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Four Fearless Predictions for the 2018-19 Season

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NHL: Preseason-New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason has already started but we’re still a few weeks away from the start of the regular season. Before the Rangers officially start their season, I thought it would be fun to give four Fearless Predictions I have for the 2018-19 Rangers. While they’re supposed to be fearless, I tried to keep them somewhat realistic so they could be supported by facts and provide some sort of interesting analysis. As much as I’d love to say Pavel Buchnevich will score a point-per-game this season, there’s no real evidence that that’s even likely. So without further ado, here are my four Fearless Predictions for the 2018-19 season.

The Rangers will finish last in the NHL

Why it will happen:

There are two main reasons for why the Rangers could finish last in the league. First, too many teams that finished lower than them last year made improvements or are expected to perform better. The Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes acquired key players to rise up the standings while the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens have the talent in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Carey Price to bounce back after below-average seasons. If all these teams are projected to move up a little in the standings, some other teams (like the Rangers) have to move down.

Second, the Rangers defense is currently one of the worst in the NHL, and this will make it even more difficult to win games. They allowed the fourth most goals last season and are entirely without Ryan McDonagh. To replace him, they brought in Adam McQuaid, who had trouble even staying in the Boston Bruins lineup last season. It’ll be tough for the Rangers to keep the puck out of the back of their net and, with the entire year dedicated to a rebuild and not focusing on wins, it’s easy to see the Rangers falling as low as possible in the standings.

Why it won’t:

Despite losing J.T. Miller, Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, and Micheal Grabner, this isn’t the 2014 Buffalo Sabres. The Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist in goal and solid top-six forwards in Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, and Kevin Hayes. Kevin Shattenkirk will (hopefully) be healthy for the entire season and there’s plenty of potential in Filip Chytil, Pavel Buchnevich, and Lias Andersson. While the Rangers should still be bad, if things go right they could cobble together a respectable season and avoid finishing at the complete bottom of the standings.

Lundqvist’s save percentage will fall below .910 for the first time in his career

Why it will happen:

As much as it pains me to say it, at 36 years old Lundqvist isn’t getting better anytime soon. He’s only getting older and with an even worse defense in front of him, it’s hard to expect much from the star netminder. Last season the Rangers were one of the worst defensive clubs in the league and routinely gave up a high number of quality chances, making life difficult for any goalie.

Over the last two seasons Lundqvist only has a .913 average save percentage, so it’s not crazy to think we could see it dip below .910 for the first time in his career.

Why it won’t:

Because he’s King Henrik. Next.

Shattenkirk will break 50 points this year

Why it will happen:

Before Shattenkirk got injured last season, he probably would have finished with over 50 points. Through the first 18 games of the season, he managed to tally five goals and 12 assists. As he tried to play through his injury his point production dropped yet while playing injured he still finished at a 40-point pace. Shattenkirk’s only one year removed from a 56-point season and has 167 points in 254 games over the last four years (averaging 54 points per 82 games). As long as Shattenkirk stays healthy, there should be no reason why he can’t break 50 points.

Why it won’t:

It’s tough for any defenseman to score 50+ points on a team near the bottom of the standings, as it’s much easier for a defensemen to record points when his team is winning (winning teams score more, more goals lead to more assists). Over the last five years, there have only been two defensemen to score over 50 points on a team that finished in the bottom-five in the league. Erik Karlsson and Mark Giordano both managed to with last year’s Senators and the 2015-16 Flames. But that’s with Giordano playing behind the 11thbest offense at the time and Erik Karlsson being Erik Karlsson. It may be a challenging for Shattenkirk to post the kinds of offensive totals he has in the past with a team of the Rangers projected quality.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an excellent comparable to look at, as he’s been a top pairing defensemen for years on a generally below average Arizona Coyotes team. Over the last five seasons, Ekman-Larsson has never topped 50 points when the Coyotes finished as one of the five worst teams in the standings. The only time he did break 50 points was when the Coyotes didn’t finish as one of the five worst teams in the league. If the Rangers really do finish at the very bottom, there’s not much historical precedence for a team of that quality having a defenseman top 50 points.

Chris Kreider will be the highest scoring Ranger

Why it will happen:

Chris Kreider has never even finished in the top-three in scoring for the Rangers but this season might be the year Kreider leads the team offensively. Over the past two seasons Kreider has blossomed into a 55-point forward while averaging a relatively low amount of ice time per game. In his entire career Kreider has never averaged over 17 minutes of ice time per game with the Rangers and only saw around 15 and a half minutes of ice time per game last season. After the trade deadline, Kreider only received the 10thmost 5v5 ice time per game, behind forwards such as Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Vesey, and Jesper Fast. But with a new coach and the possibility of being relied on as one of the Rangers key scorers, Kreider could see a significant boost in even-strength ice time, giving him more opportunities to score.

If we expect Kreider to shoot his average shooting percentage (he finished with a shooting percentage slightly lower than his average last year) and all the other Ranger players to score at their usual paces, Kreider can finish first on the team.

Why it won’t:

Even though I think Kreider will be relied upon more heavily this year, Kreider could easily not see an increase in ice time and can only keep with his usual pace this season. If he stays stuck behind established players like Zibanejad and Zuccarello and rookies like Filip Chytil (who averaged more 5v5 ice time than Kreider after the trade deadline), there won’t be many places where Kreider can improve his point totals. He already scores a lot of points with the man advantage and scores a lot of goals, so the easiest place for him to improve is by tallying more assists fueled by additional ice time. If he doesn’t get that opportunity, it might just be the status quo for him this year.

There’s also the outside chance that another Ranger forward becomes the go-to offensive weapon and breaks out. If Pavel Buchnevich has a great season it isn’t impossible for him to finish with the most points on the Rangers. Same goes for Zuccarello if the Rangers want to try to boost his stock before the trade deadline by feeding him plenty of offensive minutes and favorable situations.

So there you have it, my four Fearless Predictions for the 2018-19 season. What do you think? Any surprises in store for this year’s Rangers?