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Three questions facing New York Rangers

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

Three questions to ponder for the New York Rangers during the 2018-19 season.

[Rangers Day: Looking back | Breakthrough | Under Pressure]

1. Does Henrik Lundqvist have a miracle in him?

Because that is probably what it will take for the Rangers to get back to the playoffs.

This is not a particularly strong roster — at least on paper — and is lacking in established, impact players all over the lineup. It’s not a terrible roster, it’s not a worst team in the league kind of roster, but it’s also probably not one that is strong enough to make up enough ground in the playoff race, especially in a division as strong as the Metropolitan Division.

If you’re a Rangers fan holding out hope for the playoffs, the biggest hope is that Lundqvist, in his age 36 season, can put the team on his back one more time and carry it to a level beyond any reasonable expectation. He has done it before, but it is probably asking quite a bit for him to do it again, especially as he has started to show some signs of slowing down over the past two years where his save percentage has dipped to .912 overall. Just for comparisons sake, his save percentage was .920 or better for eight consecutive seasons prior to the past two.

Even though it has not resulted in a championship, Lundqvist has been the face of the Rangers franchise for his entire career and its most important player. He has consistently given the team everything he has had and been one of the best players in the world. If the Rangers are going to make another run with him before his career runs out he is going to have to put together a herculean effort to make it happen.

2. What kind of coach will David Quinn be?

Alain Vigneault has had his share of success in the NHL, including with the New York Rangers.

But it became clear last season that it was time for a new voice and a new direction, especially as the team embarks on a rebuild of the roster. It is now a team that should be focusing on development and youth, something that probably was not going to happen in another season under Vigneault, a coach whose preference seems to be more with experienced and veteran players.

Replacing him will be first-year NHL coach David Quinn as he becomes the latest to make the jump from the NCAA ranks to the NHL (he will be joined this season by Jim Montgomery who is going from University of Denver to the Dallas Stars).

He is one of just five coaches to ever go from the NCAA to their first job in the NHL, a list that includes Montgomery, Dave Hakstol, Bob Johnson, and Ned Harkness.

Quinn comes highly regarded, especially when it comes to working with younger players, but as a rookie coach with no NHL coaching experience there is a lot of mystery as to what type of coach he will be.

With a roster that could have its share of younger talent his reputation as a talent developer will be put to the test.

That leads us to the third question facing the Rangers this season.

[Related: Rangers could once again be active in trade market]

3. Which young players will take a big step forward?

From a big picture outlook, the success or failure of this Rangers’ season probably shouldn’t be measured by how many games the team wins or loses.

They are probably not going to be contenders for anything. They are probably going to be a bad team. They are probably going to miss the playoffs and trade more established players before the season ends.

The important thing to watch for this season is whether or not any young players take a big step forward and establish themselves as long-term building blocks.

Even though this is a “rebuilding” team there is still a pretty significant veteran presence here, especially on the blue line and in net. But after all of the draft picks they have had in recent years, and all of the trades they made last year, there is also a pretty big collection of young players that could also get an opportunity, from the young players they acquired in the Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trades (Brett Howden, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek), to their recent first-round draft picks (Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson), to still developing NHLers like Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei, and Neal Pionk.

A couple of them taking a big step forward in their development would be a nice positive for what is almost certain to be another year outside of the playoffs.

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.

It’s New York Rangers day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

2017-18:

34-39-9, 77 pts. (8th Metropolitan Division; 12th Eastern Conference)
missed playoffs

IN:

Frederik Claesson

OUT:

David Desharnais
Paul Carey
Dan Catenacci
Ryan Sproul
Ondrej Pavelec
Peter Holland

RE-SIGNED:

Ryan Spooner
Vladislav Namestikov
Jimmy Vesey
Kevin Hayes
Brady Skjei
John Gilmour
Boo Nieves
Cody McLeod
Ryan O’Gara
Chris Bigras

– – –

You could kind of feel that the season the New York Rangers had last year was a long-time coming.

