Here’s a look at what’s changed for the Rangers heading into a pivotal 2021-22 season:
Out: Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Smith, Colin Blackwell
In: Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth, Sammy Blais, Jarred Tinordi
The Rangers made a play to get tougher after a disappointing end to last season, and, in a sense, they have done that. But what they gave up in skill may come back to haunt them. I was very high on the Rangers coming out of last season because despite missing the playoffs, they had the 13th-best goal differential in the league. However, some of that love has faded. It still would not surprise me to see the Rangers win the Metropolitan Division, but they’ll likely need to rely on goaltender Igor Shesterkin more than they would have had they not traded offense for intangibles.
Don’t get me wrong, the Rangers have a very good offense, but their goaltending will probably make or break their season. Shesterkin missed three weeks with a groin injury last season, and it proved very costly. The 25-year-old posted a .932 save percentage in 12 games in 2019-20, and his workload increased to 35 games in 2020-21. His save percentage did drop to .916, but it’s hard to know how much of that was due to the injury or other factors that may have been out of his control. Everything points to Shesterkin being the real deal, though, and his ceiling looks to be quite high.
After that, it’ll be up to Artemi Panarin and the offense to build on what they did last season because they shouldn’t be expecting Barclay Goodrow to replace Pavel Buchnevich. Goodrow brings two Stanley Cup rings to New York but produces fewer than 1.5 points per 60 minutes, and although Buchnevich might not play with the tenacity the Rangers were looking for, it’s not a good trade-off. Buchnevich scored 48 points in 54 games last season and produced more on a per-60-minute basis than all but two teammates. Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko could fill the void left by Buchnevich, but despite their status as two of the most promising young players in the league, they’ve struggled with consistency. Lafrenière gets the benefit of the doubt because he was an 18-year-old rookie last season, but neither can be relied on just yet.
But the offense doesn’t stop at the forward position. New York has an impressive crop of defensemen who think and play the game at a high level. Adam Fox won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman last season with over 24 minutes of ice time per game and finishing second among defensemen in points with 47, one behind Tyson Barrie. Jacob Trouba has been solid on the back end, and Patrik Nemeth is a serviceable defenseman, but bettors should be more interested in whether the rest of the Rangers’ young defense can step up.
Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist and Fox are all 23 or younger, and new coach Gerard Gallant will have to make guiding them a top priority for his coaching staff.