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Rangers season preview: Panarin, Kakko should accelerate playoff hopes

Power play receives boost; Trouba ready for bigger role after trade from Jets

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. 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 each of the 31 teams. Today, the New York Rangers.

 

Coach: David Quinn (second season)

Last season: 32-36-14; seventh place Metropolitan Division

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Panarin's production

Artemi Panarin signed a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with the Rangers on July 1. The 27-year-old left wing is expected to team with center Mika Zibanejad on the top line to give the Rangers a dynamic 1-2 scoring punch. Panarin had an NHL career-best 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 79 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, and 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 81 games two seasons ago. The Rangers haven't had a player reach 80 points in a season since Marian Gaborik had 86 (42 goals, 44 assists) in 2009-10. Panarin sustained a mild groin strain in a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils on Sept. 18, but the injury is not considered to be serious.

Video: NJD@NYR: Panarin hammers home one-time PPG

 

2. Lundqvist's ability to bounce back

Henrik Lundqvist represented the Rangers in the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, but it seems like a distant memory after his struggles in the second half last season when he went 2-11-3 with a .906 save percentage and 3.20 goals-against average in starting 16 of the final 32 games. Lundqvist says he is rejuvenated and excited by the changes the Rangers have made. They are still relying on the 37-year-old to be their No. 1 goalie, and he has to deliver even better than his first-half numbers from last season (16-12-7, .908 save percentage, 3.20 GAA) if they want to be a playoff team.

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Lundqvist

 

3. Kakko's development

Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, is expected to be a top-six forward, likely starting as the right wing on the second line. The 18-year-old is also going to play on the right side of the top power-play unit. The Rangers have been running their power play through Kakko in practices and preseason games, an indication as to how much he will likely touch the puck on the power play. There are high expectations for Kakko, who appears unfazed by them so far. Much of the Rangers' season will be about Kakko's development and impact.

 

4. Bigger role for Trouba in new home

The Rangers acquired Jacob Trouba in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets on June 17. They signed the right-handed defenseman to a seven-year, $56 million contract on July 19. Trouba will play with Brady Skjei on the top defense pair to start the season. He figures to play roughly 25 minutes per game and in all situations, including as the point man on the first power-play unit. Trouba had an NHL career-best 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists) with the Jets last season, but he's always been the No. 2 right-handed defenseman behind Dustin Byfuglien. He's expected to have an elevated role with the Rangers.

 

5. Development of young players

The Rangers aren't hiding the fact that they will be young this season. It's possible that they will have seven players who are 21 years old or younger in their opening-night lineup. Kakko, plus 21-year-old rookie defensemen Adam Fox and Libor Hajek, are close to locks. Filip Chytil (19), Lias Andersson (20) and Brett Howden (21) are all playing as centers now, but at least one might have to move to the wing to be in the lineup. Rookie right wing Vitali Kravtsov (19) is another top prospect. How they develop this season will determine how close the Rangers are to becoming a Stanley Cup contender again.

Video: NYR@NJD: Howden tips in power-play goal in front

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

Quinn has liked what he's seen from Greg McKegg, who could have the inside track to win the job as the fourth-line center. Chytil, Andersson and Howden appear to be vying to center the second and third lines if the Rangers decide to use Ryan Strome on the wing. Boo Nieves could start the season as an extra or with Hartford of the American Hockey League. Brendan Smith's ability to play either forward or defense has the potential to save him a roster spot.

 

Most intriguing addition

Panarin is the gamechanger the Rangers haven't had in a while. He has 320 points (116 goals, 204 assists) in 322 NHL games through four seasons. The Rangers don't view Panarin as a quick-fix player; they signed him with the intention of growing with him through his prime years.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Pavel Buchnevich is expected to get the first chance to play on the top line with Panarin and Zibanejad. The 24-year-old left wing had a strong finish to last season, scoring 12 goals in his final 26 games after scoring nine in his first 38.

 

Ready to break through

Chytil is being given the opportunity to play center after spending most of last season, when he was a rookie, on the wing. He has a chance to be the No. 2 center, which would likely put him on a line with Kakko and left wing Chris Kreider to start the season. Chytil had 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 75 games last season. If he makes it and has a strong start, he could double that production this season.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Fox (average draft position: 177.3), who led the NCAA in points per game (1.45; 48 points in 33 games) in his junior season at Harvard University, has a chance to capture the first power-play role over Trouba, bringing exposure to Panarin, Zibanejad and Kakko. -- Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Artemi Panarin -- Mika Zibanejad -- Pavel Buchnevich

Chris Kreider -- Filip Chytil -- Kaapo Kakko

Vladislav Namestnikov -- Lias Andersson -- Ryan Strome

Brendan Lemieux -- Greg McKegg -- Jesper Fast

Brady Skjei -- Jacob Trouba

Marc Staal -- Tony DeAngelo

Libor Hajek -- Adam Fox

Henrik Lundqvist

Alexandar Georgiev

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