NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the New York Rangers.
[Rangers 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]
1. Can Henrik Lundqvist be better than he was last season?
Lundqvist was 26-26-7 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 63 games last season, but many times, especially in the second half of the season, he was the difference between the Rangers staying in a game and getting blown out.
For New York to improve after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in Lundqvist's 13-season NHL career, the 36-year-old goaltender has to put up better numbers, which have declined in each of the past two seasons. His statistical dip coincided with the Rangers' poor defensive play, and there is no guarantee they will be better defensively than last season, when they were 28th in the NHL in goals-against (3.21). Still, a good part of the growth the Rangers hope to see this season hinges on Lundqvist.
To make it more difficult, he isn't expected to have a proven NHL goalie as his backup. The top two candidates are Alexandar Georgiev and Marek Mazanec, who between them have played 41 NHL games. Georgiev played in 10 last season, and Mazanec has played in six since 2014-15 and none last season. The Rangers also agreed to terms on a one-year contract with Dustin Tokarski on Aug. 20. Tokarski hasn't played in the NHL since the 2016-17 season and has played 39 games in six NHL seasons.
Video: 31 in 31: New York Rangers 2018-19 season preview
2. Is Kevin Hayes' future still in New York?
Hayes, the No. 2 center, agreed to a one-year contract July 30. The Rangers like the 26-year-old, who had 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) in 76 games last season, but weren't ready to commit long term to him because they want to see what they have with rookie centers Lias Andersson, 19, and Filip Chytil, 18, each a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. If Andersson and Chytil become impactful NHL players this season, the Rangers could trade Hayes before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline. If either struggles, or both do, the Rangers could try to sign Hayes to a long-term contract. First-year coach David Quinn said Hayes told him he wants to be in New York and wants to be a leader for the young players. Hayes will have to prove that.
Video: CBJ@NYR: Hayes finds twine on shorthanded breakaway
3. How many rookies will make the team out of training camp?
Neither Quinn nor general manager Jeff Gorton would speculate on a number, but the Rangers could have at least five rookies on their opening roster. The most obvious candidates are Chytil, Andersson, Georgiev, 22, and forwards Michael Lindqvist, 23, and Ville Meskanen, 22. Lindqvist and Meskanen were signed as free agents from Europe on May 2 and 3. Others who could earn roster spots include four 20-year-olds: center Brett Howden and defensemen Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren and Sean Day. Gorton and Quinn each said the roster competition in training camp will be wide open and nobody will be held back because of a lack of experience.