Rangers Must Balance Ensuring Success and Developing Talent

The New York Rangers are in a unique position heading into the offseason. While most teams must either focus on developing or winning with their current core, the Rangers must do both. 

After a disappointing first-round loss to the New Jersey Devils and deciding to part ways with head coach Gerard Gallant, the organization has to focus on getting the most out of their veteran core made up of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Artemi Panarin, a group all in their 30s with plenty more to give to the team. At the same time, younger players like Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko should be ready to contribute more to the team’s success. Looking forward, general manager Chris Drury must ensure that the team can balance developing young players with large upsides with maintaining a win-now mentality.

The difficulty that comes with finding this balance is a good problem to have for the Rangers, but if not handled correctly, could result in the organization seriously misusing valuable time and resources. 

Taking Advantage of Veteran Talent

Since the Rangers’ surprisingly successful run in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team’s championship window has been open, and the team should expect to be serious contenders for the Stanley Cup in the years to come. So long as Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin can put up 90-point seasons, Igor Shesterkin remains a top goaltender, and Adam Fox logs Norris-worthy seasons, the Rangers should have high expectations for themselves. 

Mika Zibanejad New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, with much of their forward core in their thirties, the Rangers have to approach the upcoming seasons with a sense of urgency. While Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad are playing some of their best hockey at this point in their careers, the front office does have to anticipate that this won’t be the case indefinitely and act accordingly to capitalize on the peaks of the careers of their best players. 

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For these reasons, the Rangers have to invest in the immediate future this offseason. While their salary cap situation limits any major free agent signings or significant trades, they can focus on hiring a coach with a proven track record of getting the most out of veteran talent. 

Developing Young Talent

The Rangers can’t just focus on the near future, though. They also have to consider the long-term success of the team, and that success largely depends on the development of forwards Lafrenière, Chytil, and Kakko, and defensemen K’Andre Miller, Braden Schneider, and Zac Jones. After trading away several draft picks over the last two years to make acquisitions at the trade deadline, the future of the team really does lie in the hands of those already within the organization, which also includes players like Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle who have yet to occupy a roster spot on the team. 

Filip Chytil New York Rangers
Filip Chytil, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Few of the Rangers’ younger players have had a smooth development process so far. Though the “Kid Line” made up of Lafrenière, Chytil, and Kakko has made significant improvement in the last year, the trio still isn’t producing the kind of offense they were expected to when they were drafted. While Miller and Schneider have more or less seen steady improvement, Jones’ future with the Rangers remains uncertain, as he only played 16 games in the NHL throughout the 2022-23 season. 

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The Rangers need to know what they have in their young players so they can make informed decisions about contracts and possible trades. In order to do so, they need to set each player up for success. Right now, that requires hiring a coach that has experience helping younger players reach their full potential. 

Looking Ahead

The Rangers have a lot going for them as they start to think about the 2023-24 season, but they need to be aware that each choice they make has to balance the urgency that comes with trying to build a championship-caliber team and the patience it takes to develop talent. Drury’s decision of who is best fit to occupy the position of head coach will serve as a clear indication of how he wants to balance these two priorities.

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