With the NHL Season Preview being released by the SB Nation hockey family today, we asked three questions of the Rangers. Here are those questions and answers.
How much of a difference will rookies like Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich make on a team desperate for a youth infusion?
Well, we still don’t know.
It seems that both with make the team and be in the opening night roster. That wasn’t exactly a guarantee to start the summer, so it is a step forward in terms of where the Rangers have been with their youth in the past. How they’re utilized is going to be where we’ll really see the impact they’re going to be allowed to make on the team.
You’d hope both would get top-nine minutes and responsibilities along with a reasonable amount of power play time. Already Buchnevich has been part of a top-six line that actually could be the most explosive group on the team. Vesey has even seen time on the first line with Rick Nash, too.
The Rangers needed creativity last year, and both rookies will bring that in spades. Add in Brandon Pirri -- who literally can’t stop scoring this preseason -- and the Rangers have totally re-vamped their entire forward group. We might even see Alain Vigneault use an all-skill lineup — dropping the traditional defensive fourth line for a more skilled group that he can roll anywhere.
Make no mistake, Vesey and Buchnevich will be the driving force that required that change if Vigneault goes in that direction.
Will the Rangers’ changes up front help both their power play and penalty kill issues that helped sink the team last year?
If the preseason is any indication then yes.
The power play has looked wildly better with Mika Zibanejad -- an actual right handed shot who can set up shop at the faceoff circle — while Vesey and Buchnevich have clicked with the man advantage as well. Kevin Hayes and Buchnevich have been on a unit that has seen them rotate from the point to the half wall depending on the pivot at the other point (usually Adam Clendening). You’d think Pirri would be a mainstay on the power play so long as he makes the team.
Chris Kreider has shown a more frequent desire to go in front of the net to provide screens and the Rangers are shooting far more often as a team. The puck movement has been fantastic and the group has actually been converting, which is sort of important to the success of a power play.
As for the penalty kill, well, we’re kind of not sure what the deal is with who is actually making the team.
You can assume one of Nathan Gerbe or Michael Grabner will be in the starting lineup, which is an automatic boost to what was a dreadful bottom six (read: fourth line) last year.
It’s fair to say the Rangers penalty kill has looked better in the preseason but there hasn’t been a ton of NHL talent on it. Grabner/Gerbe will fill in a full-time role there, to go along with the likes of Derek Stepan, Rick Nash and Jesper Fast. When Oscar Lindberg returns Vigneault will have a wealth of options to choose from for the penalty kill.
Will Jeff Gorton’s lack of moves to the defense sink the team again this year?
I mean, let’s just call it like it is at this point: Dan Girardi has had a bad preseason against non-NHL talent. Marc Staal has shown improvement, but we need to see if that’s going to be a long-term thing before we can feel comfortable there.
Clendening has been a revelation — again, preseason — but there’s still no guarantee he makes the team despite boasting a desperately needed power play QB skill set. Brady Skjei — for all his potential — has struggled, as has Dylan McIlrath. You could have made a case that McIlrath hasn’t earned Vigneault’s trust yet, but it’s clear the Rangers expected Skjei to step into a top-four role right away.
If Girardi is still getting top-line minutes, Skjei is forced into a top-four role he’s not ready for and talented guys who have earned a spot (read: Clendening) don’t get into the lineup then it’s not going to be much different than last year.
Nick Holden is great depth but he’s basically bottom-pairing talent. Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle are gone and the Rangers might not have the players ready to effectively fill those minutes; even if Kevin Klein continues his magical run from last year.
Unless there’s an ace up Gorton’s sleeve (Jacob Trouba?), this is the reason why the Rangers shouldn’t be seriously considered Stanley Cup contenders -- or even real threats to go deep in the playoffs.