The New York Rangers are getting set to face off against the Carolina Hurricanes in a best-of-five series starting around July 30. The Rangers have the means for success, including Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad wreaking havoc on the Hurricanes’ defense. We’re already familiar with Panarin’s magical playmaking abilities and Zibanejad’s red-hot goal-scoring at the end of the shortened season.
Who are the other Rangers that will have something to prove during this altered postseason? Let’s dive into which players have the most to gain with positive performances in the playoffs.
When general manager Jeff Gorton pried right-handed defenseman Jacob Trouba away from the Winnipeg Jets just over a year ago, the Rangers front office believed it was a steal. Trouba was coming off of a 50-point season in 2018-19 and played all 82 games. But, after signing a massive seven-year, $56 million contract, he failed to live up to the hype in his first season on Broadway.
With a clean slate in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Trouba has an opportunity to redeem himself after finishing with just 27 points and a minus-12 plus/minus on the ice. To make matters worse, he was outperformed by his defensive counterparts in Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox, who both finished top-15 in scoring in the NHL for defensemen (Trouba finished 56th in scoring). If Trouba wants to prove he can still be the No. 1 defenseman on the Rangers’ roster, he will need a few positive playoff performances against the Hurricanes and beyond.
Despite health issues surrounding Kaapo Kakko as the playoffs inch closer, the young winger will likely get his first NHL postseason experience. The 2019 second-overall pick, like Trouba, did not perform up to high expectations in 2019-20. In 66 games in his rookie campaign, he managed just 23 points. There were times this season where Kakko disappeared on the ice and failed to make much of an offensive impact, especially late in the season as he scored just two goals in the last 16 games of the regular season. However, there is still plenty of room to improve for the Finnish skater and playoffs are a perfect chance for him to grow.
At 19 years old, he should have no problem returning to an NHL-level physicality and use his abilities as a power forward to push pucks deep while wearing opponents out in the offensive zone. Should Kakko use his on-ice strengths to his advantage in the playoffs, it could be a huge confidence boost leading into his sophomore season.
After being traded to the Rangers in Feb. 2018, Brett Howden has failed to make much of an impact as a bottom-six forward. In two seasons on Broadway, he totaled just 42 points in 136 games. The former Tampa Bay Lightning first-round pick will enter his first playoff series as a Ranger and he will need to gain some confidence as an offensive presence moving forward.
If Howden plays poorly in the playoffs, it could mean that Gorton could seriously look into shopping the young winger in the summer, especially considering the prospects that New York will showcase soon in the NHL, such as Vitali Kravtsov. On the other hand, a positive playoff outing could very well save Howden’s roster spot for the time being. This altered playoff format might be Howden’s last chance to prove to New York’s front office that he deserves a spot on the Rangers’ roster come next season.
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The Rangers will need Trouba, Kakko and Howden to perform at a higher level against the Hurricanes and more if New York advances. These players have underperformed for a good portion of the regular season, and each of them should benefit greatly if they have exceptional playoff performances for the Rangers.
Sophomore journalism major at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Business director and play-by-play broadcaster for WMUC Sports. Former intern for the Anton Media Group.