[Rangers Day: Under PressureBreakthrough | Three Questions

The team was getting a little too stale, a little too over-reliant on the heroics of Henrik Lundqvist night-in and night-out, plagued by years invested in players whose names didn’t match their talent level anymore and a coach who couldn’t seem to find the next gear with the team he had.

When the burden atop Lundqvist’s shoulders became too much to bear after the ball dropped in Time Square to usher in 2018, the Rangers simply imploded with him.

And so the purge began, long before the 2017-18 season came to a close — on Feb. 8, when the team announced that it was game over and before any more coins could be dropped into the machine, a rebuild would have to take place.

In hindsight, it started to happen before the season began. They had already shipped out Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta prior to last year’s NHL Draft for the No. 7 pick, which they used to snag Lias Andersson.

At the trade deadline several months later, the Rangers swung the blockbuster of the season, sending Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for Vladislav Namestikov, two prospects and a pick.

The move capped off a wild year in the Big Apple. The Rangers sold off Rick Nash, Nick Holden and Michael Grabner while amassing roster players, picks and prospects.

Here is the complete list (thanks to PHT’s Adam Gretz):

  • 2017 first-round pick (from Arizona — used to select Andersson)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Boston)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Tampa Bay)
  • 2018 second-round pick (New Jersey)
  • 2018 third-round pick (Boston)
  • 2019 conditional second-round pick (Tampa Bay — would become another first-round pick if Tampa Bay wins the Stanley Cup this season or next season)
  • 2019 seventh-round pick
  • Vladislav Namestnikov
  • Ryan Spooner
  • Matt Beleskey
  • Anthony DeAngelo
  • Ryan Lindgren
  • Libor Hajek
  • Brett Howden
  • Ygor Rykov
  • Rob O'Gara

They also said goodbye to their old coaching staff after firing Alain Vigneault and replacing him with David Quinn from Boston University fame. He takes the reins at a perfect time for the Rangers, given his apparent ability to develop young players.

A rebuild, then, from top to bottom.

It’s also meant a pretty uneventful summer in the import category, other than Quinn’s hiring.

Fredrik Claesson, signed on July 1, is the only player brought in that has played NHL games. But the Rangers made some good decisions in re-signing a swath of restricted free agents in Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes, Namestikov, Brady Skjei, John Gilmour, Boo Nieves and Rob O’Gara.

New York’s forward contingent this season doesn’t look half bad on paper, but it’s on defense where things get a bit hairy.

Kevin Shattenkirk had knee surgery in January, ending his first season in a blue shirt, and while he’s probable for the start of the season, you never know how those are going to turn out. The Rangers are certainly hoping a healthy Shattenkirk and return to the same form that they saw when they gave him a four-year extension with a full no-movement clause. The last thing the Rangers need during a rebuild is having to eat a contract that was supposed to be the defenseman that solidified their top-four.

The Rangers gave up the second most shots per game (35.3) and the fourth most goals-against per game (263), so those numbers certainly need to improve if the goal is not to have the aging Lundqvist put in a bad spot each night.

That said, the expectation that the Rangers compete for a playoff spot is probably a futile one. The team is rebuilding, and to do it right means to take it slow. They’ve trimmed a lot of fat in a short period of time, but youth needs time to develop and shouldn’t be rushed.

Prospect Pool:

  • Lias Andersson, C/LW, 19, Frolunda/Hartford (SHL/AHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Perhaps the readiest of all of New York’s prospects, Andersson blends a strong two-way game with impressive speed, skill and shooting abilities. He got seven games with the Rangers at the end of the season, scoring once and adding an assist, had 14 points in 22 games in the Swedish Elite League with Frolunda, and in 25 games with the Wolfpack in the American Hockey League, posting 14 points in 25 games. There’s a spot open for him on the opening day roster if he wants it.

