When you have crossed the line and transformed from a playoff hopeful into a contender, you have firmly put a target on your own back and are there to be shot at by the rest of the league. That will be the case for the New York Rangers entering the new season and they will need their core to continue to develop in order to avoid a wake-up call.
It was a strange offseason for the Rangers who added plenty of talent through the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, but they arguably didn’t do enough in Free Agency in terms of bolstering a roster that made a deep run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
Of course, salary cap restraints were a driving force behind that but the reality is that the Blueshirts lost Ryan Strome as well as the four players General Manager Chris Drury acquired at the Trade Deadline in Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte, and Justin Braun .
Copp, Vatrano, and Motte in particular provided the depth scoring the Rangers were so badly missing, and they all played key roles in getting the team to Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals against all odds. However, all three, along with Braun and Strome, were allowed to leave in Free Agency with Vincent Trocheck signed as a like-for-like replacement for Strome and Ryan Carpenter brought in to fill a bottom-six role.
While Trocheck projects to be an overall upgrade on Strome – especially if he is paired with Artemi Panarin – there is a fair argument to make that the roster heading into the 2022-23 season is weaker than it was last year. It is certainly lacking in depth and there are sizeable holes that need filling. Bringing back veteran forward Jimmy Vesey on a PTO is probably not the answer, either.
Certain Rangers will need to step up and carry the load in 2022-23
Instead, Rangers Head Coach Gerard Gallant will have to hope that his big hitters like Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Panarin, and Adam Fox continue to trend upwards and don’t regress offensively but, more importantly, it is imperative that certain players continue to develop and head in the right direction.
Igor Shesterkin will need to produce another Vezina Trophy caliber season between the pipes, Braden Schneider will hope to avoid a sophomore slump and play at the high level that has pushed prospect defenseman Nils Lundkvist close to the exit door, and Jacob Trouba will need to focus on his own game despite now being the proud owner of the coveted “C” on his chest.
Perhaps most important, though, will be if Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko can continue to elevate their games and build on their impressive showings from the playoffs last year. Lafreniere teased that he can be the type of top-six power forward that can thrive in the modern-day NHL, while Chytil finally began to deliver the kind of offense that has long been expected of him with nine points (seven G, two A ) in the postseason.
Kakko, who will hope to put that now infamous Game 6 scratching behind him, showed promising signs of progress last year and a top-six role in 2022-23 could help him to unlock the potential the Rangers thought he had when they drafted him second overall in 2019.
Sammy Blais staying healthy and having a bounce-back year would be a nice bonus for the Rangers too, and it would also help greatly if the enigma that is Vitali Kravtsov can finally stick in the NHL and develop into the offensive stud he’s long-teased . And, if Trocheck can benefit from playing alongside Panarin and improve on the 78 points (21 G, 30 A) he put up for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2021-22, then that would also help to replace some of the scoring depth that has been lost.
But, make no mistake about it, if the New York Rangers are to repeat the highs of last season then they will need continued development from all of the players above who will need to step up and take on more of the load given some of the depth lost this offseason. If they can’t, then the front office may have to get aggressive with some of those many assets they have at their disposal at the Trade Deadline. Or else risk one bumpy crash back to earth for a team that will have a lot to prove this season.