It’s been quite a few days since the New York Rangers have been in action with the All-Star Break and bye week. So, before they return to action, we’re going to dive into the 2019-20 season to this point, and take a look ahead at what may be next.
Biggest NYR surprise of the first half?
Mike: Adam Fox
Tom: Adam Fox
Kevin: The fact that you can legitimately say that the Rangers should rebuild the entire defense around Adam Fox.
Shayna: Fox has exceeded expectations in transitioning to NHL ice better than hoped, and I think, being better defensively — especially on this blue line — than anticipated. Of all the incoming players of Artemiy Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, and Jacob Trouba, Fox was the quietest of the additions, and he’s become one of the brightest spots of the season so far.
Jack: Tony DeAngelo
Brianna: Ryan Strome
Adam: Ryan Strome. Do I think his negative defensive and penalty impacts are insanely understated? Yes. Do I think Panarin’s doing the brunt of the work? Yes. Would I re-sign him? Probably not. But at the end of the day he went from a replacement-level player to a positive offensive contributor.
Bryan: Ryan Strome without a doubt. He was picked up off of the scrap heap in Edmonton for Ryan Spooner and he’s the perfect example of why you make those types of trades. Many were skeptical about him replicating last season’s production, but so far, he’s blown that out of the water. Despite a large chunk of that being courtesy of Artemiy Panarin, Strome has carved out a nice little role next to the Breadman, and it’s clearly working. It’ll be interesting to see where the Rangers go from here, though.
Joe: Probably a tie between Ryan Strome and Adam Fox. Fox has played far above even my wildest expectations on both ends of the ice. He’s been incredible. Strome, while still having issues in his own end and being stapled to Panarin’s hip, has proven me wrong about not replicating his offense and is on pace for a career year. I still avoid an extension for Strome — sell high! — but you can’t ignore what he’s done as Panarin’s trigger man.
Biggest NYR disappointment?
Mike: David Quinn, Jacob Trouba, and Kaapo Kakko
Kevin: David Quinn setting fire to all the goodwill he had last season.
Tom: Jacob Trouba
Bryan: Jacob Trouba
Jack: Jacob Trouba
Brianna: Jacob Trouba
Joe: Jacob Trouba. Say what you will about the impact Lindy Ruff is having here — and that’s a fair and reasonable argument — but his defensive work has left something to be desired. On an enormous $56-million extension he simply has to be better.
Adam: Jacob Trouba. The team traded the 20th-overall pick and gave him $56 million and major no-trade protections on the basis that he’d be a number-one defenseman. His point production has been fine, but he’s been a massive defensive liability and has been outplayed by Fox and DeAngelo on the right side.
Shayna: The handling of the Lias Andersson situation was disappointing (yes, from both sides), and I really wonder how much could have been avoided had he received the minutes he earned sooner in the season, but I digress…
The other disappointment has been the decision-making being tilted towards winning and not building at times. Every coach and player wants to win, but the big picture here is pivotal: this team needs to develop further to become a true contender. And if the young players aren’t earning the trust of their coaches to take important minutes now when the final season results aren’t as critical, will they when the games matter most?
Expectations through the end of the year?
Mike: The Rangers will finish outside of the playoffs and will not have a lottery pick. I expect the Rangers to extend Strome and DeAngelo and to move Kreider and Fast at the deadline.
Joe: I think JD and Jeff Gorton will do one final round of selling, the Rangers will continue to rely on the youth to pick up the slack, and then team will head into 2020-21 with a true playoff push.
Kevin: A whole lot of selling and a whole lot of young players getting more minutes
Brianna: They’ll play and progress positively but will miss the playoffs again. Kreider will be traded by the deadline and Georgiev at some point after the season ends. Strome gets an extension.
Bryan: Missing the playoffs and having one final sell off before looking ahead to 2020-21. There will likely be a bidding war for Chris Kreider being that he will be one of the top rental forwards on the market, so it would be foolish for the Rangers not to take advantage. With the Rangers reportedly looking for more “NHL-ready” talent, I think this trade deadline will be the final turn before reaching the end of the tunnel.
Tom: The Rangers will miss the playoffs, and will play some spirited hockey down the stretch. Some players will be given opportunities to showcase their potential, and it will offer a glimpse of what the future could be once this team is in a position to contend. Others will fail to make the most of their opportunities, and it will make it easier for the front office to consider moving on from them in the offseason.