  • Filip Chytil, C, 18, CSKA Moscow (KHL) – 2017 first-round pick

There’s an argument that Chytil is just as ready for the Show as Andersson, perhaps slightly more. Chytil got nine total games with the Rangers, including making the team out of training camp last season. He posted a goal and two assists combined in his time with the Rangers and played most of the season in Hartford where he had 11 goals and 31 points in 46 games. Chytil also had four points in seven games with the Czech Republic at the world juniors and then two additional points at the world championships. Like Andersson, there’s room for Chytil providing he can make an impression in training camp.

  • Vitali Kravtsov, RW, 18, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL) – 2018 first-round pick

The Rangers have a lot of skilled first round picks, don’t they? Kravtsov is their latest, taken ninth overall this past June. The kid is big, too. He’s 6-foot-4 and 183 pounds with plenty of room to fill out. He won the Aleksei Cherepanov Award for the KHL’s best rookie and set a playoff record for a junior-aged player with 16 points. He was named rookie of the month twice and rookie of the week three times and will be back with Traktor to begin next season after signing an extension in July. Assuming all goes well, he could play with the Rangers by years’ end depending on how far Traktor makes it in the Gagarin Cup.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers

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[WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers]

Projected Lines

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards

Claude GirouxSean CouturierMichael Raffl

Oskar LindblomNolan Patrick – Jake Voracek

Travis KonecnyValtteri FilppulaWayne Simmonds

Scott LaughtonJori LehteraMatt Read

Defense

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Travis SanheimAndrew MacDonald

Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting Goalie: Brian Elliott

[NHL On NBCSN: Flyers look to clinch playoff spot against Rangers]

New York Rangers

Forwards

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadRyan Spooner

Jimmy VeseyFilip ChytilMats Zuccarello

Vladislav NamestnikovKevin HayesPavel Buchnevich

Paul Carey –  Lias AnderssonPeter Holland

Defense

Marc StaalNeal Pionk

BradySkjei – Ryan Sproul

John Gilmour – Rob O’Gara

Starting Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

————

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.

Lundqvist, rebuilding Rangers brace for rough road ahead

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WASHINGTON — Henrik Lundqvist got an early glimpse into the New York Rangers’ rebuilding future.

It’s not pretty.

Lundqvist roiled with frustration after a rookie defensemen left an opponent wide open for a tying goal that led to New York’s 44th loss of a lost season. As Zen-like as he was earlier in the day about the new organizational direction toward youth and away from trying to win now, the face of the franchise for more than a decade was bothered by a mistake caused by inexperience that’s sure to be repeated over the coming years.

”So frustrating,” Lundqvist said.

When general manager Jeff Gorton committed the Rangers to a roster refresh that laid waste to 2018 playoff hopes and set the stage for pain that could last longer than Lundqvist’s prime, the star goaltender battled his own internal conflict. The 36-year-old from Sweden had never played in an NHL game with no chance of making the playoffs.

”As a competitor, you want to win, and I never experienced that before where you’re like, ‘We can’t go for this,”’ Lundqvist said Wednesday, hours after the Rangers were eliminated from contention but several weeks since it became clear they wouldn’t make the postseason. ”It was definitely a new experience. But we’re all on board in this.”

Lundqvist and his veteran Rangers teammates have two choices: get on board or be tossed overboard. When it became apparent this team didn’t have the stuff to compete for the Stanley Cup, Gorton traded captain Ryan McDonagh and forwards Rick Nash, J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner before the deadline and set a course for the future.

With three years left on Lundqvist’s contract at $8.5 million per season, how far away that future is remains painfully unclear. After 11 playoff appearances and a trip to the final with Lundqvist as the backbone, the Rangers may not get within reach of the Cup in his prime or even his career – but even current players see the need for change.

”I think it’s good for this organization to get some fresh air and some new young players and go from there,” 30-year-old winger Mats Zuccarello said. ”But it’s going to be a process.”

