Rangers’ 2021-22 Mid-Season Team Awards

The New York Rangers continue to have success in 2021-22 as the season is at the All-Star break. Their record is 30-13-4, and they have 64 points, tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Blueshirts ended their last game before the break with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.

The Rangers did not play well at the end of January, as they lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild before narrowly defeating the Seattle Kraken. They were having difficulty playing a complete 60 minutes effectively throughout these games. They scored the first two goals in the three games, only to relinquish the multi-goal leads in all of the matchups.

However, the team has played well for the majority of the season and found ways to win in games that they have not played well in. Several players have stood out in putting the Rangers in the position they are in at the halfway point of the season. Here are the mid-season team awards for the Blueshirts in 2021-22.

Most Underrated Player: Ryan Strome

Ryan Strome remains one of the most consistent players on the Rangers. While his production does not match that of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, or Artemi Panarin, he remains a mainstay on the second line along with Panarin and on the first power-play unit with those four players. He has nine goals and 25 assists in 43 games in 2021-22. Strome is known for producing more assists than goals throughout his career.

Ryan Strome, New York Rangers
Ryan Strome, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the game on Feb. 1 against the Panthers, Strome jumpstarted the Blueshirts after getting into a fight with Mason Marchment. The Panthers forward hit him earlier in the game, and the Rangers forward challenged him to a fight later in regulation. Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant appreciated the timing of the fight, “It was perfect. He did the job, and I would never tell a guy to fight, but you can’t not respond after a guy hits you like that. Stromer did a great job.”. Strome will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after the season, and it’s uncertain if he and president/general manager (GM) Chris Drury can come to a new contract agreement in order for him to remain a Ranger.

Most Surprising Player: Chris Kreider

Kreider has been in the midst of his best NHL season during his 10th year, with 33 goals and 14 assists in 47 games of play. The Rangers forward leads the league in goals and in power-play goals (PPG) with 17. He has already set a career-high in scoring this season at the All-Star break, as the most goals he tallied in a season were 28 in 2016-17 and 2018-19. He had two goals in the victory against the Panthers.

Related: Rangers’ Kreider on Pace to Have Rare 50-Goal Season

Zibanejad, who plays on the top line and first power-play unit with Kreider, said after the game against the Panthers on Feb. 1, “The pucks go in for him this year. He still does everything that he’s been doing for the last five, six years. I’m just happy to see him get rewarded, and he’s coming up with big goals for our team.”

Previously, in my 2021-22 quarter-season team awards piece, I wrote that Kreider was the Rangers’ most valuable player and the most surprising player. He has continued to astound since then despite his past reputation of being a streaky player. He has been successful at goal scoring in his career due to getting in front of the opposing goaltender and maintaining a net-front presence.

Most Valuable Player: Igor Shesterkin

While Kreider has led the team in scoring, Igor Shesterkin has been just as essential to the success of the franchise in 2021-22. The home crowd at Madison Square Garden has erupted in chants of “Igor!” on several occasions throughout the year. In 29 games played, he has a record of 22-5-2, a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.10, and a .937 save percentage (SV%).

Shesterkin’s GAA is second, and his SV% is first among starting goaltenders. After missing several games in December with a groin injury, he returned to the team briefly at the end of the month before being placed in COVID health and safety protocols in January. After a victory on Jan. 13 against the San Jose Sharks, Kris Knoblauch, who had been filling in as the head coach for Gallant, said about the Rangers’ starting netminder, “I don’t think he gets enough attention. In New York he does, but around the NHL, when you talk about the elite goalies in the league, maybe he gets mentioned once in a while, but he should be mentioned in that conversation all the time” (from ‘Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin’s return ‘gives everyone a little jolt,’ New York Post, 1/13/22).

Shesterkin has been great at playing the puck for his teammates as well. He helped create what turned out to be the go-ahead goal in the win on Feb. 1. “Well, I saw the puck flying toward me. So knowing the fact that it would land in front of me at a poor angle and that could lead to a dangerous rebound, I decided to try and hit it out of the air. Obviously, I sent it down the wing, which turned into a perfect goal-scoring opportunity” (from ‘Igor Shesterkin’s save leads to Rangers’ go-ahead goal,’ New York Post, 2/2/22).

The native of Moscow, Russia, is a candidate to win the Vezina Trophy as he has been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL during 2021-22. It was evident from his first year in 2019-20 that he had the potential to be the starting goalie for the Blueshirts. Shesterkin’s play will be significant to the Rangers’ playoff chances and success in the postseason.

Player to Watch in Second Half of Season

Alexis Lafreniere

The former number one overall selection by the Rangers in the 2020 draft has had an inconsistent year playing under Gallant. The Rangers head coach has put Alexis Lafreniere on various line combinations in order to improve his offensive production. The St-Eustache, Quebec City, Canada native has done well recently in spurts in the top-six when he receives an opportunity due to a player being injured or in COVID protocol.

Lafreniere played well at the beginning of January when he was placed on the second line to fill in for Panarin, who was in COVID protocol. The former first overall pick found success playing with Strome and Barclay Goodrow. Most recently, he received playing time on the first line with Kreider and Zibanejad due to Kaapo Kakko being on injured reserve (IR) with an upper-body injury he sustained on Jan. 22. Lafreniere had a goal in back-to-back games on Jan. 30 against the Kraken and on Feb. 1 against the Panthers.

Alexis Lafreniere New York Rangers
Alexis Lafreniere, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers continue to remain among the top three teams in the Metro. They have not gone on any extensive losing streaks this season, which has allowed them to stay near the top of the Metro. Gallant has made quite the difference in his first year as head coach of the Blueshirts and helped turn the team from a rebuilder to a contender in the Eastern Conference.

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