The expectations never change on Broadway for the Rangers. Stanley Cup or bust. They came within a few games of that goal just two years ago, losing to the Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. They followed that up with an Eastern Conference Final appearance the year after.
However, they then followed that with a lackluster effort in their first round loss this year to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The biggest question facing the Rangers this year is can they get back to the level of an Eastern Conference contender or will they regress?
There are a number of new faces that will be joining the Blue Shirts this season and there are a number of players who had a down season last year and now come in as big question marks going forward. But there is a reason for optimism. The team will have a number of impact players returning and they have a few young players set to step and help invigorate the team with some youthful energy.
Top Performer: Henrik Lundqvist, G
Despite having a down season in 2015-16, Hank is still the go-to option for fantasy owners from the Rangers. Always a solid option for wins for fantasy hockey players, a byproduct of the solid team he has played for, Lundqvist was tied for fourth in the league last season with 35 victories. It was his highest victory total in a season since the 2011-12 season when he posted his career-high 39. He enters every season as a virtual lock for 30 wins, and that should continue this season for Hank.
Henrik Lundqvist (374) is the all-time wins leader among NHL goalies who only played for 1 NHL team in their career.
— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) August 1, 2016
While the wins are there for Lundqvist, it is the rest of his game that are causing question marks. His SV% this year was on par with his career numbers. He posted a .920 SV%, just a percentage point below his career .921 average. Lundqvist should return this year to that number but with question marks on the Rangers defense, and a year older, that number could dip.
The big question mark for Lundqvist and his defense in front of him is goals against. Lundqvist posted his career-worst GAA while facing the most shots against that he has faced in his last five seasons. His 2.48 GAA was 0.23 worse than the 2.25 that he posted last season, albeit in 46 games thanks to his neck injury. However, with a full season this past year, and the fact that the Rangers are returning largely the same defense, there is a question mark that Lundqvist could post a similar number this year.
Underrated Performer: Mats Zuccarello, RW
There were a few candidates for this spot, but Zuccarello has become one of the most important, and under-appreciated, Rangers players over the last few seasons with regards to fantasy hockey. The 29-year-old is an impact player for the team and should be drafted accordingly.
Zucc led the Rangers in points last season with a career-high 61. He posted 26 goals, also a career-high and the first time that he cracked the 20-goal barrier. His 26 markers were second only to Derick Brassard’s 27 and his 35 assists were second only to Keith Yandle’s 42. Zuccarello also contributed career-bests with seven PPG and 18 power-play points.
Since the start of the 13/14 season, Mats Zuccarello is 24th among forwards in 5v5 Points/60 (minimum 1,500 minutes).
— Zach Ellenthal (@zellenthal) April 5, 2016
Zuccarello is actually the leading scorer for the Rangers over the last three seasons combined. His 169 points rank him just ahead of Derek Stepan and the aforementioned Brassard. He has primarily played on the wing of Brassard in the past, but with the Rangers opting to trade the center to the Ottawa Senators this offseason, Zuccarello should slot in on the Rangers first line with Derek Stepan. Stepan is the Rangers second-leading scorer over the last three seasons and the duo could be a formidable one on Broadway.
Overrated Performer: Jimmy Vesey, LW
This one will come as a surprise to some and vice-versa to others. The definition in fantasy sports of an overrated performer is someone drafted higher because of their name recognition who does not live up to that billing. I think that a lot of fantasy players are going to overrate Vesey this season. This was between Rick Nash and Vesey but Nash has been a 40-goal scorer before and a known fantasy contributor.
Vesey put up solid numbers playing for Harvard last season. He won the Hobey Baker award as the best player in college hockey, posting 46 points in 33 games. He put up a very respectable 144 points in his college career in 128 games, good for a 1.13 points-per-game average. The overwhelming majority of those points, 104, came in his last two seasons. But anyone expecting those types of numbers early in his career as he transitions from NCAA hockey to the NHL is a stretch.
Harvard Senior Jimmy Vesey wins the 2016 Hobey Baker Award. 24 goals & 22 assists in 33 GP this season.
— Josh Getzoff (@PensJG) April 8, 2016
When you look at the Rangers construction of their top-six forwards at the moment, Vesey appears on the outside looking in and ticketed for the third line. With a cluster of Zuccarello, Stepan, Nash, Kreider, Miller and Zibanejad in front of him it appears unlikely for Vesey to crack the top-six early in the season and that will cause him to lose playing time. It might not be a bad thing for the Rangers to ease him in for awhile this season and incrementally increase his playing time.
Because of that logjam in front of him and the foreseen lack of playing time, it will be a lofty goal for Vesey to sniff 40 points. Could he get there? Yes. Is it likely looking at the construction of the Rangers roster at the moment? Unlikely. This is not to say that Vesey won’t be a good contributor for the team, but right now he is not a huge fantasy asset. Somewhere in the 30-35 point range is probably the max for Vesey right now, but if the Rangers feel he is ready and they boot someone from their top-six in his place, that number could change for the better.