The process began last summer with the trade of veteran center Derek Stepan to Arizona for the seventh overall pick that turned into Lias Andersson and the selection of Filip Chytil later in the first round. Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Brady Skjei are young building blocks already in place, and there’s hope that free agent addition Kevin Shattenkirk and trade acquisition Vladislav Namestnikov become part of the long-term solution.

When the Rangers played at Washington on Wednesday night in their first game with no hope of playoffs since 2004, they dressed 15 players age 26 and younger. New York’s future is its present, which can mean blunders like Neal Pionk‘s missed assignment in front, along with the excitement and potential of prospects like the 22-year-old defenseman, Andersson and Chytil.

”When you see the progress of the group, especially the young players, that gives you hope for what’s ahead of us,” Lundqvist said.

With a full no-movement clause and the equity he has built up with the Rangers, Lundqvist can choose his future. Others, like Zuccarello and coach Alain Vigneault, aren’t so fortunate.

In February, when he announced plans to go young, Gorton didn’t want to answer a question about whether Vigneault would be back next season other than to praise his coaching and say, ”We’re all responsible in some way here for what we’re seeing.” This spring will be the first time in a decade Vigneault hasn’t coached in the playoffs, a tough turn for the 56-year-old who almost certainly will be behind an NHL bench somewhere next season.

”A tough decision was made for the long-term future of this organization and you have to respect it and you have to do your jobs,” Vigneault said Wednesday. ”That’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what my staff is trying to do and that’s what the players are trying to do.”

Try as they might to focus on the final few games of the season, the Rangers feel the threat of drastic change that hangs over them. Lundqvist said ”now is not the time” to talk about the bumpy road ahead.

Describing one of the most successful runs in franchise history, Zuccarello used words like lucky, fortunate and even spoiled. In a sport with a salary cap, it’s difficult to remain among the top teams for even this long, and now everyone is bracing for the uncertainty of what’s next.

”This is a new situation for most of the guys that have been here for a while, but you have to buy in, you know?” Zuccarello said. ”It is what it is. It’s nothing you can do about it. … Hopefully I have some good years – five, six good years – left and can be part of the rebuild and come to the good times again.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Kuznetsov scores OT winner as Capitals down Rangers

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The Washington Capitals have chosen a fine time to get hot.

The Caps entered Wednesday with a five-point cushion on the top spot in the Metropolitan Division thanks to a four-game winning streak coupled with eight wins in their last 10 contests.

And by nights’ end, those numbers both increased to seven, five and nine of their past 10, respectively, after a late comeback to force overtime and a quick winner in the extra frame in a 3-2 win against the New York Rangers on Wednesday Night Rivalry, sweeping the home-and-home series.

Indeed, the Caps needed a big goal late to thwart what was looking like a 2-1 decision going New York’s way.

But Lars Eller was having none of that, producing the tying goal with 65 seconds remaining in regulation.

Eller’s goal forced overtime, and if Henrik Lundqvist didn’t appear properly defeated on Eller’s late equalizer, he sure did after Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s winner just 38 seconds into free hockey.

Who could blame him? Kuznetsov’s goal was a stunner and reversed the Rangers fortunes before they could catch their breaths.

The Capitals didn’t look especially special on the night but did what needed to be done to pick up the win. Braden Holtby, who has struggled in a mighty was lately, turned aside 35 of 37 shots for the win — just the second time he’s allowed two goals or fewer since Feb. 9.

The charity point and the loss meant nil to the Rangers, who are already eliminated from the playoffs.

But rookie Lias Andersson picked up his first NHL assist, two nights after picking up his first NHL goal in a 4-2 loss to the Caps.

New York’s season has turned into an evaluation camp for their final few games.

Andersson saw 12:20 of ice-time while fellow rookie Filip Chytil played 14:40, ending with a minus-1 and four shots on goal.

Washington can clinch a playoff spot providing the Philadelphia Flyers lose in any fashion to the Colorado Avalanche.

Currently, Philly is leading 2-1 in the second period.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck