Igor Shesterkin

Prospects like Kaprizov, Romanov, Sorokin won’t be eligible for NHL return, playoffs

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NHL teams hoping to get a playoff/return-to-play boost from the likes of Kirill Kaprizov (Wild), Ilya Sorokin (Islanders), and Alexander Romanov (Canadiens) seem to be out of luck. At least for what’s left of 2019-20 for the NHL, aka the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Athletic’s Michael Russo, TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, and Newsday’s Andrew Gross rank among those who reported as such about Kaprizov, Sorokin, and Romanov, among others.

Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others can’t play yet — but can burn a year off ELCs

There is a wrinkle, though.

Such reports indicate that Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others could burn a year off of their entry-level contracts, even though they can’t participate in the NHL return to play to wrap up 2019-20.

Now, would it be logical to burn a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Sorokin, and Romanov? Probably not. Overall, there are likely too many drawbacks for the players, teams, or both.

Take Kaprizov and the Wild, for example.

If you want detail about the Kaprizov/Wild/KHL situation, Russo’s covered those bases multiple times at The Athletic, including here (sub required). But to simplify things, the Wild and/or Kaprizov probably won’t go for burning off 2019-20 from a two-year entry-level deal because:

  • The Wild would only really have Kaprizov signed for 2020-21. While that would finally draw him to the NHL, it would merely give them a single season to gauge Kaprizov’s value. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming as a continued threat to stability, who knows if they’d even get that season?
  • Considering that the 2020-21 NHL season might start in December or January, Kaprizov would be stuck idle since March. Meanwhile, the KHL aims to begin its 2020-21 season around September. Kaprizov would risk serious uncertainty for limited gain.

So … yeah, teams have some reason to at least consider burning a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. But it just doesn’t seem like the wisest path, generally speaking.

With that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at Kaprizov and the Wild, Sorokin and the Islanders, Romanov and the Canadiens.

Waiting game continues for Wild, fans, Kaprizov

Plenty of people deem Kaprizov, 23, as the best player in hockey not playing in the NHL.

Kaprizov ranked first in the KHL in goals (33 in 57 games), also finishing close to the scoring title with 62 points. This was no fluke, as Kaprizov also scored the most goals (30) in the KHL during the 2018-19 season. Doing so at such a young age only leaves Wild fans even more anxious to see him.

And, unlike other young scorers, it doesn’t sound like many critique Kaprizov’s overall game. Back in May, The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin collected some rave reviews about Kaprizov, noting comparisons to “Artemi Panarin‘s mind” combined with Vladimir Tarasenko‘s tank-like body.

Sounds pretty good! The Wild should probably think about bringing Kaprizov over, eh? *Ducks*

But, yeah, a Wild team searching for good news and breakthrough talent could sure use Kaprizov. Maybe next season? Sadly, it sounds like at least a medium-sized maybe.

 

Islanders won’t get a peek at Sorokin

When you compare immediate concerns, Ilya Sorokin seems more like a luxury for the Islanders.

After all, the Islanders enjoyed another season of above-average goaltending. Semyon Varlamov was solid, and much like in 2018-19, Thomas Greiss provided comparable work to the Islanders’ would-be No.1. The sum result wasn’t at the level of what Greiss and Robin Lehner accomplished, but plenty of NHL teams must envy the Islanders’ goaltending.

So they don’t “need” Sorokin, seemingly.

But we’ve seen teams put together big playoff runs with rookie goalies intermittently since at least Ken Dryden swooped in, dominated, and leaned pensively on his goal stick for the dynasty-era Canadiens. That thought goes for goalies of various pedigrees, but particularly someone like Sorokin.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler didn’t just rank Sorokin as the top drafted goalie prospect in hockey (sub required). Wheeler also believes that Sorokin could end up being a better goalie than fellow Russian netminders Ilya Samsonov, Igor Shesterkin, and Alexandar Georgiev. Look at Sorokin’s superb KHL stats, and you can see why there’s excitement and intrigue.

Besides, at 24, Sorokin’s getting to that age where the Islanders want to see what they have. Varlamov is 31, and Greiss is on an expiring contract and is 34.

However unlikely, a Sorokin-powered playoff run would’ve been the dream. Getting a better idea of where Sorokin ranks on the depth chart would have been nice, too.

Canadiens won’t get to make defense deeper with Romanov

How much of an impact would Alexander Romanov make for the Canadiens? Answers may vary.

The Ahtletic’s Scott Wheeler barely squeezed Romanov on his top 50 drafted prospects list at No. 48 (sub required). That said, Wheeler admitted that he’s lower on Romanov than many in the hockey world. This seems to be true, as Romanov placed 10th on The Hockey News’ future watch list, representing a meteoric rise from 45th the previous year.

Perhaps some of that variance comes down to how much weight given experts put on tournaments vs. season play.

  • The now-20-year-old defenseman earned top defenseman billing at the 2019 World Junior Championship, and excelled during the 2020 tournament, as well.
  • On the other hand, Romanov’s KHL stats have been modest, including a single goal over two KHL seasons (86 regular-season games).

But, in cases like Romanov’s, it’s often a debate regarding “How good?” The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin wrote that Romanov “looks like a future top-pair defenseman.” Wheeler sees Romanov more as a “sound defenseman” who could help in transition, yet probably won’t put up big numbers.

Either way, the Canadiens absolutely could use a player like Romanov. The better he ends up, the happier they are, of course. But even a steady presence would have helped against the Penguins.

Plenty of other prospects not involved in NHL return beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin

Denisenko at the 2019 WJC. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Naturally, there are noteworthy players who won’t get to participate in the NHL return to play beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. This post isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but two other players come to mind:

  • Grigori Denisenko – The Panthers share some of the same space as the Wild and Canadiens as bubble-adjacent teams who could use a boost. Denisenko isn’t considered as surefire as Kaprizov, but there’s a lot to like about the 20-year-old forward. That said, this would hurt even more if Denisenko was a defenseman, because Florida is pretty brutal in that area.
  • Jack Dugan – Like Romanov at 48, Dugan snuck into Wheeler’s top 50 at 47 (Denisenko ranks at 36, Kaprizov sits at six). Wheeler ranks among those that wonder if Dugan would make an immediate impact for the Golden Knights out of the NCAA. Some wonder if Dugan can eventually become a top-six forward. In other words, this isn’t necessarily a Cale Makar-style instant success story.

But Dugan breaks from some of the others on this list in being a prospect for a more proven team. The Golden Knights rank among the top four Western Conference teams, thus they’ll participate in the Round Robin for Seeding. I’d argue that Vegas stands out as one of the best of even that smaller group.

So imagine if Dugan can merely give them a boost? It’s arguable that Dugan could be a bigger deal than maybe a better prospect for a more needy team.

We won’t get to find out, though. While it’s the safer move, it’s a letdown for teams hoping for Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov, Denisenko, Dugan, and others.

Also, this means lost opportunities to make bad “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan/Jack Dugan jokes. Bummer.

More on the NHL return to play:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Goalie competition to force big decision for Rangers vs. Hurricanes

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One of the early storylines for the Rangers-Hurricanes Qualifying Round series is what will New York do in goal?

Head coach David Quinn will have three options: Henrik Lundqvist, Igor Shesterkin or Alexandar Georgiev.

Before the March 12 NHL pause, Georgiev (14) and Shesterkin (12) handled the majority of starts, with Lundqvist making only five starts since the calendar turned to 2020. (Shesterkin missed some time in late February after being injured in a car accident with teammate Pavel Buchnevich.)

The best-of-five series with Carolina will provide Quinn with a tough decision. Shesterkin impressed in his 12 NHL appearances (.935 even strength save percentage) and has set himself up to be Lundqvist’s successor. The veteran Lundqvist, whose future in New York is up in the air, has a .919 ESSV% in 30 games this season and was 3-0-0 against the Hurricanes this season.

[MORE: A look at the Eastern Conference matchups]

“We’ve got three guys going in and I like our depth in that position,” Rangers president John Davidson told reporters on Thursday. “I can hardly wait, so whenever the puck drops for training camp, just to watch. There’s going to be a lot of subsets, a lot of small stories that are going to turn into big stories. Who is going to go and be the starting goaltender? If it’s a best-of-5 series, that’s not a long series and you want to get off to a good start. The coaches are going to have to make that decision.”

If NHL training camps get under way mid-July like the players have been told that will have been four months since New York’s last game. Any struggles or successes prior to the stoppage are reset in this unique Return to Play format. That should make it an open competition for the three goalies. But a short series also means little room for error, and barring something unforeseen it should be Shesterkin’s crease to start.

“I know that we’ll have the three guys here, and I think all three are excited,” Davidson said. “I know Hank has been skating. This is going to be a coach’s decision. That’s who it’s up to. The coaches make decisions. I think they’re going to watch and see how camp goes. This is going to be a battle.”

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Return to Play: A look at the Eastern Conference matchups

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[UPDATE – JULY 10: NHL announces full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

We now know who will be potentially playing hockey later this summer and who will have a long wait until next season.

With the NHL’s Return to Play announcement on Tuesday, we learned the eight Qualifying Round matchups if play is to resume in a few months. We also learned that the top four teams in each conference will play to determine seeding for the First Round.

For the Eastern Conference, the winners of each Qualifying Round will go on to face one of Boston, Tampa, Washington, or Philadelphia.

Now that we know the teams, let’s take an overview of the four Eastern Conference matchups.

[MORE: A look at the Western Conference matchups]

(5) Penguins vs. (12) Canadiens

Regular season recap

At the time of the March 12 pause the Penguins were sitting in a playoff spot, four points behind the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division lead. The Canadiens, on the other hand, would be enjoying their off-season if we had the traditional 16-team playoff format.

How rough of a regular season was it for the Habs? Out of their 71 games played, they only won 19 in regulation. They were one of the league’s top possession teams (54% Fenwick, per Natural Stat Trick) but it was their own end of the ice where the issues popped up. Montreal was middle of the pack at 5-on-5 goals against (142) and shots against (1,710), save percentage (.917), and were bottom-10 in shooting percentage (7.49%).

The Canadiens experienced two eight-game losing streaks, a five-game skid, and went into the break losing 10 of their last 14 games. Pittsburgh also would be coming off a big-time slide having lost eight of their last 11 games. A several-month pause could certainly help break such a skid.

Between Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, the Penguins needed both goaltenders this season. Murray started the year, Jarry took over and was named an All-Star Game replacement, and it was Murray getting most of the work down the stretch.

It was also a season of injury for the Penguins. Pittsburgh is currently third with 298 man-games lost to injury or illness, per ManGamesLost.com. Only seven players have played at least 60 games. But, in line with their season, one of those players, Dominik Simon, injured his shoulder in February and will be out at least six months following surgery.

Season series

Penguins lead season series 2-1-0. Last meeting: Feb., 14; a 4-1 Penguins victory.

Injured players who could return

Jake Guentzel suffered a shoulder injury in late December and was ruled out for 4-6 months. Should play resume in late July/early August that could be enough time to mend for the Penguins forward. Zach Aston-Reese, Brian Dumoulin, and Nick Bjugstad were all injured players who returned just before the pause. Unfortunately for Bjugstad, GM Jim Rutherford said on Wednesday the forward underwent an undisclosed surgery this week and will be out the rest of the season.

An ankle injury kept Jonathan Drouin out for Montreal’s last six games and an upper-body injury sidelined Tomas Tatar for three matchups. Jesperi Kotkaniemi (spleen), who was in the AHL at the time of his injury, is not expected to play again this season. Victor Mete could be back after suffering a fractured foot in February.

Storylines to watch

This will be a series featuring a team that dealt with major injuries seemingly every week, yet remained in contention for the division lead against one that has dealt with consistency issues. It’s a short series, so we know a hot goalie can steal games, which brings us to…

Carey Price, who became the focal point of a storyline about the Penguins fearing him in a short series, hasn’t been his usual dangerous self. He’s 32nd in even strength save percentage this season among goalies with 1,000 minutes played (.919) and 32nd in goals saved above average (.27). Why would Mike Sullivan’s team be scared of that?

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(6) Hurricanes vs. (11) Rangers

Regular season recap

It was a tight race at the bottom of the Metro as well as for one of the East’s two wild card places. The Hurricanes played 68 games and earned 81 points, putting them in the top wild card spot with two games in-hand on the Rangers, who were two points behind Carolina.

New York is in the middle of a franchise transition rather than the tear-it-down approach to rebuilding. They’ve brought in youth to mix in with prime-age veterans and it resulted in a good step forward. There are plenty of decisions to be made in the off-season, but GM Jeff Gorton’s moves have set the team up well. Artemi Panarin is a Hart Trophy candidate, Mika Zibanejad scored a career high 41 goals, as did pending restricted free agent defenseman Tony DeAngelo (15 goals, 53 points). Chris Kreider, who was nearly dealt at the trade deadline before signing a seven-year extension, hit 20 goals for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Rookie Adam Fox, whose signing rights were traded from Carolina to the Rangers last summer, played his way into the Calder Trophy discussion with 42 points.

The Hurricanes were one of two NHL teams to vote against the Return to Play proposal. Player rep Jordan Martinook said the reason was because they felt it was unfair for a team already in a playoff spot to have an extra round to participate in. Carolina headed into the break with a three-game winning streak and were feeling confident about their final 14 games.

Whatever goaltender the Rangers play will be busy. The Hurricanes fired 300 more even strength shots on goal than New York. They’ll also be tasked with facing a tough offense with Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov leading the way. Carolina likes to dominate possession, but like Montreal, their own zone tends to be where the issues develop. Their goaltender has been sub-par, leading to a .912 5-on-5 save percentage despite 1,549 shots allowed at even strength, fewest in the NHL.

Season series

Rangers lead series 0-4-0. Last meeting: Feb., 21; a 5-2 Rangers victory.

Injured players who could return

Leg injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen had them out of the lineup for extended periods of time. Given the time between games potentially being played, the Hurricanes blue line could be bolstered with those two back on the ice. Brett Pesce, meanwhile, may not be back in time from shoulder surgery. His timeline was 4-6 months back in March.

Chris Kreider fractured his foot on Feb. 28, but he should have enough healing and rehab time for a return to the lineup.

He wasn’t injured, but the Rangers will likely be without Brendan Lemieux for some portion of the series. The forward was suspended after the NHL pause for an undetermined amount of time. There will be clarity on that before games resume.

Storylines to watch

Is this the Adam Fox Bowl? Maybe the Brady Skjei Series? Whatever angle you go with, this is a divisional matchup with two teams believing in their bright futures. Part of the next generation for New York is goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who returned from injuries sustained in a car accident just before the pause. Will head coach David Quinn go with him in goal ahead of Alexandar Georgiev or Henrik Lundqvist, who has made one start since Feb. 3?

[MORE: Why Hurricanes, Lightning voted against Return to Play proposal]

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(7) Islanders vs. (10) Panthers

Regular season recap

Neither team entered the break in a traditional playoff position, but they weren’t far off the pace. The Islanders were one point back of Columbus for the second wild card spot, while Florida sat three points behind the Blue Jackets.

Under new head coach Joel Quenneville, Florida remained on the playoff bubble, but one wonders how much further up the standings they would be if Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a seven-year, $70 million deal in the summer, played better than his .900 even strength save percentage. Could he steal a short series? Sure, but his .904 career playoff save percentage doesn’t instill much confidence.

While the offense will rely heavily on Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Mike Hoffman, they also have received good depth production. Noel Acciari potted 20 goals, Brett Connolly hit for 19, and Frank Vatrano hit for 16. It remains to be seen how much they’ll miss Vincent Trocheck, who was dealt to Carolina in February, bringing back a package that included Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark.

If we’re still counting losing streaks, the Islanders would enter a resumption in play on a seven-game losing skid. That slide goes back to mid-February as they won just twice in their last 13 games and have six total victories since Jan. 11. They lost a comfortable playoff position and found themselves fighting for a wild card place in a competitive Metro.

That 17-game point streak earlier in the season seems forever ago.

Veteran Andy Greene was added to help a defense that hasn’t been what you’d expect from a Barry Trotz team in 2019-20. Only Ottawa has allowed more even strength shots on goal and the Islanders have allowed the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances. That’s a big change from the team that swept the Penguins out of Round 1 a year ago.

J.G. Pageau was acquired at the trade deadline to assist an offense that needs firepower. The Islanders don’t generate a ton of even strength chances and only feature a pair of 20-goal scorers — Brock Nelson (25) and Anders Lee (19).

Season series

Islanders lead season series 3-0-0. Last meeting: Dec. 12; an Islanders 3-1 win.

Injured players who could return

After receiving 90 stitches following a frightening skate-to-the-eye injury in March, Johnny Boychuk should be back on the Islanders’ blue line. Casey Cizikas, who suffered a skate laceration, is also expected to be ready to go. An Achilles injury put defenseman Adam Pelech out of the lineup in January and it would be a stretch to see him back this summer.

Storylines to watch

The Panthers own the possession advantage here (50% Fenwick to 47%, per Natural Stat Trick) and have converted more 5-on-5 chances with an edge in shooting percentage at 9%. A huge factor will be in net with Bobrovsky against Semyon Varlamov. The Islanders netminder has a .921 ESSV% vs. a .903 for Bob. If New York, who has scored the third-fewest 5-on-5 goals among the Return to Play teams, can get their offense going, it could spell trouble for Florida.

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(8) Maple Leafs vs. (9) Blue Jackets

Regular season recap

The Maple Leafs offense is potent, as we saw through 70 games. Auston Matthews put home 47 goals, followed by William Nylander‘s 31 and John Tavares‘ 26. Their top two lines are dangerous, but their goaltending will be among their biggest questions.

Frederik Andersen‘s .915 ESSV% puts him near the bottom among goaltenders with at least 1,000 minutes played. He had to play a lot of hockey given Toronto’s backup issues. Maybe the extra time off will allow him to get his game back? Consider his likely counterpart, Elvis Merzlikis, who posted a .931 in 32 games played. Or if John Tortorella could go with Joonas Korpisalo, who put up a .926 in 37 games.

Columbus was among the lowest scoring teams at 5-on-5, with 125 goals compared to that of Toronto’s 158. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though, as the Blue Jackets were right behind the Maple Leafs with 1,837 EV shots. Converting was the issue, as seen by their 6.8 shooting percentage. Even if Andersen isn’t on his game, Toronto can overcome that with a smothering offense.

The pause could allow the Blue Jackets to get healthy as their 352 man-games lost to injury led the NHL. Already dealing with the loss of Panarin and Bobrovsky in free agency, Columbus didn’t lose faith in their ability and persisted, even as players were being added to the injury list on a regular basis.

Season series

Maple Leafs have a regulation victory. Blue Jackets have an overtime win. Last meeting: Oct. 21; a 4-3 Columbus OT win.

Injured players who could return

Could Josh Anderson come back by late summer? He was given a 4-6 month recovery period and it’s been nearly three months since he underwent shoulder surgery. The extra time off bodes well for Cam Atkinson (ankle), Oliver Bjorkstrand (ankle), Seth Jones (ankle), and Alexandre Texier (back) among the Blue Jackets’ long list of walking wounded.

For the Leafs, Ilya Mikheyev (wrist laceration), Jake Muzzin (hand), and Andreas Johnsson (knee) should be good to go when play resumes.

Storylines to watch

On one hand you have a Blue Jackets team that was battered all season long, fighting for a playoff spot despite losing their two biggest stars in the summer. They surprised many and really played with a chip on their shoulders all season long.

On the other hand, there’s a chance that if Toronto win they could face the Bruins for the third-straight season — and we all know how much Maple Leafs fans love seeing Boston in the playoffs.

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Rangers coach Quinn explains what makes Panarin special

Rangers head coach David Quinn gets a firsthand look at how dominant Artemi Panarin can be, so it makes sense that he’d provide interesting insight on the superstar winger.

During the latest episode of NBC Sports’ “Our Line Starts” podcast, Quinn explained that he believes Panarin is a unique talent. “Sneaky strength” is part of what makes Panarin special, according to Quinn.

Quinn explains what sets Panarin apart

It’s not sheer brute strength in the most direct, muscle-mass sense. Instead, Quinn explains that Panarin possesses significant hand and stick strength. Combine that with a world-class hockey IQ, and it helps explain why Panarin is so tough to stop.

