The season isn’t even a month old and we’re not yet 1/8 of the way through this marathon, but screw it, I’m ready to call the Rangers contenders once again. In a season when nearly every pundit expected the Blueshirts to fall back to the fringe of the playoff picture due to their leaky defense, New York has instead emerged as a lethal transition team that has speed and skill throughout its lineup, its most dangerous power play in recent memory, and as usual, all-world goaltending.
Indeed, the hype train is leaving the station. NBC analysts Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire agreed that the Blueshirts have re-established themselves among the game’s elite teams and there’s even early buzz that Jeff Gorton could be a candidate for GM of the Year.
So are we getting ahead of ourselves?
“He’s dropped off a little bit for me,” an NHL scout told ESPN’s Craig Custance. “I hate to say it, but I think he’s on the backside of things now.”
There are likely a few reasons for the number of growing doubters:
The Rangers’ 2016-2017 season is still in its infancy, but already positive signs abound for the vaunted rookie class. All of Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich and Brady Skjei have looked very strong in the early going and they’ve quickly emerged as key contributors to a team in transition.
Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a tremendous shock. These aren’t your typical rookies, who are often lanky teenagers from Canadian junior hockey that wow in camp but are still a ways away from growing into their bodies and recognizing their potential.
Each of the Rangers’ rookies reached New York under unique circumstances, but prior to this season one thing they all had in common is that they’d established themselves against adult-level competition.
I tried this post last year and people seemed to really like it, so here’s the second edition!
Adam Clendening – #4
Pretty solid chirps from Clendening directed at the master himself, Paul Bissonnette.
Dan Girardi – #5
The Rangers are going to score a million goals this year
Yes, I know someone needs to get the forwards the puck and there’s still not a clear solution to that conundrum. But the sheer amount of talent up front is pretty impressive. Both Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey look prepared to contribute right out of the gate, and Brandon Pirri has showcased a rare ability to put the puck during the net in the preseason. On top of that, Mika Zibanejad appears capable of picking up right where Derick Brassard left off and then some. The Rangers have more than enough forwards to fill three scoring lines, and even the anticipated checking line should have a much better chance of chipping in offensively than in years past.
New York might have found a power play quarterback
The mandate for Jeff Gorton this offseason was clear: retool the Blueshirts while extending the window to win the Stanley Cup. Though many of us believe that Gorton’s troops will struggle to reach that goal with the defense as currently assembled, he has certainly begun executing a significant makeover.
Up front, Gorton has stockpiled a young group of forwards that stacks up with any in the league. New York will have one of the NHL’s youngest rosters this season with room to grow for many key players still 25 years old or younger including Chris Kreider, Brandon Pirri, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller, Mika Zibanejad, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich – not to mention 26-year-old first-line center Derek Stepan.
– I have no idea where Brandon Pirri fits into the puzzle, but that’s not stopping me from being very pleased by the signing. There’s loads of evidence that Pirri is truly an elite goal scorer, and while he leaves a lot to be desired with his two-way play, being able to put the puck in the net at the rate Pirri does is truly a rare trait.
– The Pirri signing is the latest in a string of moves by the front office that show increasing reliance on #fancystats and sound economical decision-making. Part of the change is due to the team’s tricky cap situation entering the summer, but all of Pirri, Michael Grabner, Josh Jooris and Nathan Gerbe are under-the-radar depth signings that extend the lineup and could turn a mediocre possession team into a good one – if the Blueshirts could fix the defense.
– Remember when everyone briefly panicked about the reports that New York was going to offer Maxim Lapierre a PTO? That seems like a distant memory. He’s probably near 20th on the forward depth chart now.
Now that the Blueshirts have pulled off another late-summer coup and added coveted prospect Jimmy Vesey to their lineup for the coming season, the club is loaded with forwards and many are wondering if the next domino to fall is a deal for help on defense.
But though the Rangers are well equipped to trade from their excess depth, finding a trade partner will be no easy task. This late in the summer teams have basically assembled the rosters they intend to bring to training camp. Adding free agent scraps is one thing, but making a blockbuster move at this point is extremely rare.
After weeks of relative silence, the rumor mill will begin churning again this week as August 15 approaches. That’s the day Jimmy Vesey officially becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The heralded Harvard alum is essentially this year’s version of Kevin Hayes and will draw league-wide interest after spurning first Nashville, then Buffalo after the Sabres traded for his rights prior to the draft.
By most accounts, Vesey is an NHL-ready prospect that could instantly step into an NHL lineup and has legitimate top-six potential.
GM Ray Shero pulled off the coup of the offseason when he landed Taylor Hall from the Oilers in exchange for Adam Larsson. Hall gives New Jersey the top offensive talent to build around its been lacking for years – and with Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique’s continued emergence, plus 2015 first-rounder Pavel Zacha and 2016 top pick Michael McLeod on the way, there are finally some pieces up front. The Devils are set in goal with Cory Schneider firmly entrenched among the league’s best netminders, but New Jersey’s defense was weakened with the departure of Larsson. The Devils signed Ben Lovejoy – who should play major minutes – but they are still waiting for some of their other blueline prospects to emerge. New Jersey won’t be easy to play against, but the Devils are still likely a couple years away from being serious contenders in the division.