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31 in 31

Three questions facing New York Rangers

Lundqvist resurgence, Kakko expectations among areas of focus

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

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 | Behind the Numbers | Fantasy breakdown]

 

1. Will Henrik Lundqvist return to his all-star form?

The Rangers made moves this offseason to upgrade their talent, including signing forward Artemi Panarin, acquiring and signing defensemen Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox, and selecting forward Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

However, the biggest key to a successful season in New York is still the 37-year-old goalie entering his 15th NHL season in what is potentially a Hall of Fame career.

Lundqvist struggled down the stretch last season and lost playing time to backup Alexandar Georgiev when the Rangers fell out of playoff contention. Lundqvist started 16 of the final 32 games and went 2-11-3 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.

"People forget that Hank went to the All-Star Game last year," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. "As the second half evolved and our team didn't play well, Hank wasn't as good as he likes to be by his own admission." 

Gorton said New York hopes to better balance Lundqvist's playing time this season, which means ceding more starts to Georgiev in the first half so he's fresher in the second half to chase a Stanley Cup Playoff berth.

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Lundqvist

 

2. How good can Kaapo Kakko be in his first season?

The Rangers won't put a ceiling on the potential for the 18-year-old Finland-born forward in his rookie season but have been choosing their words carefully to avoid unrealistic expectations.

"I think we got a chance at a special player," Gorton said after the Rangers used the No. 2 pick at the 2019 NHL Draft on Kakko, who scored 38 points, including a TPS-high 22 goals, in 45 games last season in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, despite being the youngest player on the roster.

Kakko could start the season as high as first-line right wing, playing with center Mika Zibanejad and Panarin. Unless something unforeseen happens, the rookie will at least be a middle-six forward to start the season and could grow into a first-line lock.

Video: Kaapo Kakko ranks No. 2 on the Top Prospects List

 

3. Who will be the No. 2 center?

New York will be eyeing second-year centers Filip Chytil, Brett Howden and Lias Andersson to fill that role; another candidate is Ryan Strome, who had 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) in 63 games with the Rangers last season after they acquired him in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers for center Ryan Spooner on Nov. 16.

Chytil had 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 75 games playing primarily on the wing last season. He turns 20 on Sept. 5. Howden, 21, was mainly a bottom-six center and had 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 66 games. Andersson, 20, struggled after being recalled from Hartford of the American Hockey League. He had six points (two goals, four assists) in 42 games playing mostly on the fourth line.

New York president John Davidson didn't rule out the possibility Kakko could be used at center even though he was drafted as a right wing.

"A lot of people think he can play center and be a very good one," Davidson said.

Video: 31 in 31: New York Rangers 2019-20 season preview

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