Quinn cites a specific example of those qualities producing strong results for the Rangers. Back in late February, Panarin overpowered and beguiled multiple Islanders defenders to set up Mika Zibanejad‘s overtime goal:

Panarin sits tied with David Pastrnak for third in scoring this season with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists [all career-highs]). The Hart Trophy argument improves for Panarin when you dig deeper. Take, for instance, Panarin standing atop the entire league by Evolving Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement metric:

Quinn Rangers Artemi Panarin GAR

More on the Rangers in “Our Line Starts”

Whether you prefer the “eye test,” enjoy supplementing sensory details with “fancy stats,” or delight in all of it as a hockey buffet, it’s clear that Panarin is a superstar. He’s also a lot of fun to watch, especially when he breaks out one of his goal celes.

Rangers head coach Quinn touched on other Rangers talking points with Liam McHugh and Anson Carter.

One of the more interesting bits revolves around how Henrik Lundqvist handled the competition with Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. It’s not surprising to learn that Lundqvist shows class, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. Especially considering Mats Zuccarello‘s righteous anger regarding the treatment of Lundqvist from late April.

Check out the full episode in whatever format you prefer. There’s video above this headline, and an audio version below. Here’s a guide for different topics in case you want to skip around:

3:20-4:55 Quinn’s assessment of Rangers’ season
4:55-7:30 Zibanejad, and Panarin’s second half MVP push
7:30-9:45 Lundqvist’s demotion and the dilemma in goal
9:45-11:40 Learning from Bill Belichick
11:40-13:15 Taking over for the legendary Jack Parker
15:25-19:45 Quinn’s memory of his draft day in 1984
19:45-24:10 Fallout from Quinn’s hemophilia diagnosis
25:40-28:00 BU’s crushing loss in 2015 NCAA title game

 

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

More on the Rangers’ 2019-20 season:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What is the Rangers’ long-term outlook?

New York Rangers
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the New York Rangers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

There are a lot of very intriguing pieces in place here and a lot to like about where this team can go in the very near future.

Artemi Panarin is a superstar, while Mika Zibanejad (still signed for two more years after this one) has proven to be a perfect complement for him on the top line.

Kaapo Kakko may have experienced some growing pains in his rookie season, but he still has star potential and they have two outstanding young defensemen in Anthony DeAngelo and Adam Fox to be the foundation of the defense. DeAngelo is a restricted free agent this summer and has played his way into a raise, but the in-season trade of Brady Skjei should give them enough flexibility under the salary cap to easily get a new deal completed with him.

Add in the return of Chris Kreider and a couple outstanding young goalies in Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev and they have some of the most important pieces of a contending team in place — top-line players, including a handful of already elite (and potentially elite) players.

Those are the most difficult pieces to find in any rebuild, and the Rangers have them. They definitely have some work to do around the edges with the depth, but it is a heck of a lot easier to find the complementary pieces than it is to find the core pieces.

Long-Term Needs

It mostly comes down to depth. At forward, center depth could still be a concern in the short-term if Ryan Strome is unable to duplicate his offensive performance this season.

Defensively, they have some big question marks after Fox and DeAngelo.

Marc Staal remains a fraction of what he used to be and still has a fairly significant salary next season. Jacob Trouba was supposed to be a big addition, he was a disappointment this season and still carries a huge salary cap hit for the next six years with a no-movement clause that will kick in this summer. They need him to be significantly better than he has been for that $8 million price tag he carries.

It would also be a huge boost to their long-term outlook if Kakko became a star. That would be a game-changer for them to have another elite winger to help take some of the pressure off of the top-line and give opponents another big-time scoring threat to worry about.

They also need a solution to the Henrik Lundqvist situation.

Long-Term Strengths

Goaltending is a potentially intriguing one due to the presence of Shesterkin and Georgiev. If you are going to phase out a legend the way the Rangers did this season, you better have one hell of an option already in place. As it turns out, the Rangers might have two of them.

Goalie is always the X-factor position in the NHL and can be the biggest difference-maker on the ice. It would be foolish to expect Shesterkin to maintain the .932 save percentage he has had in his first 12 appearances, but the upside is there for both of them to be outstanding NHL goalies. If it plays out that way, the Rangers could have the position set for the next decade.

They also have one of the league’s best offensive players in Panarin to serve as their franchise player, and the potential of Kakko to join him in that class.

Looking even further ahead, they also have two first-round draft picks in the 2020 draft class.

MORE RANGERS:
• Looking at the 2019-20 New York Rangers
Rangers biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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.