New York Rangers 2019-20 Rewind
Not long before the NHL paused the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rangers were on a roll. They enjoyed February, winning 11 of 15 games. But then came March and a regular season ending skid where they won two of their final six games. When play did resume, they were a beneficiary of the expanded playoff format despite being outside the Metro playoff picture when games were halted.
New York’s March 10 win against the Stars would end up being their final one of the 2019-20 season. Once in the Toronto bubble, the Rangers were swept out of the Qualifying Round in three games by the Hurricanes. A surprise injury to Igor Shesterkin gave Henrik Lundqvist one last hurrah when he started their first two games against Carolina. The veteran goalie was later bought out and signed with the Capitals in the off-season.
Summer 2019 addition Artemi Panarin would end up a finalist for both the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, while Mika Zibanejad broke out with 41-goal season, putting him seven back in the Rocket Richard race.
3 Most Interesting New York Rangers
• Igor Shesterkin: The torch has been passed and the 25-year-old goaltender will get his chance to take hold of the No. 1 job. In 12 regular season appearances, Shesterkin posted a .935 even strength save percentage and helped the Rangers to 10 wins. With back-to-backs, the Russian will see his work load split with Alexandar Georgiev, who was re-signed after months of trade speculation. Eligible for the Calder Trophy, Shesterkin will be the team’s biggest X-factor as they look to compete in a difficult East Division. If he’s in contention for rookie of the year, it could be another playoff year for the team.
• Jeff Gorton: The general manager’s transition plan powered up in the offseason when the Rangers unexpectedly won the draft lottery and selected Alexis Lafreniere first overall. There were no impact free agent additions like in 2019, but bringing in Lafreniere, hoping Shesterkin continues to develop, and witnessing a Kaapo Kakko bounce-back year will take the franchise another step further. Gorton has a little under $5M in cap space, per Cap Friendly, to play with should improvements be needed in-season,. And with the buyout cap hits of Lundqvist and Kevin Shattenkirk dropping next summer, it will help in keeping key pieces like Shesterkin, Pavel Buchnevich, and Filip Chytil in the fold for years to come. The franchise is trending upward, and it will be the GMs job to keep the ship pointed in the right direction.
• Alexis Lafreniere: The No. 1 overall pick is not entering a cellar-dwelling team where he’ll be looked upon to carry a heavy load. Like Kakko last season, Lafreniere can ease himself into the lineup, get his NHL bearings, and develop alongside a number of fellow kids on the roster. Where the winger ends up in David Quinn’s top-nine remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make an early impact and rise up the depth chart as this 56-game season rolls on.
Shesterkin becomes a Calder favorite, helping the Rangers into one of the East Division’s four playoff spots. He’s helped out by more strong production from Panarin and Zibanejad and Lafreniere making an impact as a rookie. It will also be important to see Tony DeAngelo avoid the regression monster after a 15-goal season and Kakko to learn from last season’s struggles. Not everything has to break in their favor to make the playoffs, but getting there in a new-look division will be even tougher.
The goalie tandem flops, DeAngelo fails to match last season’s production, and New York’s depth up front cannot support what Panarin and Zibanejad bring. The Rangers missing out on the playoffs in this unique season wouldn’t be a major shock, but there needs to be another step forward. The work Gorton has done to reshape the roster cannot take a step back.
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