The New York Rangers have no shortage of prospects on the horizon, but the potential to add another young forward with Alexis Lafreniere’s skillset is a rare opportunity. Lafreniere, the consensus number one prospect, will find himself playing for a team that is eliminated in the Qualifying Round, as losing teams have a 12.5% chance of winning the first pick. The uniqueness of this situation is not lost on anyone, but the Rangers are the lone team with nothing to lose and everything to gain from whatever destiny beholds.
It has been a miraculous changing of the guard for the Rangers over the past two seasons. After management decided to tear down a roster that had been contenders for nearly ten years, they began a rebuild that was completed just as quickly.
Now the Rangers are back in the postseason (albeit due to the expanded 24-team format) for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign, with the chance to do some damage as well. Looming in the minds of all those who want to see an unforgettable Stanley Cup run is the possibility of a qualifying round exit and a chance to select Lafreniere.
New York has a larger talent pool than most rebuilding teams complimenting already established superstars. With their youth playing well during the 2019-20 season and the emergence of Igor Shesterkin in goal, the Rangers are in a position to be competitive for the foreseeable future. The possibilities of losing and selecting first overall or winning and advancing allow the Rangers to be content with whatever their outcome may be.
Win-Win Situation for the Rangers
Whatever the result may be in this upcoming battle against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers will be victors. If the series ends in defeat, then the Rangers are in the running for the first-overall selection. If they get past the Hurricanes, then they advance to the playoffs to compete for the Cup. Regardless, whether the Rangers play the minimum three games or more, their youthful core will gain playoff experience that they would not have garnered if the season had not been impacted by COVID-19.
With an average age of 25.7, the Blueshirts entered the bubble with the second-youngest roster, trailing only the Chicago Blackhawks. The majority of their squad has yet to appear in a playoff game, making this experience integral. Yes, the energy level without fans present will not be the same, but playing when the stakes are significantly higher will allow Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, and the rest of the young players to taste the postseason.
In an interview with Vincent Z. Mercogliano, Rangers broadcaster Joe Micheletti gave his thoughts on the Rangers youngsters handling the playoffs:
You have to go through that in order to understand it, learn how to deal with it, and then get better,
Micheletti is correct; the young Rangers have an opportunity to compete in a postseason series which could serve as a stepping stone for years to come.
The Rangers Could Win and Advance
After winning all four regular-season matchups against their qualifying round counterparts, New York enters this best-of-five series against the ‘Canes supremely confident. The upstart Rangers could gain even more experience if they continue their dominance over Carolina and reach the round of 16.
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The Rangers have a 31-6 record against their Metropolitan Division rivals since 2011, but the two sides have yet to square off in the postseason. A series victory is one way they can win this season, proving to the rest of the NHL that their temporary rebuild is over.
Despite the Rangers raising their level of play this season, the odd feeling that they are still ahead of their time remains. Thus, this year’s squad is entering the 2020 postseason without the prototypical pressure that comes with high expectations in the playoffs.
New York could not have drawn up a better scenario for themselves. For every team, winning is the ultimate goal. But for the Rangers, failure to win the Stanley Cup is synonymous with this postseason being unsuccessful. With two picks in the first regardless of the outcome, and the 12.5% chance of landing the first pick, not lifting Lord Stanley over their heads is not the end of the world.
No matter which narrative your fandom steers you, one thing is certain: The New York Rangers will be better next year because they participated in the playoffs, whether they make it past Carolina or not.