Recapping the Rangers Season
Hockey is—err—was back for four days until the Rangers were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in what was a frustrating series for Blueshirts fans. There’s a lot I have to say about the Rangers now and the series in general, but one thing’s certain, the Hurricanes were definitely the better team and deserved the series win. Anytime the Rangers lose in the playoffs it’s natural to look at only the negatives and what went wrong, but I can assure you that there are a lot of positives to take away not only from the playoffs but the regular season as well. Of course there are a lot of questions the front office will have to answer this offseason regarding the goalie situation and the status of Henrik Lundqvist, who they will draft with their two first rounders, and who they want to resign. The coaching staff will have plenty to deal with as well leading up to the beginning of next season, which is tentatively scheduled for December 1st, with the most important question being what to do with 2018 first rounders Vitali Kravtsov and K’Andre Miller. They also need to name a captain before the start of next season.
The most important thing that stood out to me was the play of Kaapo Kakko. In our Instagram report card we gave him somewhat high grades for his individual categories but a C+ overall. This was because of his inability to produce and the fact that he still has a lot to prove. Even though all of his individual grades are high, he hasn’t put it all together yet. However, in this series Kakko was far and away the best skater on the Rangers roster despite not getting on the score sheet. During the regular season, Rangers color commentator Joe Micheletti often criticized the Finn for not taking enough shots and passing up on too many scoring chances. Well from Game 1, even from the start of the exhibition game against the Islanders, Kakko seemed like he was on a mission; he was a completely different player. Any time he had an open lane and time to shoot he’d throw the puck on the net. When he had the puck in the corners, it seemed impossible for him to lose the puck. He also fought for loose pucks and would get physical, which is something we didn’t see much of during the regular season. There was one instance in Game 2 where he was fighting for a puck in the offensive zone, got knocked down, then got right back up and started shoving a Canes player to win the puck battle. This was by far my favorite play by the Rangers in the entire series. As a fan this is exactly what I want to see from not just Kakko but the entire team; I want them to try their hardest and not quit on any play. Hopefully this is the new norm for Kakko, and if it is, the Rangers should be extremely happy next season.
Other than Kakko, no one else really stood out for the Rangers in their short series, although Lundqvist and Shesterkin played very well in net. But there’s still a lot of good things to take away from this season though and we’ve talked about a lot of them in some of our other articles. Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren had outstanding rookie seasons, as did Igor Shesterkin. Ryan Strome had a breakout season playing with Artemi Panarin. Tony DeAngelo, Mika Zibanejad, and Panarin all had career years. The future is bright for the New York Rangers but it is time for them to take the next step in their quest to become Stanley Cup Champions. Next year expectations should be even higher and fans should expect them to start making the playoffs consistently as well. The play from the Blueshirts down the stretch after the All-Star break is a good indicator of what they’re capable of and how they should play next season. Think about all the experience the young Rangers roster got this season. Five Rangers players (Kakko, Chytil, Lindgren, Howden, and Fox) 21 or younger played in at least 60 games this season and all three playoff games. Imagine what the Fox and Lindgren pairing can do next season after all the lessons they learned this season. We talked about Kakko before and Chytil in a previous article, but we have not talked about Brett Howden. I expect Howden to become a shutdown fourth-liner and penalty killer, either at wing (where he seems to play better) or center. He’s had two seasons under his belt now so there should be no excuses. Of course all of these players are still very young and are not in their prime yet, but they have to be even better next season if this team is going to take the next step forward. I also want to see a full season of Jacob Trouba with whoever is going to coach the defense, because he looked exceptionally better in the three games against the Hurricanes (and in the exhibition game), with Game 3 being his best by far.
Despite all of this optimism there will always be highs and lows and we should be expecting them. On a side note, as a big Mets fan (also incredibly frustrating to watch in the past week) I’ve been disappointed so many times when expectations were through the roof that I always expect and wait for the other shoe to drop. Even though I said their play after the All-Star break is the bar, I don’t expect them to play like that the whole season, especially because of a very young roster; they should be better, not nearly unbeatable. Don’t forget the Rangers also have a 12.5% chance at landing the first overall pick, with the second lottery drawing taking place on August 10th. If the Rangers win the pick, it will be huge obviously, but if they don’t they can use their two picks to fill up the farm system even more albeit those players will probably not be ready for a couple of years. But it does give the Rangers more depth options for the future or they could use them as trading assets. With Lafrenière the possibilities for line combos are endless, but if they miss out it’s no big deal actually, although he could slot in perfectly on the second line wing spot. Overall, I’d say the Rangers had an extremely successful season, even though the end was disappointing, and next season should be even more exciting.