Jack: To miss the playoffs, finish 6th-12th from the bottom, land a good but not great prospect, and see what should be been a step forward turn into another nothingburger of a season.
Adam: Continue their upward trajectory as an above-average offensive team. Prove that the team is only a few depth moves away from being a legitimate playoff team for 2020-2021.
Shayna: I think the Rangers sell some pieces, but not all. If they truly think they can be a legitimate playoff team next year, they can’t completely sell off again. So, a partial sell off, some encouraging play at the end but an ultimate miss at the playoffs, and moves similar to the Trouba and Fox trades this offseason to add more pieces that thread the needle for next year.
Who is your ‘player to watch’ on the Rangers?
Adam: Alexandar Georgiev. How well he plays (or doesn’t) in a finite number of games is going to dictate a lot about the future. Will he bring in a key piece for the future. Is HE the key piece for the future? The Rangers have a lot to figure out in a small amount of time.
Jack: Pavel Buchnevich. With all of the trade rumors surrounding him, his second half will go a long way towards determining where he’ll begin the 2020-21 campaign.
Mike: It has to be Kaapo Kakko. So much of the future success of this team rests on the shoulders of this kid. After the deadline, I hope we see him get more ice time in the top-six and look a little more comfortable on the ice. I’d love to see him play with Artemiy Panarin.
Joe: Probably Kakko. I thought about putting him in the “disappointment” category, but elected not to because for an 18-year-old playing in his first NHL season, he’s pretty much doing what a reasonable expectation would have been. That said, he’s finally working his way up the lineup and David Quinn appears to be registering the fact that he should be giving the kid a little more rope. There’s something to be said for him hitting a rookie wall since he’s never played this much professional hockey before, but we’ll see how that goes.
Kevin: Kaapo Kakko. He had a rough first half, to say the least, but he’s coming off his first sustained rest in almost two years. Seeing how he bounces back should be one of the bigger storylines of the second half.
Bryan: Kaapo Kakko. It’s no secret that he’s had a rough adjustment period to the North American game, but prior to the All-Star break he was starting to play with more confidence. A lot of the Rangers’ future success rides on Kakko’s shoulders, so he’d be my player to watch during the second half of this season and beyond.
Tom: Filip Chytil. To me he’s at least the No. 2 center of the future, and there’s a chance he could be one to overthrow Mika Zibanejad as the No. 1 center a few years from now. He’s been an impactful player who has had success in the top-six, and the Rangers can make things easy for themselves going into the summer with a better understanding of Chytil’s overall ability as a top-six forward. Linking him up again with Pavel Buchnevich would be the ideal scenario, as the duo has been one of the team’s most effective groupings this season.
Brianna: Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil. I was debating on putting both in my ‘disappointment’ category but they’re also both young players. Kakko is only 18 and it’s his first year, Chytil played all last year with us, and I think they’ll only help each other on the line with Howden moving forward.
Shayna: The ~young guns~ could all be mentioned here. If Georgiev’s moved, eyes will be on how Shesterkin plays at the NHL level when given more consistent playing time. If Kreider’s moved, there’s at top-six winger slot for Kakko to grab. Fox getting more minutes would be ideal too, to see what he can handle and reward his high level of play to this point. But like Tom, I’m really interested in what Filip Chytil will do next — especially if he gets back to pivoting the second line because his play was really encouraging there after his promotion to the NHL level.
Which team has been the biggest surprise so far this season?
Bryan: The San Jose Sharks.
Jack: Watching the San Jose Sharks go from one of the best teams in the West to one of the worst after losing Joe Pavelski was unexpected to say the least.
Joe: The San Jose Sharks (for bad reasons).
Kevin: San Jose shouldn’t be this bad, right? Right?
Tom: San Jose’s drop off has been something. The majority of it is related to their goaltending, but overall something has been off, and I wonder how long Doug Wilson will have to fix it. He was given a vote of confidence from management upstairs, but in this industry things can change instantly and without warning.
Adam: The Sharks, and for all the wrong reasons. The goaltending is horrific but that’s not a new development. Whatever concerns one might have had about this team going into the season, their descension to the very bottom of the league is nothing short of stunning.
Mike: The Edmonton Oilers.
Brianna: The Columbus Blue Jackets because they are playing way better than people were predicting. Many were considering the loss of three of their best players on the team (Artemiy Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel) and the uncertainty of their goaltending situation (Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlinkins) to be their downfall this season. Yet, here they are in the number one wild card spot.
