The New York Rangers made significant changes after the 2020-21 season by hiring a new President/general manager in Chris Drury, and a new head coach in Gerard Gallant. The collective goal for the organization is to make the postseason in 2021-22. With a record of 19-7-4, and in second place in the Metropolitan Division, the Blueshirts have exceeded expectations and look poised to advance to being a top team in the East. Let’s take a look at what early Christmas gifts the franchise was given and what is on the wish list.
Gallant Hire Turns Out to Be the Right One
The Rangers were faced with another change at head coach after only a few seasons with David Quinn at the helm. Gallant was hired in order to help the franchise become a contender, as he did when he was the coach of the Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights found immediate success in their inaugural NHL season as they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, which was won by the Washington Capitals. That kind of success does not go unnoticed, and was one of the factors that worked in his favor.
Gallant and the Rangers have exceeded expectations after 29 games this year. While achieving a wild-card spot in the postseason would have been acceptable given the competition in the Metro and this being his first year with the Blueshirts, the franchise is aiming for bigger things. Clinching a wild-card spot would be disappointing given how the coach has helped the team become a contender in the East.
He has not been hesitant in changing the lines if players are struggling, such as with Alexis Lafreniere, or sending a message by scratching a player who may be underperforming, as is the case with Filip Chytil. Lafreniere has been on several different line combinations, and had his minutes reduced by Gallant if the coach was not pleased with the second-year player’s performance. Chytil was a healthy scratch for the game against the Arizona Coyotes, and will return for the game against the Golden Knights. The head coach has helped raise the bar for the franchise, as it has not looked this competitive for the last five seasons.
Fox, Kreider, Shesterkin, Panarin Lead the Rangers
Adam Fox has lived up to the expectations he set for himself after he heard the Norris Trophy due to his play last season. The third-year defenseman leads all players at his position and is third in the NHL with 26 assists. His 13 power play points (PPP) are tied with Roman Josi for the most among defenseman as the Rangers player is a key difference-maker in creating opportunities on the man advantage.
Chris Kreider has been exceptional for the Rangers, and has exceeded expectations in his tenth season. He is on pace to set a new career high in goals, as he had 28 during the 2016-17 and 2018-19 seasons. The Rangers’ forward has 17 goals in 29 games played, and is a threat on the power play (PP), as he ranks second in the league with 10 power-play goals (PPG). His performance this season has been an early Christmas gift for the Rangers.
Igor Shesterkin, who has not played since sustaining a lower-body injury two weeks ago, has excelled when he has played. He has a record of 13-3-2 in 18 games played along with a 2.05 goals-against average (GAA) and a save percentage (SV%) of .937. He has been a factor in close games in getting the Blueshirts a win through his reliable play.
Artemi Panarin has been dependable as usual for the Rangers this year. His 33 points lead the team and are tied with Jonathan Huberdeau, Kirill Kaprizov and Auston Matthews. Panarin has been a factor in setting up chances on the PP, and is an elite passer. He has excelled playing with Ryan Strome on the second line for the Blueshirts.
Rangers Could Use Depth At Forward and Defense
While the Rangers have had success so far, the team could use improvements on its third defensive pair and it’s wing positions. The teams that are going to be sellers have some options that could benefit the Rangers roster. Calvin de Haan, a defenseman of the Chicago Blackhawks, would be a good option for the Rangers to consider acquiring in a trade. “Realistically, he is someone that teams would want especially if they are a playoff-seeking team. He is a reliable, steady defenseman,” said Brooke LoFurno in the most recent episode of Blackhawks Banter.
The Arizona Coyotes could trade some of their veteran players such as Phil Kessel and Shayne Gostisbehere within the next few months. Kessel is in the last year of his contract, and has previous Stanley Cup winning experience, which would be valuable to the players on the Rangers. Gostisbehere has remained healthy this year, and would be a decent option for the Blueshirts on their third defensive pair. He is a defenseman that is skilled offensively and would be another option to put on the PP.
The Philadelphia Flyers have a veteran in Claude Giroux who would be a good acquisition for the Rangers, as he could play on any of the four lines. He has a stat line of 10-14-24 in 28 games played, and leads the team in assists and points this season. He would be a good fit on the second line with Panarin and Strome, or on the top line with Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. While it is unlikely the division rivals would make a trade, the Rangers should consider trading for the Flyers captain if the team decides to be sellers near the trade deadline and make him available to be traded for.
The Rangers have had many things go right for them through the first two months of the season. Gallant has been the right hire the team needed to transition it to a contender in the Metro. Kreider, Fox, Panarin and Shesterkin have developed into a solid core the team can rely on a regular basis. The team needs to add a few pieces for depth to lessen the load on the core. If young players such as Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil can begin to contribute consistently, it would increase the team’s depth but Drury may decide to trade for veteran players if he believes that to be necessary.