This year was something of a coming out party for the guys who would still be considered kids but aren’t rookies. Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller mainly. Chris Kreider can be thrown in here, too.
Miller was second on the team in points with 22 goals and 56 points (both career highs), Kreider also hit highs for goals (28) and points (53) and Hayes tied his career high with 17 goals and notched a career high 49 points.
The Rangers’ early explosion on offense had a lot to do with the kids stepping up. Jimmy Vesey was a force in the first third of the year, Pavel Buchnevich was playing (and doing well!), Mika Zibanejad was in his pre-injury groove and Brady Skjei was just starting to show us what we could do.
The offense helped the Rangers overcome some poor defensive issues and a struggling goaltender. The Rangers very well may have similar issues in the playoffs against Montreal, and the kids are going to have to be the guys to step up.
Carey Price is a dangerous threat, looming over the Rangers’ issues like clouds over a parade. He himself is a problem this team is going to have to solve, and quickly. While the Habs seem interested in adding their own grit and toughness (say thank ye), their defensive corps is better that what the Rangers are going to send out overall, their possession game is too and they have a hell of a threat on the power play with Shea Weber (let along their special teams). The Rangers are going to have to score goals to beat the Canadiens and to do that they’re going to need their offensive guys to step up.
Two things to note on that front: Buchnevich will most likely be sitting for Tanner Glass, and there needs to be a lack of expectations for offense from Vesey too (he’s a rookie who has never played more than 37 games before this year, it’s not a knock on him but he’s hit a wall).
That means the bulk of it is going to fall on Hayes, Kreider and Miller. Sure, you expect offense from Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello and the like, but the extra stuff that wins you games? That’s where the depth comes in.
Michael Grabner has predictably fallen back down to earth (I wonder how many people would re-think their thoughts on this now), and while he’s still a very valuable piece to the puzzle it’s his overall game that the Rangers need now. Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg will add a defensive presence but again, the offense they produce will be gravy.
So the extra will fall from the kids. The Hayes, Miller and Kreider kids. Maybe Zibanejad should be in this category too, but regardless the punch needs to come from this level of depth.
Miller and Hayes have seen some struggles since Grabner’s fall from grace (although not at the same level). Miller had a small surge late in the season and Hayes seemed to follow. Despite the lack of finish, both of them have at least provided offensive generation with one another and there’s that spark that can certainly turn into an explosion. Kreider, thanks to the ACCIDENT with Price a few years ago, might have all the fire he needs to provide that explosion.
The Rangers are going to need all the help they can get to overcome Price.
If this year is any indication, the kids can provide it.