By this time next week, the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes will be into their best-of-five play-in series. Training camp is all but over, rosters have been finalized, the Seattle Kraken has been released, and no one has any idea who is injured. Finally, we have some normalcy in this roller coaster of a season.
As teams begin transitioning to their sanitized hotel rooms, let’s catch up on the latest Rangers news.
Artemi Panarin: Hart Trophy Finalist
It’s safe to say that the Rangers made the right move when they broke the bank to bring Artemi Panarin to New York. It may have been a shortened season, but the superstar Russian put together a record-setting year that was on pace to shatter previous Rangers records. He’s practically the sole reason why the team is competing for a playoff spot.
Leon Draisaitl and Nathan MacKinnon are also on the Hart Trophy voting ballot. Both had impeccable seasons. Draisaitl leads the bunch with 110 points, while Panarin ended the season with 95 and MacKinnon with 93. However, Panarin led the league in goals-above-replacement, five-vs-five points, and five-vs-five assists. He was a force at even strength despite playing with linemates who had never eclipsed the 50-point mark before this season.
Panarin should win the Hart Trophy. He’s the surefire MVP of the team and should be the MVP of the league too. Period.
Rangers Arrive in Toronto
The Rangers were training in Tarrytown, NY at the MSG Training Facilities until Sunday afternoon when their accelerated training camp finally came to an end as they transition to Toronto to enter the NHL bubble. Many criticized the NHL’s decision to resume play, but they’ve been able to remain COVID free in the last week of Phase 3 of their Return to Play plan.
There’s a chance that a few cases pop up during Phase 4 when teams converge in the hub cities, but it’s been smooth sailing so far. You gotta commend the NHL and their return to play efforts, especially when the MLB is currently dealing with an outbreak among the Miami Marlins.
Dougie Hamilton Deemed “Unfit to Play”
The NHL loves to keep their injuries as confidential as possible. You thought the ambiguous upper-body or lower-body injury was frustrating, now we’ll have “unfit to play” that will be used about a billion times in the next few weeks. One player that has been diagnosed with a mystery injury is the Carolina Hurricanes’, Dougie Hamilton.
The ‘Canes blue line was already dealt a blow when Brett Pesce was deemed unavailable for the playoffs but now they have to worry about another star on their blue line. Hamilton had 40 points in 47 games before a fractured fibula cut short his season. He was expected to be available for the playoffs, but it appears he’s reinjured himself. However, it’s reportedly not a reaggravation of his leg injury.
If he is out for a few weeks, that suddenly makes the Hurricanes defense look pretty thin. Their reliance on Brady Skjei, Jaccob Slavin, and Sami Vatanen have skyrocketed while younger, more inexperienced players like Haydn Fleury or Jake Bean may be given a larger role. No one wants to see a player go down with an injury, especially of Hamilton’s caliber, but it’s a stroke of luck for the Rangers.
K’Andre Miller Impresses in Camp
One of the most promising and impactful players of the accelerated training camp wasn’t even expected to compete in the playoffs. K’Andre Miller will not be traveling to Toronto with the Rangers but that doesn’t mean he didn’t make a lasting impression on the players and coaching staff.
His time at training camp was everything you could have hoped for. He took massive strides and did ell against top tier competition. There’s reason to believe that if he could have played in Phase 4, he would have. The 6-foot-5, 20-year-old defenseman fits in amongst the Rangers best, playing a physical and comfortable game. If this shortened training camp is any indication, Miller is NHL-ready, despite that he has yet to play his first game of professional hockey.
Brendan Lemieux’s Suspension Becomes Official
The Rangers’ gritty forward will probably be remembered for one of the wackiest suspensions in NHL history. After months of waiting for an official verdict, the Department of Player Safety decided to hand Brendan Lemieux a two-game suspension for his blindside hit on Joonas Donskoi in the Rangers’ final regular-season game in March. It’s bizarre to see a suspension become official months later, but nothing has been normal about this season.
The DOPS ruled that the hit was interference and that Lemieux initiated contact well after Donskoi had released his shot. Tough to argue with the facts here. It was a blatant lack of judgment on Lemieux’s part that inevitably led to injury for Donskoi.
Expect the fourth line to consist of Brett Howden, Greg McKegg, and Julien Gauthier for Game 1 of their play-in series. Depending on how the first two games go, Lemieux could find himself in the press box should there be a Game 3.
What’s Next for the Rangers?
They’ll have a few practices to get accustomed to the Toronto bubble life before they begin their play-in series with the Hurricanes on Aug. 1. By this time next week, we’ll all be watching live Rangers hockey again. Finally, there’s some light at the end of this long and winding COVID-19 tunnel.