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Season Preview

Rangers season preview: Buchnevich must break through

New York needs forward to produce; rookies Andersson, Chytil key to youth movement

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The 2018-19 NHL season begins Oct. 3. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for all 31 teams. Today, the New York Rangers.

Coach: David Quinn (first season)

Last season: 34-39-9, eighth place Metropolitan Division

 

5 KEYS
1. Lundqvist's play

The Rangers will have a new look under Quinn, but they need the same from goalie Henrik Lundqvist if they're going to compete for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Lundqvist, who is entering his 14th NHL season, has been one of the best goalies in the NHL for more than a decade, but he is 36 years old and his numbers have declined in the past two seasons. He has a 2.87 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in 120 games the past two seasons after he had a 2.28 GAA and .921 save percentage in 685 games from 2005-15. His 2.98 GAA last season was the worst of his NHL career.

 

2. Shattenkirk's return

Kevin Shattenkirk's first season with the Rangers was not one he'd like to relive. The 29-year-old defenseman, who signed a four-year contract July 1, 2017, was limited to 46 games before he had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee Jan. 22. He struggled in his 46 games too, but the hope is that was a result of the knee injury, which he sustained in training camp and tried to play through. Shattenkirk had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists), including 12 on the power play, and was minus-14. This season, he could be targeted for top-pair minutes, potentially with Brady Skjei, and the Rangers need him to quarterback the power play. He needs to be New York's comeback player of the year.

 

3. More from their top line 

The Rangers could be dangerous if their projected top line of left wing Chris Kreider, center Mika Zibanejad and right wing Pavel Buchnevich carries its weight. Buchnevich is arguably the Rangers' best pure scoring threat. He's entering his third season, and New York needs him to break out. He had 43 points (14 goals, 29 assists) in 74 games last season but was moved up and down the lineup by former coach Alain Vigneault. Buchnevich has the skill and the ability to play off Kreider's power game if he stays on the top line. Buchnevich, a lefty, and Zibanejad, a righty, also give the Rangers booming shots from each side on the power play.

Video: PHI@NYR: Buchnevich deflects home PPG in the 2nd

 

4. Rookie forwards

The Rangers could have two 19-year-old rookies among their 12 forwards opening night against the Nashville Predators at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 4. Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, each a first-round selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, could be in the top-nine forward group. Chytil, who was drafted as a center, could move to left wing to allow Andersson to play center in the top nine (Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes will be the top two centers). Chytil is a big playmaker whose skills might make him better suited to come off the wall rather than play in the middle. Andersson is a grinding-type center. Chytil had three points (one goal, two assists) in nine games last season, and Andersson had two points (one goal, one assist) in seven games. 

 

5. Smith's resurgence

Quinn said early in training camp the Rangers are banking on Brendan Smith being as good as he was two seasons ago, when he played with bite and was an effective defense partner for Skjei. Smith, 29, finished last season, his first on a four-year contract, with Hartford of the American Hockey League because he was ineffective in New York. He technically finished the season on injured reserve because he broke his hand in practice March 21. Smith should play in a top-six role this season. The Rangers need to count on him again. 

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN
Making the cut

The Rangers have a glut of defensemen pushing for roster spots, but it could be tough to oust the six players who have the inside track. Skjei, Shattenkirk, Smith, Marc Staal, Neal Pionk  and Adam McQuaid, who was acquired in a trade from the Boston Bruins on Sept. 11, look like they should be on the final roster. Tony DeAngelo, John Gilmour, Fredrik Claesson and Rob O'Gara could also make the roster. It's not clear if the Rangers will keep seven or eight defensemen. It also appears Matt Beleskey is battling Cody McLeod for a spot on the fourth forward line. Beleskey injured his shoulder in the preseason game against the New Jersey Devils on Monday.

 

Most intriguing addition

Claesson was the only unrestricted free agent the Rangers signed after July 1. New York signed forwards Ville Meskanen and Michael Lindqvist out of Europe in early May. Neither has stood out in camp, but one or both could eventually be impactful players in the NHL this season. Lindqvist, 24, had 34 points (20 goals, 14 assists) in 33 games with Farjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League last season. Meskanen, 22, had 44 points (24 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games with Ilves in Finland's Liiga last season. 

 

Biggest potential surprise

Pionk, a 23-year-old defenseman, offered a glimpse of his ability last season after making his NHL debut Feb. 9. He had 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 28 games and averaged 22:23 of ice time. Pionk, who the Rangers signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota Duluth, could play top-four minutes and be on the second power-play unit. He averaged 1:15 on the man-advantage last season.

 

Ready to break through

In addition to Buchnevich, who has shown flashes of his elite shot and scoring ability, the Rangers are hoping Andersson and Chytil become the first two from what is now a large group of young players who could make up part of the future core of the team to make the jump to full-time NHL duty. Behind them could be center Brett Howden and defensemen Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren, but odds are they start the season in the AHL. 

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Chris Kreider -- Mika Zibanejad -- Pavel Buchnevich

Filip Chytil -- Kevin Hayes -- Mats Zuccarello

Ryan Spooner -- Lias Andersson -- Jesper Fast

Jimmy Vesey -- Vladislav Namestnikov -- Cody McLeod

Brady Skjei -- Adam McQuaid

Brendan Smith -- Kevin Shattenkirk

Marc Staal -- Neal Pionk

Henrik Lundqvist

Alexandar Georgiev

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