This year’s training camp and preseason were particularly important for the rebuilding New York Rangers. A new coaching staff, while aiming to implement their system, afforded a clean slate for everyone and opportunities for prospects to make the team.
Unlike years past, the Rangers’ core wasn’t complemented by offseason acquisitions via trade and free agency with the sole purpose of winning now. The coaches had more to assess than combinations and how those acquired players mesh with the group. Preseason actually was something to watch in New York.
Through those six games, there were a number of highlights for the Rangers — some of prospects elevating their game, others from mainstays thriving under new leadership. Before the 2018-19 NHL season kicks off, and the Rangers’ season gets underway, we at Blueshirt Banter wanted to look back at highlights from an unusually meaningful preseason.
Phil: Lias Andersson’s short-handed goal against the New Jersey Devils in the Rangers’ preseason opener on September 17. While Andersson’s inability to crack the opening night roster is a little disappointing, this flash of his NHL potential sure wasn’t. For those in the nosebleeds, the number of NHL players he beat to score that goal was four. That group included Keith Kinkaid, Sami Vatanen, former first overall pick Nico Hischier, and reigning NHL MVP, Taylor Hall. The future is bright!
Pat: Pavel Buchnevich’s first goal of the preseason, a power play blast against the Devils on September 18. We all know Buchnevich is a set up man, but he does have a shot. I’m really excited to see him use it.
Mike: Brendan Smith’s assist on Matt Beleskey’s goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in his first preseason game on September 19. Smith’s read on this play was fantastic, and his instinct to go on the attack immediately after intercepting the puck was even better. These are the kinds of plays we want to see out of Smith, who put together a really solid preseason performance. The pass he made was even better than the pick. This is a great example of how valuable it is to have defenders who can skate and move the puck.
Tom: Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad’s goal celebration after combining for a power play goal against the Flyers on September 19. Buchnevich and Zibanejad are expected to start the season with linemate Chris Kreider. During the preseason there were a number of funny little moments involving Buchnevich and Zibanejad. It seems small, but the two have become even more comfortable and zany, and it shows the fun the two are having together. This confidence and familiarity should translate to on-ice success that can be enhanced by fair usage provided by new bench boss David Quinn. He recognizes the talent of each player, and the preseason could be just a preview of what is to come for the duo this season.
Kevin: Filip Chytil takes the puck away from Thomas Hickey of the New York Islanders on September 22. This play, to me, is what makes Chytil so special and unique. The Rangers haven’t really a had a player that can generate something out of nothing in the same creative way that Chytil shows here and throughout the preseason.
Shayna: Kevin Hayes’s assist on Vinni Lettieri’s overtime game-winning goal against the Devils on September 24. Can you hear that? It’s all of Madison Square Garden yelling “SHOOT!” at Hayes. This play exemplifies Hayes’s best qualities — his hands, his patience, his creativity, and his vision. He carries the puck into the offensive zone and forces Sami Vatanen to try to anticipate what he’s going to do next. Instead of getting the puck off his stick and on net as quickly as possible, he waits for Lettieri to get in position and open, and keeps the goaltender’s attention on him until it’s too late to react to the shot. Hopefully, these craftier plays are the ones we see Hayes more willing to take this season under Quinn
These are just some of the highlights from the preseason. What were some of your favorites? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.