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 are trying to temper their own hype and expectations despite a busy offseason that featured talent upgrades at key positions.
New York signed free agent forward Artemi Panarin, acquired defensemen Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox in separate trades, and selected right wing Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick at the 2019 NHL Draft.
[Rangers 31 IN 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Behind the Numbers | Fantasy breakdown]
Last season, the Rangers (32-36-14) finished 20 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
"I want people to be excited, but I'm also the voice of reason, or I'm going to try to be," said Rangers president John Davidson, who was hired May 17 to replace Glen Sather. "Two or three players don't make a team, don't make a real good team. We're in a much better spot, I think, than what we were some time ago, and it's going to be exciting, but it's still hard. It's hard to win in this league. It's hard to make the playoffs in this league. We're going to get there, but there's no magical things that you do that make it quicker or easier."
Panarin, who signed a seven-year, $81.5 million contract on July 1 (average annual value of $11.6 million), had 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 79 games with the Blue Jackets last season. He will likely be the left wing on the top line with center Mika Zibanejad, who established NHL career highs in goals (30), assists (44), points (74), shots on goal (236) and games played (82) last season.
"I think you put that guy with anyone in the League and asked them if they're excited and [if] the answer isn't, 'Yes, I'm 100 percent excited,' then something's wrong," Zibanejad said of Panarin. "I'm super excited. You see the rumors and you see what's coming and you're hoping for it, you try not to get too excited in case it doesn't happen. But once it did happen, I was super excited, not just for the opportunity to play with him but for the team to get even better."
Video: Panarin lands at No. 8 on the Top 20 Wings list
The Rangers will be banking on a young group of forwards to carry their scoring depth behind Panarin, Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, who tied an NHL career-high with 28 goals in 79 games last season. He has one season remaining on a four-year contract.
Kakko, 18, and Vitali Kravtsov, 19, the No. 9 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, are expected to play in the top nine forwards. Each has the talent to play in the top six.
"Just because you draft good players doesn't mean they're automatically real key players on your team in the NHL," Davidson said. "There are different phases for different players."
Pavel Buchnevich is expected to enter a different phase of his NHL career and build on his production from late last season. The 24-year-old wing, entering his fourth season, scored 12 goals in the final 26 games of 2018-19 after scoring nine in his first 38.
"He turned the corner in that second half," general manager Jeff Gorton said.
The Rangers bought out the remaining two years on defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk's contract to make room for Trouba and potentially Fox.
Trouba was acquired in a trade from the Winnipeg Jets on June 17 and signed an eight-year, $56 million contract July 19 (AAV of $8 million). He had an NHL career-high 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists) in 82 games with the Jets last season and should be New York's new No. 1 defenseman.
Video: Jacob Trouba agrees to deal with Rangers
Fox was a finalist last season for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in NCAA Division I hockey, after the 21-year-old had 48 points (nine goals, 39 assists) in 33 games for Harvard University. Fox was acquired on April 30 in a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes, who were unable to sign him. A native of Jericho, New York, Fox signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Rangers.
"Let's see how it evolves once training camp starts," Gorton said. "Let's see how some of our veteran players come back. Can they be as good, if not better? Can our young guys take another step? There's a lot of questions there that we need answered."
There's rarely a question about Henrik Lundqvist in New York, but the 37-year-old goalie, who is returning for his 15th season, struggled in the second half; he started 16 of the final 32 games last season and was 2-11-3 with a .906 save percentage and 3.20 goals-against average.
"In his own mind, I think he's coming in with a chip on his shoulder ready to show everybody that he's still got game," Gorton said.
Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Lundqvist