Vitali Kravstov

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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.

Kaapo Kakko gives Rangers fans glimpse of future with great OT goal

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New York Rangers fans got their first glimpse of Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft, wearing the team’s sweater on Monday when he made his debut at the annual NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich.

He did not disappoint.

He had a hand in all four of the Rangers’ goals in the 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild prospects, assisting on the first three and then scoring a highlight reel goal in overtime to win the game. It was an incredible goal that featured him literally skating circles around the Wild’s defense before effortlessly scoring on a wraparound.

Have a look.

When asked about the play after the game, he responded by saying “I remember my old coach like two years ago told me, ‘In overtime, don’t pass.’ So I didn’t.”

On one hand, you can not make too big of a deal about what you see in prospect tournaments because a lot of the players taking place aren’t going to make it in the NHL or have any sort of a future in the league. The level of competition isn’t the same as what he is going to see starting this week when training camp begins, and especially once the regular season begins.

But it’s also hard to not get excited if you’re the Rangers or a fan because this is the type of player your organization needs to succeed.

The Rangers’ rebuild got a huge boost when they moved up to the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery and won the right to select Kakko. When combined with 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravstov the Rangers now have two elite prospects on the right side ready to arrive on the scene as soon as this season. For as good of a prospect as Kravstov is, Kakko is the real gem and the player that could completely swing the rebuild.

Remember, it’s not just one game in a prospects tournament that is going to feed the hype.

He also excelled at the IIHF World Championship earlier this summer with six goals in 10 games, and was a top-line player in the top Finnish league as a 17-year-old, finishing with 38 points in 45 games (then adding four goals and an assist in five playoff games). For context, there were 19 other players in the Finnish league that were age 17 or younger this past season. As a group, they finished with only 69 points in 245 man-games. None of them had more than 19 points on their own. Kakko was on a level all his own.

Given what the Rangers’ lineup looks like on the right side you have to figure he is going to get an opportunity to make an immediate impact. The Rangers’ right wingers at the moment include Pavel Buchnevich, Kakko, Kratsov, and Jesper Fast. Buchnevich will probably start the season on the top-line which would leave Kakko and Kratsov (assuming both make the roster) on the second-and third-lines. Given how Kappo has consistently excelled at every level no matter the competition across from him, it would not be a shock to see him eventually play his way into that top-line spot this season.

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.