tonight’s game, all signs are pointing towards Erik Gustafsson edging out Zac Jones for the final roster spot in the Rangers’ defense. It has been a tough competition throughout all of training camp and preseason, but Laviolette may have possibly already made his decision.

Tonight, Gustafsson is projected to be paired up with Rangers’ superstar Adam Fox. Gustafsson has already shown that he can produce points at a consistent level, and now those abilities will be elevated on a pairing with Fox. Gustafsson can easily put the nail in the coffin for Jones’ chances with an elite performance tonight.

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