Previewing the 2019-20 New York Rangers

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: They should be significantly better. How could they not be after adding Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, and two potential rookie of the year contenders at forward in Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov. That is a ton of talent to enter the organization in one summer and it should be enough to have the team at least in contention for a playoff spot.

Strengths: It is probably their talent on the wings. Panarin, Kakko, and Kravtsov will get most of the headlines as the new faces joining the team, but don’t forget about returning veterans Pavel Buchnevich (20 goals in only 64 games a year ago) and Chris Kreider. The two rookies are still unknowns and they will no doubt have some growing pains throughout the season, but their potential is through the roof.

Weaknesses: The Rangers are probably at their weakest down the middle, from center and back through the defense. Mika Zibanejad has become an excellent first-line center, but there is not much proven depth at the position after him. The defense will get a boost from the offseason additions of Trouba and Fox, but they are still lacking a true No. 1 on their blue line. Someone that can control the game in all situations, play 25-26 minutes per night, and be a cornerstone player. Trouba is good, but he is not going to be a player that is the go-to-defender on a championship caliber blue line. He is probably best served as a No. 2 or 3.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): When you have an offseason like the Rangers had it becomes easy for expectations to quickly get out of control. David Quinn has only spent one year behind the team’s bench (a clear rebuilding year) and it seems unlikely that he is entering the year in any real danger. Would that change if the Rangers don’t take any significant strides this season? It might. He is a 4 out of 10 on the hot seat rating.

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure | X-factor]

Three most fascinating players: Kappo, Panarin, and Henrik Lundqvist

Kappo tops the list of fascinating players simply because he is the most anticipated prospect to put on a Rangers uniform in quite some time. Every rebuild needs a young superstar to build around, and he could be that player in New York.

The free agent market is usually a fools paradise where long-term contracts end up backfiring spectacularly, but Panarin might be one of the exceptions to that. He has been one of the best offensive players in the league since entering the NHL, he does not have a ton of mileage on his career, and he is still at an age where he should be in the prime of his career. He showed in Columbus that he can not only carry his own line, but also carry a team.

It will be interesting to see how much Lundqvist has left in the tank and what his workload will look like. He turns 38 this season and probably only has a handful of seasons left in the NHL. He showed signs of slowing down a year ago but he also still flashed those moments of dominance where he can steal a game. You have to think Alexander Georgiev will get his share of starts this season, especially as the Rangers look to the future, but for now this is still Lundqvist’s net.

Playoffs or lottery: The biggest problem for the Rangers is they play in an absolutely loaded division that does not really have any truly weak teams. They should definitely stay in the playoff race all year but given their lack of depth at center and the question marks on defense they may not be quite ready yet. Their ceiling seems like a wild card. Their most likely finish is somewhere between 8th and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.