Fantasy Sleeper: Mika Zibanejad, C
I am a big fan of Zibanejad and was glad he got the push that he got in Ottawa last season. It was a very good move by the Rangers this offseason in acquiring him. He is younger than Derick Brassard, a better skater, he is cheaper and has seen his scoring numbers go up each season.
Through 281 career games:#Sens Derick Brassard: 51 goals, 153 points#NYRangers Mika Zibanejad: 64 goals, 151 points
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) July 18, 2016
Zib should slot in at the beginning of the season as the Rangers number two center. He should see time on the Rangers top power-play unit, slotting into Brassard’s former slot there. It is hard to predict who he will be paired with at even strength. Conventional wisdom would probably predict that Nash-Stepan-Zuccarello will be the first line with Miller-Zibanejad-Kreider being the second line. The Rangers could slot Miller in on the front line and push Nash down to the second line to help spread the scoring around as well.
The exciting thing about Zibanejad is that he is still so young, only 23, and has seen his points go up every single year he has been in the league so far. He posted a career-best 51 points this past season in an increased role in Ottawa and could approach 60 points with the right set of linemates in New York this year. He will be forgotten by some because he does not have the name recognition yet, but he should be a target for your fantasy team and could easily be had once you get into the teen rounds of your drafts.
Fantasy Bounce-back Candidate: Rick Nash, LW
Just a season removed from scoring a career-high 42 goals along with 69 points, Nash threw up a dud in 2015-16. To say a dud is being nice. Posting a career-low 15 goals and only 21 assists, Nash posted only a 0.6 point-per-game average.
#NYR Rick Nash scores his first goal since December 30th. He is on pace for a career-low 15 goals this season. pic.twitter.com/mDDYgQ5Bew
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) March 22, 2016
However, he is a bounce-back candidate because he missed 22 games thanks to injury. Even when he was fully healthy last season he looked lost and like he didn’t have it, and he has always been a suspect performer in the post-season. He is a gifted scorer and his 104 goals since joining the Rangers in the 2012-13 season ranks him tied for 16th with Wayne Simmonds and Brad Marchand.
Nash needs to stay healthy, missing a minimum of 17 games in two of the last three seasons and he needs to find the consistency with his linemates again. He will absolutely be a fantasy asset for the Rangers this season and thanks to his lackluster year last season and his injury, he could be had a little later this year than compared to year’s past. While I do not think that Nash will get to 40 goals again, I do think that somewhere in the 25 goals and 30 assists realm is very reachable and would make him a great bounce-back fantasy player.
Impact Fantasy Rookie: Pavel Buchnevich, LW/RW
Rangers fans should be very excited about Buchnevich finally coming over from the KHL to play in the NHL on Broadway. He is a better prospect than Vesey and is the rookie prospect for fantasy owners to target from the Rangers this season.
Like Vesey, Buchnevich was only a third round pick. Unlike Vesey, he was playing against a higher level of competition for the last three seasons in Russia as a teenager and 20-year-old in the KHL. He put up solid numbers in the KHL with Severstal, and a short period with SKA St. Petersburg, posting 87 career points in 158 career games. The book on him when he was drafted was that he is a very good skater and can shoot well. He only posted 37 goals in his time in the KHL but given time and support, he could easily develop into a 20+ goal scorer and be an assist machine in the Rangers system.
The book on him when he was drafted was that he is a very good skater and can shoot well. He only posted 37 goals in his time in the KHL but given time and support, he could easily develop into a 20+ goal scorer and be an assist machine in the Rangers system.
It is not known yet where Buchnevich will slot in for the Rangers this season, or even if he will open the year with the team or down in the AHL with Hartford. However, if he makes the team it is reasonable to expect him to slot in with Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey on the Rangers third line, which would be a very good spot for him to start. Should he play a full season for the Rangers, a 40+ point rookie season, much like Vesey, is not out of the realm of possibility.
The Rangers goaltending, and their season as a whole, hinges on Henrik Lundqvist. He is the best player on the ice for the team night in and night out. He needs to stay healthy, which historically he has good at doing, and as long as he is the Rangers are set in goal. His numbers will be dictated by the defensive help that he gets in front of him but as I said above fantasy players should not be scared off by Lundqvist as a solid first goaltender.
Owners will want to look at other goalies before drafting Hank, but he is still a top-15 goalie with the capability of finishing the year as a top-10 fantasy asset at the position. Antti Raanta is a formidable backup who posted very solid numbers last season for the Blue Shirts. He is capable of being a starter should the need arise but he is nothing more than a spot starter on days when he gets the nod over Lundqvist and you’re in a pinch.