Shayna: The Vancouver Canucks have been better than I expected. They’re first in the Pacific Division right now, although that can change literally at any minute given how close everyone is in that division. I wasn’t a big fan of some of their offseason moves, but the J.T. Miller trade has more than paid off, and their young stars have shined, from Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, to rookie Quinn Hughes. On the not good side of things, I didn’t expected the Nashville Predators to fall this hard or have as many struggles in net.
Which team are you keeping your eye on moving forward?
Tom: The Toronto Maple Leafs because I want to see if they are able to continue their success under Sheldon Keefe, and what moves they make at the deadline to try and win a playoff series. If they lose in the first round... again, I’d imagine Kyle Dubas considers making some changes to the mix.
Mike: The Carolina Hurricanes
Bryan: The Carolina Hurricanes.
Kevin: I have two: the Hurricanes because holy balls are they fun and the Detroit Red Wings because I want to see just how bad they can be after the trade deadline.
Adam: Winnipeg. They’ve been an incredibly stable team for years now, for better or worse. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice have been there forever. They’ve built this team slowly and without many splashes. If they miss the playoffs then it might finally force some major changes in various places within the organization.
Jack: The Vegas Golden Knights. They haven’t had puck luck go their way through the first half of the season, and it cost Gerard Gallant his job. I still expect them to end the season as Pacific Division champions for the second time in their three year history.
Brianna: The Rangers. Every season I just hold out hope with the dream of a Stanley Cup Parade in the city and getting to see the cup in person like my Dad. And you just never know what will happen but you hope the best case scenario happens for your team.
Shayna: Columbus! Like Brianna mentioned, the Blue Jackets were (rightfully) counted out because of how many players they lost to free agency. But despite losing some of their leading players, and dealing with a ton of injuries, they’ve found their footing, some really solid goaltending, and have become a team to watch for all the right reasons.
Joe: The Rangers ... we have a Rangers blog. You’re all fired for not answering this way.
Who is a non-Rangers player to watch to end the year?
Mike: Chris Kreider? Too soon? Jonathan Huberdeau. One of the most underrated players in hockey is finally getting the spotlight that he deserves and the Panthers are a fun team to follow.
Joe: Alexandar Georgiev
Tom: Jack Eichel is probably having one of the best seasons that isn’t getting talked about enough, and that has to do with how underwhelming the Sabres have been. At the time of writing this, he’s got 29 goals (a personal best) and 63 points in 49 games. Last season he finished with 82 points in 77 games, and the 23-year-old center is on pace to finish with 48 goals and 104 points. If he were to do it, he’d be just the seventh Buffalo Sabre to record 100 points, and the first since the 1992-93 season. That year Pat LaFontaine posted a line of 53-95-148 (a team record), and Alex Mogilny posted a line of 76-51-127!
Eichel walks Theodore and beats Fleury pic.twitter.com/W6hZiFgqRh— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 15, 2020
Kevin: Auston Matthews, I think, is going to go on a tear down the stretch and drag Toronto through at least one playoff round.
Adam: John Carlson. A defenseman has not hit 90 points since Ray Bourque did in 1993-1994, or 100 points since Brian Leetch did in 1991-1992. Carlson currently has 60 points in 49 games. Can he reach either number?
Bryan: John Carlson. He’s had an insane season heading into the All-Star break and leads all defensemen in points with 60 in 49 games. The next closest is Roman Josi, and there’s a 12 point cushion between the two players. If he can keep up similar production heading into April, he can easily eclipse the 85-point mark.
Jack: Ilya Samsonov, the possible successor to Braden Holtby in Washington. Holtby’s next contract has become a bit of a hot button issue in our nation’s capital, and Samsonov could be the one to push Holtby to market if he continues his stellar play from the first half.
Brianna: Alex Ovechkin as he heads towards his 700th goal. It’s going to be exciting to watch him reach yet another milestone in his career. He would become the eighth player to reach 700 goals in NHL history.
Shayna: Sticking with the ‘team to watch’ in Columbus, Elvis Merzlinkins is very good and a joy to watch. I’m intrigued to see how he performs moving forward and how the Blue Jackets’ net shakes out when Korpisalo is back.
Also keeping an eye on Andrei Svechnikov’s excellent sophomore season. Oh, and I’m watching to see if anyone else can be more a valuable player to their team than Panarin has been to the Rangers.