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Devils, Rangers, Islanders set for next chapter of New York-area hockey

Additions of Hughes, Subban, Kakko, Panarin, Varlamov bring new level of anticipation to players, fan bases

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders each appear to be contenders for sports in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, and players from the three teams say they can sense a growing excitement in the New York City area.

"We feel it around here at least through just talking to people anywhere," Devils center Travis Zajac said. "They're excited about the season. That excitement is not just for the Devils or Rangers, it's for hockey in the area. It's been a few years where you haven't had so many big players throughout the area here. Every team has added, and I think it's going to lead to more intense games and more intense rivalries."

Each team added star power this offseason, especially the Rangers and Devils, who are looking to get to the playoffs, where the Islanders were last season.  

The Devils selected center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on June 21, and the Rangers picked forward Kaapo Kaako No. 2. The Devils acquired defenseman P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators the next day and the Rangers added a big name of their own July 1, signing forward Artemi Panarin to a seven-year contract. 

Video: 31 in 31: New Jersey Devils 2019-20 season preview

New Jersey signed forward Wayne Simmonds that day, and then on July 29 acquired forward Nikita Gusev, who was one of the top players in the Kontinental Hockey League, in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, and signed him to a two-year contract. 

Forward Taylor Hall, who was voted the Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP two seasons ago, is expected to be healthy for the Devils, too, after he missed the last 47 games last season with a knee injury.

The Rangers' offseason haul included defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was acquired in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets on June 17 and signed a seven-year contract July 19.

Not to be left out, the Islanders signed goalie Semyon Varlamov to a four-year contract July 1 after finishing second in the Metropolitan Division and reaching the Eastern Conference Second Round last season. Forwards Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson all resigned with the Islanders and will return this season. 

It's all led Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has played the most games against the Devils and Islanders among active NHL goalies (64 and 61), to think about the future and the intensity these additions will bring to the games between the three teams. 

"If you can feel that extra excitement in the building, if you can feel that it matters to people more, that's going to make it more exciting to go out and play," Lundqvist said. "I think this area too, they love different stories, so maybe we can create that again."

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

The last time all three made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the same season was 2006-07. The Rangers haven't been close to reaching the playoffs the past two seasons after qualifying for seven seasons in a row. The Devils have made it once since 2012, when they defeated the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, the third time in a span of seven seasons the two teams met in the playoffs. The Islanders missed the playoffs the two seasons prior to last and hadn't won a playoff series since 1993 before defeating the Florida Panthers in 2016.

The rivalries have still mattered between the fans, especially in games between the Rangers and Devils and the Rangers and Islanders, but the on-ice product hasn't matched the intensity in the seats. 

"The games kind of flatlined," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said.

Even Islanders center Mathew Barzal, two seasons into his NHL career, mentioned Rangers-Islanders second when answering a question about the best rivalry he's ever played in. 

Barzal's mind went first to Seattle against Everett in the Western Hockey League.

"It's right across the I-5 highway," Barzal said. "Pretty cool."

But Barzal said he has big-time expectations for this season.

"It creates a hockey-related buzz in New York," Barzal said. "That's good. We need that. The Rangers got better. New Jersey got better. We got our guys back. We feel confident with our group. We'll definitely have some good games with those guys this year."

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

The new blood has already felt the intensity in the area. 

"There's Rangers fans in the buildings, Devils fans in the buildings, kind of a split crowd whether it's at [Madison Square Garden] or [Prudential Center]," said Hughes, who faced the Rangers when the Devils hosted them in a preseason game Sept. 20 but did not play against them two nights earlier in New York. 

"It's obviously a really fun rivalry and really similar to Montreal-Toronto. It's way up there in best rivalries in the League."

Subban said that, for all the hype, the three teams must meet high expectations for it all to matter.

"It's going to be about where you are in the standings and playing the games that mean something," Subban said. "When I was playing in Montreal, I always remember those games against Toronto meant something because of the rivalry but the games against Boston meant something more because of where we were in the standings. 

"All three teams here are going to be competitive. It's wide open. We have the talent here for rivalries. I think it could be great."

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