The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the New York Rangers.
Coach: Gerard Gallant (first season)
Last season: 27-23-6, fifth in MassMutual East Division, did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs
1. Adapting to Gallant
The faster the Rangers adapt to the up-tempo, forechecking style their new coach wants them to play, the quicker they will become a dangerous opponent. Gallant replaced David Quinn, who was fired May 12 after three seasons. The Rangers were guilty of being too much of an east-west team at times under Quinn. But with the additions of projected bottom-six forwards Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais and Ryan Reaves, New York is built to play more of an attacking, aggressive game.
2. Growth of young players
Forwards Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko will be given the opportunity to play regularly in the top six. Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, did not see full-time duty on the top two lines last season, so with added responsibility comes an expectation to deliver. Lafreniere scored 21 points (12 goals, nine assists) in 56 games as a rookie and said he’s improved his speed and strength. Kakko scored 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 48 games last season, his second in the NHL. He scored 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 66 games as a rookie in 2019-20.
3. Fox’s encore
Last season, Adam Fox won the Norris Trophy voted as best defenseman in the NHL after leading the position with 42 assists and finishing second with 47 points in 55 games. The 23-year-old is entering his third NHL season and has set the bar quite high for himself. He said winning the Norris Trophy hasn’t changed him and he plans to not try to do too much because he’s in the spotlight. Fox led Rangers defensemen in ice time on the power play (3:45) and shorthanded (2:36) last season. He is their most important skater.
The Rangers appear to be set, barring injury, in most areas. There is wiggle room at the bottom of their depth chart. Kevin Rooney has the inside track to be the fourth-line center, but he is being pushed by rookie Morgan Barron, who played five NHL games and scored one goal last season. Greg McKegg, Dryden Hunt and Julien Gauthier are also in the mix.
Rookie defenseman Nils Lundkvist is trying to earn a rotation spot and has been paired with Patrik Nemeth in training camp. That figures to be the third defense pair behind Fox and Ryan Lindgren, and K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba. Jarred Tinordi is expected to be the seventh defenseman, and the Rangers also have Anthony Bitetto, Libor Hajek and Zac Jones pushing.
Most intriguing addition
Goodrow signed a six-year contract after winning the Stanley Cup each of the past two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is arguably New York’s most versatile skater. He can play all three forward positions and is expected to play a big role on the penalty kill, like he did with the Lightning. He can chip in offensively too. Goodrow scored 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 55 games last season and six points (two goals, four assists) in 18 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Biggest potential surprise
Blais could start on the fourth line, but the Rangers will be looking for balance and production from each of their lines and he could emerge as a scoring threat. He scored 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 36 games for the St. Louis Blues last season and has scored 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 119 NHL games, all with the Blues. Blais will be relied upon for his size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and power, but he has the skill to produce offensively.
Ready to break through
The Rangers are going to rely on more offense from Lafreniere and Kakko, forwards who came into the NHL loaded with skill and potential. The opportunity will be there for each of them to drive up his offensive numbers.
Rookie right wing Vitali Kravtsov (undrafted on average in fantasy) scored 24 points (16 goals, eight assists) in 49 games for Traktor of the Kontinental Hockey League and four points (two goals, two assists) in 20 NHL games for the Rangers last season. He will be competing with fellow young wings Lafreniere and Kakko for top-six and first power-play usage, especially after the Rangers traded valuable right wing Pavel Buchnevich to the Blues on July 23. — Pete Jensen
Chris Kreider — Mika Zibanejad — Alexis Lafreniere
Artemi Panarin — Ryan Strome — Kaapo Kakko
Barclay Goodrow — Filip Chytil — Vitali Kravtsov
Sammy Blais — Kevin Rooney — Ryan Reaves
Ryan Lindgren — Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller — Jacob Trouba
Patrik Nemeth — Nils Lundkvist