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Rangers relying on rebuilt forward depth, Boyle

by Tal Pinchevsky / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

The New York Rangers enjoyed a landmark 2013-14 season in which they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings. But it wasn't long after the season ended that changes were made up and down the roster.

The New York Rangers had a number of things go their way en route to making the Stanley Cup Final. They're relying on rebuilt forward depth and the addition of Dan Boyle in 2014-15. (Photo: Scott Levy/NHLI, Nick Lust/NHLI)

Key depth players including forwards Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle, and defenseman Anton Stralman, left in free agency, forcing the Rangers to scramble to find reinforcements. Despite the changes, the core of the roster remains mostly intact, as does coach Alain Vigneault's staff, which added assistant Darryl Williams after Daniel Lacroix was hired by the Montreal Canadiens.

There are some big names facing free agency next summer, but for the time being the Rangers believe they can continue the success they enjoyed last season.

"Everybody is excited and really working hard and talking about training camp and getting in shape," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "As a player, you just do your part. The best thing is our group is real close and we'll get everyone on board right away."

The Rangers had a number of things go their way en route to making the Final. Here are three keys to making sure they enjoy similar success in 2014-15:

1. Recapture forward depth -- New York's greatest strength last season was its ability to roll four forward lines night in and night out, but with the roster turnover and a serious injury to top-line center Derek Stepan, that depth will be put to the test. 

Stepan sustained a broken fibula during a conditioning drill Sept. 24 and will miss 4-6 weeks. That could keep him out for the first 12 games of the regular season.

Offseason acquisitions Matthew Lombardi, Lee Stempniak, Kevin Hayes and Tanner Glass will be asked to replace some of that forward depth, as will prospects like J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo and Anthony Duclair. New York might be able to find that scoring depth again, but the true challenge could be rebuilding a fourth line that was dismantled with the loss of Boyle and Derek Dorsett, who was traded to the Vancouver Canucks.

2. Dan Boyle steps up -- The Stanley Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist was signed for two years to help compensate for the loss of Stralman. Boyle's skill set is strikingly different from what Stralman brought to the rink, but he is a veteran presence capable of filling a deep hole on New York's blue line.

Signing with New York reunites Boyle with former teammate Martin St. Louis. They won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and will likely work together on the top power play unit. That's where Boyle's contributions will be most valuable. He'll likely provide a significant upgrade on the point with the man advantage, a spot previously occupied by Richards.

Boyle's greatest contribution should be in improving a power play that ranked 15th in the League with an 18.2-percent success rate before disappearing for much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

3. Get off to a better start -- Starts were problematic for the Rangers in a number of ways. With a rebuilt coaching staff forced to hold training camp in Alberta thanks to the final stages of renovations at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers won three of their first 10 games last season.

Even though they eventually hit their stride, they scored first in 38 of their 82 regular-season games. Only seven teams scored first less frequently and none of them made the playoffs. The Rangers' 31-5-2 record when scoring first was among the best in the NHL, but they could benefit from opening the scoring more often, especially considering they went 14-26-4 when the opposition scored first, a 31.8-percent win rate that ranked 13th in the League.

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