2016-17 New York Rangers Season Preview
By: Matt Giusti
New York Rangers
Head Coach: Alain Vigneault
2015-16 Record: 46-27-9 101 pts ( 3rd in the Metropolitan Division )
Playoff Result: Eliminated in the 1st Round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 5 games
2015-16 Team Stats: 2.8 goals per game ( 7th in the NHL ), 2.6 goals against ( 15th in the NHL ), 18.6 power play % ( 14th in the NHL ), 78.2 penalty kill % ( 26th in the NHL )
2015-16 Scoring Leaders: 1. Mats Zuccarello RW ( 81 GP-26 G-35A ), 2. Derick Brassard C ( 80 GP-27 G-31 A ), 3. Derek Stepan C ( 72 GP-22 G-31 A ), 4. Keith Yandle D ( 82 GP-5 G-42 A ), 5. Chris Kreider LW ( 79 GP-21 G-22 A )
2015-16 Goaltending Stats: Henrik Lundqvist ( 65 GP-35 W-21 L-7 OTL-2.48 GAA-.920 SV%-4 SO ), Antti Raanta ( 25 GP-11 W-6 L-2 OTL-2.24 GAA-.919 SV%-1 SO )
Top Prospects: 1. Jimmy Vesey LW, 2. Pavel Buchnevich LW/RW, 3. Brady Skjei D, 4. Ryan Graves D, 5. Ryan Gropp LW
Key Additions: Jimmy Vesey LW, Michael Grabner RW, Brandon Pirri C, Nathan Gerbe C, Nick Holden D, Mika Zibanejad C, Josh Jooris C
Key Departures: Keith Yandle D, Eric Staal C, Derick Brassard C, Viktor Stalberg RW, Dominic Moore C
Forwards: When looking back at the 2015-16 for the New York Rangers forward group, there was a lot of good and also some bad. The good being that the Rangers finished near the top 5 ( 7th overall ) in goals per game. Fan favorite Mats Zuccarello led the Rangers in scoring with 61 pts, after returning from a near career and life threatening injury he suffered against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2015 playoffs. The 29-year old Norwegian forward continues to get better and better every year since he’s been a Ranger. The opposite could be said for Rick Nash, as he suffered through an injury plagued 2015-16 season. Nash will come into camp with a huge chip on his shoulder, as the Rangers made it no secret that they were trying to move him.
C Derek Stepan was once again very productive for the Rangers, despite missing a significant amount of time with broken suffered from a controversial hit from behind by Bruins forward Matt Beleskey. Don’t be surprised if he can remain healthy that Stepan will be 65-70 point guy for the Rangers this coming season. There isn’t a player who couldn’t frustrate you more at time than winger Chris Kreider. The 25-year old has all the physical gifts to be top end forward in this league, its time to find some consistency in his game this year or the Rangers will be in trouble in stacked Metropolitan Division. On the opposite side of things, the Rangers couldn’t have been more happy with the production they got out of youngster J.T. Miller. The former 15th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft easily put up career numbers across the board in his 1st full season in the league.
Looking ahead to the upcoming 2016-17 season, the Rangers added some much needed speed to a forward group that had issues keeping up with the Penguins. Adding guys like Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe should help a Rangers penalty kill that finished 26th in the league. There will be an injection of some much needed youth, with the signing of Jimmy Vesey out of Harvard University and the long awaited début of Russian youngster Pavel Buchnevich. The expectations surrounding these are very high coming into training camp this year. Speaking of a player with high expectations, newly acquired Mika Zibanejad will have a lot of eyes and a lot of pressure on him. The 23-year old Zibanejad was acquired for fan favorite forward Derick Brassard in the offseason. Everything looks good on paper for the Rangers to enjoy another good offensive year. The Rangers need the much criticized Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes and Kreider to have better seasons this year or it could be a long season on Broadway. Overall I think the Rangers did a good job addressing the need for more speed and defensive responsibility to their forward unit.
Defense: The Rangers defense will undoubtedly be the most talked about topic before and during the 2016-17 season. The Rangers traded away their top scoring defensemen Keith Yandle to the Florida Panthers, because the Rangers were going to be unable to re-sign him. The 47 points ( 5 goals, 42 assists ) that Yandle put up will be almost impossible to replace this coming season. The Rangers will have to lean on their captain Ryan McDonagh now more than ever this year. The 27-year old McDonagh turned in another solid season with 9 goals and 25 assists, despite missing 9 games due to injury.
The two guys that many Rangers fans called for upper management to trade in the offseason, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, are still with the team. Both carrying huge contracts and declining play in their games, many knew it was going to be an uphill battle to trade either one of them. While Staal and Girardi shouldn’t be expected to be what they were a few years ago, there is reason for optimism that these two could have bounce back years. The main reason being that the Rangers have played deep into the playoffs in 2014 and 2015, maybe a much needed extended break is exactly what these two needed to recharge their batteries.
Although he struggled a little bit in his first few NHL games, young defensemen Brady Skjei played very well in the Rangers 5 game series loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 22-year old Skjei is an exceptional skater and is a player who makes a great first pass. The development of Skjei will be key to the success of the Rangers this coming year. Head Coach Alain Vigneualt will have an interesting decision to make when it comes to the playing time of Dylan McIlrath. The 24-year old McIlrath has not lived up the billing of being a former 10th overall pick and now will have to battle with newly acquired Nick Holden for a spot in the Rangers top 6. Overall, this Rangers defensive unit has a lot of questions surrounding it and it could be something that could derail the Rangers if certain guys don’t step up.
Goaltending: Though the numbers suggest that it wasn’t a typical Henrik Lundqvist type of season, the 34-year old was one of the only reasons the Rangers were where they were. And while Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger, he remains vital to the success of the team and I expect him to have a monster year. Antti Raanta will serve as the backup goalie for the second consecutive season, after having a solid first year with the Rags.
Season Prediction: The Rangers certainly addressed a lot of team needs, especially in the team speed department. They also were able to sign prized college free-agent Jimmy Vesey and will have talented forward Pavel Buchnevich for the first time. The Rangers need bounce back years from Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider, especially with a suspect defense. I still believe the Rangers are a playoff team, but they won’t make it in the dominating fashion that Ranger fans have been used to seeing recently.
4th in the Metropolitan Division