Coming off a season in which they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games during the Eastern Conference Final, the New York Rangers have not entered a year with high expectations in several seasons. After missing out on the playoffs in 2018 and 2019, losing a qualifying round series in the unique 2020 playoff format, and again absent from the 2021 playoffs, the Rangers performed well, led by the performance of the Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin. The 2022-23 season will be a pivotal year to find out if they are a top team in the Eastern Conference and an elite contender capable of winning a Stanley Cup.
The Rangers lost key trade deadline additions in Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano during free agency and second-line center Ryan Strome. Their most notable additions this offseason were the signing of Vincent Trocheck to replace Strome and re-signing restricted free agent (RFA) Kaapo Kakko for two more years. The organization will have its first team captain in over four seasons in Jacob Trouba when they begin their season in just under two months. Let’s take a look at what a successful season for the club looks like in 2022-23.
More Balance Is Needed Between the Offense and Shesterkin’s Play
Shesterkin was the most valuable player for the Rangers, and if it were not for his performance, they would have fallen short of playing in the Eastern Conference Final last season. There were stretches during the 2021-22 season and playoffs when the offense did not contribute enough, and he needed to play flawlessly in goal for them to win. When they faced the Lightning during last year’s postseason, core players such as Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider each did not contribute offensively during several games of the series.
If the Rangers are to build upon last year’s playoff run in 2022-23, there needs to be more of a balance between the offense and Shesterkin rather than an over-reliance on the offense or the goaltending’s ability to win. Head coach Gerard Gallant commented on the netminder’s performance after the Eastern Conference Final series concluded, “Igor was outstanding. He gave us a chance to win every night, and we got out-chanced in a lot of the games. He was our best player all year long. He did it again in this series,” (from ‘Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin shows he belongs with ‘best in world,’ New York Post, 6/11/22). They cannot be “out-chanced” often next season because they need a balanced offensive attack to have a better opportunity at winning a Stanley Cup.
Rangers Need to Go on Another Long Playoff Run
The Rangers made quite a leap from not qualifying for the playoffs in consecutive years to playing in the Eastern Conference Final last season. To prove they are a legitimate championship contender, they need to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in 2022-23. It will be a tough test, but they are capable of playing deep into the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Unless they are dealing with injuries to key players for most of the season, losing in either the first or second round of the postseason or arguably the Eastern Conference Final for the second year in a row will be a disappointment. Expectations are high, and their core players, except Adam Fox, have been in the prime of their careers for a few years, and the window for them to win a championship is within the next two to three seasons. If Shesterkin has another strong year, more reliable offensive production will increase their chances of winning a Stanley Cup. Panarin, Zibanejad, and Kreider account for three of the top five highest average annual values (AAVs) on the roster, and the club cannot afford any of them to be inconsistent during the playoffs like they were last year and expect to win a championship.
The ‘Kids’ Need to Take the Next Step in Their Developments
Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kakko, who when all are playing on the same line, have been dubbed the ‘Kid Line’ and have had some success playing together. Similar to the rest of the offense, they were not reliable during the playoffs consistently, but all three youngsters need to progress to provide sufficient depth to the roster. Chytil and Kakko each missed parts of the season with injuries, but the trio was not always dependable outside of brief periods over the course of the regular season and playoffs.
Lafreniere, the number one overall selection in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and Kakko, selected with the second overall pick in the 2019 draft, individual outlooks are high due to where the Rangers drafted them. They selected Chytil during the first round in the 2017 draft with the 21st pick as well, so it is understandable why the franchise has hopes for all three of them to succeed. If they can become more reliable offensively in 2022-23, that will create more of an offensive balance during a potentially long postseason run.
The upcoming season brings tremendous expectations for a Rangers team heading into its second year with Gallant as their head coach. They will be looking to reach the Stanley Cup Final a year after falling two wins short of representing the Eastern Conference in the championship round. They have an opportunity to win the Metropolitan Division for the first time since 2014-15 and potentially gain home-ice advantage for a minimum of the first few rounds of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Signing Trocheck makes up for the loss of Strome, and they have an excellent core returning for them in 2022-23. The biggest question is, how they will look come time for the postseason? Will they be too dependent upon Shesterkin again? If they are, expect another year falling short of winning a championship as more of a balance with reliable offensive play led by Panarin, Zibanejad, and Kreider is needed for them to win a Stanley Cup.