The Rangers sputtered to a 34-39-9 record in 2017-18, finishing with 77 points, their worst finish since the 2003-04 season. It was a far fall from the 102-point effort they put together in 2016-17, and it cost head coach Alain Vigneault his job.
With no major offseason acquisitions to speak of, the Rangers enter 2018-19 with a roster nearly identical to the one they ended last season with. In an open letter to their fans published last February, Rangers’ management vowed to abandon their normally free-agent heavy style of roster building in favour of a more traditional rebuild. That means Ranger fans will have to suffer through a couple of tough seasons for the first time in nearly 20 years. Strong drafting and development can speed up that process, but the 2018-19 season will almost certainly be one of rebuilding for the Rangers.
➕ Adam McQuaid (Trade)
➕ Fredrik Claesson (Free Agency)
➕ Ville Meskanen (Free Agency)
➕ Dustin Tokarski (Free Agency)
Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad should continue to be heavily-featured on the Rangers’ top line this season. They were effective when paired with Pavel Buchnevich, averaging 33 scoring chances per 60 at 5v5 together. Though they may be productive, a lack of star power leaves the Rangers with the second-worst first line in the league, according to Corsica Hockey Player Ratings.
Mats Zuccarello is more than capable of challenging Buchnevich for a spot on the top line. The 31-year-old played almost 19 minutes a night last season, leading the Rangers in points with 53. He should continue to see a ton of ice time as the Rangers look to boost his value ahead of February’s trade deadline. Given the rebuilding nature of the club, this forward corps could get a serious makeover before the season is done.
Vladislav Namestnikov will be interesting to watch this season. The 25-year-old Russian put up 44 points in 62 games for the Lightning last season, playing mostly with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. He predictably struggled after being traded to the Rangers, registering just 4 points in 19 games.
The Rangers’ blueline hasn’t recovered since losing Ryan McDonagh at the deadline last season. A healthy Kevin Shattenkirk is a welcomed sight at training camp; he missed the last 36 games of the 2017-18 season after having knee surgery. Like the other Ranger veterans, there’s a good chance Shattenkirk ends up on a contending team before the end of the season, so long as he can stay healthy. Don’t be surprised if the Rangers end up retaining a portion of his $6.5 million cap hit to make it happen.
24-year-old Brady Skjei should be somewhat of a minutes-eater for the Rangers this season. He had an ATOI of 21:02 last season but regularly played north of 24 minutes a night following the McDonagh trade. While he is no doubt a competent defenseman, he would never feature on the top pair of a contending team. Him and Shattenkirk rank as the 26th best first-pairing in the NHL, according to Corsica.
Neal Pionk should challenge for a larger role sometime this season. The undrafted 24-year-old put up 14 points in 28 games as a rookie last year. He has some offensive upside and has proven himself to be every bit as capable as the veteran Adam McQuaid at 5v5. McQuaid, Marc Staal, and Shattenkirk should all be on the trade block at some point this season, leaving Pionk and Skjei to shoulder most of the load.
The Rangers’ struggles in 2017-18 cannot be pinned on Henrik Lundqvist. The future hall-of-famer turned in another productive season at age 35, posting a .915 SV% across 63 appearances. No veteran is safe on a rebuilding team, but it’s hard to imagine the Rangers trading their longtime face of the franchise. His $8.5 million cap hit would be difficult for any contender to take on, and a full no-movement clause means any potential trade would need the approval of King Henrik.
The Rangers opted not to retain the services of free-agent goalie Ondrej Pavelec, opening the door for Alexandar Georgiev to backup Lundqvist this season. The 22-year-old Bulgarian impressed in his limited time last year, posting a .918 SV% in 10 appearances. Georgiev could end up seeing north of 30 starts if that strong play carries over into 2018-19, as the Rangers look to ease the workload of the aging Lundqvist.
|Chris Kreider (23)||Mats Zuccarello (38)||Mats Zuccarello (56)||Mika Zibanejad (8)|
|Mika Zibanejad (22)||Kevin Shattenkirk (32)||Mika Zibanejad (49)||Chris Kreider (6)|
|Jimmy Vesey (20)||Mika Zibanejad (27)||Chris Kreider (48)||Kevin Shattenkirk (5)|
- 125. Kevin Shattenkirk — D28
- 141. Henrik Lundqvist — G23
- 157. Mats Zuccarello — RW33
- 194. Mika Zibanejad — C45
- 214. Chris Kreider — LW33
- 227. Brady Skjei — D59
- 240. Pavel Buchnevich — RW48
- 268. Vladislav Namestnikov — LW42
- 277. Alexandar Georgiev — G46
Predicted Metropolitan Standings
While they might be able to outplace the Islanders, the Rangers will have a hard time moving out of the basement of the Metropolitan Division in 2018-19. While the roster has some serviceable pieces, there is a serious lack of star power on this team. With no one seemingly on the verge of a breakout season, we expect their leading point-getter to be right around 50 points again this season. 2018-19 projects to be a write off for the Rangers as they work toward a full rebuild. It won’t be pretty to watch, but a lottery pick and a chance to maybe grab Jack Hughes in next summer’s entry draft would go a long way towards expediting that process.