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31 in 31

31 in 31

Inside look at New York Rangers

Ability of Zibanejad, Hayes to step up key to success

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the New York Rangers.

The New York Rangers should be fueled with motivation and loaded with opportunity heading into training camp next month.

The motivation comes from the chance to move past the bitter end to last season, their six-game loss to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Second Round, a series they would have won had they not surrendered the lead late in Games 2 and 5 before losing each in overtime.

 

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The opportunity was created by the departure of defenseman Dan Girardi and center Derek Stepan, who aren't in New York anymore because the Rangers decided it was time to move on from them. They bought out the final three seasons of Girardi's six-year contract (he signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning) and traded Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes on June 23. Goalie Antti Raanta also went to Arizona. The Rangers got the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, which they turned into Swedish center Lias Andersson, and 21-year-old right-handed defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.

Girardi and Stepan were alternate captains last season.

"I'm going to look and my staff is going to look and find out who wants to do more, not just on the ice but in the room," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Who wants to expand his role as far as leadership and example and influence?"

Video: 31 in 31: New York Rangers 2017-18 season preview

One of those players has to be defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, the prize of the 2017 class of unrestricted free agents who signed a four-year, $26.6 million contract July 1.

Shattenkirk, who grew up a Rangers fan in New Rochelle, New York, a suburban town 20 miles northeast of Madison Square Garden, had offers from other teams and left millions of dollars and at least three more years of job security on the table to sign with his hometown team. He has to jump-start the offense from the back end, likely as captain Ryan McDonagh's new defense partner (Girardi's former role), and run the power play from the right point.

"If you can bring it home in New York, for me, it's something you can never replicate anywhere else," Shattenkirk said. "New York is New York, and as critical as the fan base is and the media, they're just as happy to see you win and your legacy will kind of live on forever."

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Shattenkirk nets PPG for OT win

Moving Stepan created the opportunity for Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes to expand their roles by becoming the centers of the top two lines.

Stepan was the Rangers' No. 1 center, playing 18:36 per game in all situations last season. He averaged 55 points per season the past four seasons. Neither Zibanejad nor Hayes have had a 55-point season in the NHL, but the Rangers need each to be better than he's been at any other point in his career.

"There is a lot of upside that hasn't been tapped into yet," Vigneault said. "It's there for both of those guys."

Zibanejad, who had 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 56 games last season, his first in New York after five with the Senators, agreed to a five-year, $26.75 million contract July 25. He is expected to be the No. 1 center after being the No. 2 last season.

Video: OTT@NYR, Gm6: Zibanejad breaks in, roofs wrister

"The organization has given him a pretty good deal here, pretty good money, so I think we've done our part as far as showing him the confidence we have in his ability," Vigneault said. "Now it's in his hands. He has to thrive on the pressure that's in front of him. He has to thrive on the challenge that's in front of him. He's got to get it done."

Hayes, who is entering his fourth season in the League after scoring an NHL career-high 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) in 2016-17, should be the No. 2 center after being the third-line center the past two seasons.

"It's the time to prove that I'm capable of being that guy," Hayes said.

Buoyed by goalie Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers have proven a lot this decade.

They have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs every season since 2010-11. They went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and got as far as the Eastern Conference Final two other times (2012, 2015). No team has played in more playoff games than the Rangers since 2011 (98).

Video: OTT@NYR, Gm6: Lundqvist denies Pyatt on two-on-one

However, Stepan and Girardi were big parts of those teams, and now they're gone. Changes have been made, opportunities created and a free agent prize added. It's enough to make the Rangers feel they're gassed up for another chase for the Stanley Cup.

"When you don't win, you have to make changes," Hayes said. "We went through changes that I think will help our team. We have elite forwards, our D is really good, and we still have [Lundqvist] in net. I think we'll be contenders."

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