The New York Rangers found themselves in the playoff picture and on a few notable hot streaks throughout the 2019-20 regular season campaign. The mid-season success was due in-part to breakout seasons from players like Adam Fox, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome and Igor Shesterkin. With year two of the rebuild now forever in the past, the Rangers will look for breakout performances from new skaters come the 2020-21 season. The roster still needs retooling from general manager Jeff Gorton heading into next season, but which players as of now are most likely to exceed expectations for next season? Let’s take a look.
Despite have a below average rookie season, Kaapo Kakko may have been the best Ranger in the Qualifying Round during a three-game sweep to the Carolina Hurricanes. He was skating beautifully, seemed more confident on the puck and most importantly, Kakko was definitely not afraid to shoot the puck from anywhere on the ice. And that may have been the rookie’s biggest problem during the regular season.
If the short postseason was any indication of the improvements that could be in store for Kakko’s game next season, the Finnish winger could take a major step forward. Even with his struggles in his first full NHL season, he still managed 23 points in 66 games played. On top of that, he only received approximately 14 minutes of ice time. Sometimes an improved second season comes with more opportunities, and Kakko could find himself having a sophomore surge if given more time to showcase his talents on the ice.
In his second season playing 60-plus games with the Rangers, Chytil was on pace to beat his career high of 23 points before the regular season ended abruptly due to COVID-19. While 14 goals and 9 assists may not be the most eye-opening statistics you’ve seen today, consistent improvement from younger players is key to future success. And, Chytil has done just that so far in his young NHL career.
Chytil has a solid chance to grab the second-line center spot on the Rangers’ roster, especially if Strome is dealt this offseason. If not, and the 20-year-old stays pat on the third line, he could find himself playing with potential franchise cornerstone Alexis Lafrenière. Not too shabby for a third-line gig. Chytil has a very good shot to break his career high in regular season points and to take another big step forward next year.
DeAngelo, Fox and Jacob Trouba all received more attention on the defense this past season than Ryan Lindgren. However, Lindgren quietly made his presence known every game with his physical play on the boards and in front of the net. Paired with Fox, the young defensive duo may just have been the most consistent pairing on the back end for the Rangers.
Lindgren has the necessary tools in his game to take a big step next season. His defensive game is much stronger than his offensive presence, but that comes with opportunities given. If DeAngelo is moved in the offseason, Lindgren can certainly find himself placed consistently on the second power play unit.
Despite playing few power play minutes and only registering 14 total points, Lindgren finished with a plus-minus of 16. That’s very impressive for a young defender who rarely receives time on the power play. If Lindgren improves on the offensive side of his game, his game could take a huge step forward next season.
Yes, I know that Lafrenière isn’t donning the red, white and blue just yet. (from ‘Meet Alexis Lafreniere: Who Rangers will likely pick No. 1 in NHL Draft,’ New York Post, 08/10/2020) However, the Rangers will likely select the left winger after winning the NHL lottery with a mere 12.5% chance to select the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. Assuming Gorton stays pat on the pick and refuses all trade offers for Lafrenière pre-draft, the Rangers will be getting a player that can be inserted into the lineup right away.
With a roster that is already locked and loaded on the left-wing with Hart Trophy candidate Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider, who signed a seven-year contract before the Feb. 2020 trade deadline, Lafrenière will most likely find himself on the third line to start the season. However, he has all of the tools to succeed right away in the NHL.
A realistic projection for the future rookie should be in the ballpark of 40-50 points, which would have a very positive impact for the Rangers’ offensive capabilities. Lafrenière could have a lot of room on the ice, especially considering most defenses will have Panarin and Mika Zibanejad on their minds. Overall, Lafrenière has the chance to break out in his first season in the NHL and will have plenty of opportunities to do so on the Rangers’ roster.
The Rangers are still one of the youngest teams in the NHL, not to mention up-and-coming prospects such as K’Andre Miller and Morgan Barron, who both have very realistic shots at making the roster next season. It’ll be very interesting to see how the roster plays out over the summer, but the Rangers have a handful of players that can take that next step and excel in the 2020-21 campaign.
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.