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5 Questions: New York Rangers

Major focus on Rick Nash's production, contributions of Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five major questions that could define the 2016-2017 season for the New York Rangers:

 

How big of an impact will rookies Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich have?

The Rangers want to have three viable scoring lines, which means Vesey and Buchnevich need to contribute right away. They are scoring wings who each are likely going to start the season in New York's top-nine forward group. Vesey, a left-handed shooter at left wing, could start with Derek Stepan or Kevin Hayes as his center. Vesey, 23, won the Hobey Baker Award playing for Harvard last season. Buchnevich, 21, a left-handed shooter who plays on the right wing, could start the season with Mika Zibanejad as the center on his line. 

 

Will defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal rebound?

The Rangers are banking on it. They don't have much of a choice. They didn't want to dole out significant money in buyouts, so they need Girardi, 32, and Staal, 29, to be better than they were last season, when they struggled with reads, speed, breakouts and in-zone coverage assignments. Each has said he feels the need to prove himself again, and each will have his chance. 

Video: NYR@PHI: Girardi, Lundqvist combine to stop Giroux

 

Can Rick Nash double his goal production from last season?

If he does, it'll mean he'll score 30 goals. Thirty goals for Nash, 32, would be ideal, maybe even too much to ask for. However, 30 goals would also be 15 more than he had last season and 12 fewer than he had two seasons ago, when he scored an NHL career-high 42 in 80 games. Nash was limited to 60 games last season because of a left leg injury, but the typically streaky scorer never got on a sustained hot streak. Nash said earlier in training camp he has to prove he belongs on the team. He's on the team, but his role will diminish if he can't produce more.

 

Will Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller take the next step?

Miller did to a degree last season, when he scored 43 points (22 goals, 21 assists). He should be able to build on that this season and improve his overall two-way game. Hayes took a step back in 2015-16 after a strong rookie season. He had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in 79 games as a rookie; he dipped to 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 79 games last season. Hayes was criticized by coach Alain Vigneault for not reaching his potential. He eventually was scratched with the intent of it being a message. He also was scratched in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers need Hayes to be a scoring threat and physical presence as their third-line center. Like Buchnevich and Vesey, if the Rangers want three viable scoring lines, they'll need Hayes and Miller to produce.

Video: NYR@NJD: Miller gives Rangers lead with second goal 

 

Who will quarterback the power play?

This is an issue because Keith Yandle is now playing for the Florida Panthers and the power play ran through Yandle last season when he led the Rangers with 20 power-play assists, including 12 primary assists. Yandle had 22 power-play points, tied for first on the Rangers with Derick Brassard, now playing for the Ottawa Senators. New York was 14th in the League on the power play last season at 18.6 percent. The Rangers power play likely will have to run through captain Ryan McDonagh at the left point. They'll need Zibanejad, acquired for Brassard in a trade with the Senators on July 18, to be productive on it, too. McDonagh had nine points on the power play last season; Zibanejad had 11 with Ottawa. The Rangers don't have a big shooter on their power play. Final assessment: They better be good at even strength.

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