Three bold predictions for the Rangers this season

Alexis Lafreniere should be back on the Rangers top line

It’s that time of year when we get a little crazy. The Rangers have a set roster, for the most part, and we are getting glimpses of what the team will look like this season. The playoffs are expected, and the team is likely to be better than last year. Thus, the expectation is reachable and not unrealistic, unlike last year with that hellish division. This year is different, with the divisions back to normal and the Rangers avoiding the Bruins for most of their schedule. That does matter, and it does factor into the three bold predictions for the Rangers this season.

1. The Rangers will win a playoff round

Let’s double down, shall we? Not only will the Rangers make the playoffs, finishing in the top-three in the division, they will win a playoff round too. The Rangers will get one of the Caps or the Canes in the first round –sorry, I have the Isles winning the division– and then surprise everyone with a big win. The Rangers are more well rounded and better built for when the refs start swallowing the whistle in the playoffs. They have a solid top-six, three legitimate scoring lines, and a fourth line that isn’t useless. Their coach has the experience needed to take a team of misfits and make a run.

But the big difference will be goaltending. The Rangers have the best goalie in the division, and it frankly isn’t even close. Igor Shesterkin will find his groove, and his steadiness in net will be reminiscent of Henrik Lundqvist. Shesterkin won’t necessarily steal a series this year, but he will be a big factor in a Rangers win in six games over one of Carolina or Washington.

May as well lead off with the boldest Rangers prediction of them all, no?

2. Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko will combine for 60 goals and 120 points

The Rangers are banking on this duo to take the Rangers to the next level. With both getting top-six minutes, they will get legitimate opportunities to score at even strength. Combine that with presumed PP1 time for Lafreniere and PP2 time for Kakko, we will see a big shift in points for the Rangers. Alexis Lafreniere will finish with 35+ goals, especially if he spends the year on the top powerplay unit. That leaves 25+ for Kaapo Kakko. Both will pile up the assists as well.

Just a disclaimer here, that there are only a certain number of goals the Rangers can score in a given year. If we assume the Rangers average three goals per game, not including the shootout, that’s about 250 goals for the year. Based on the above, if Kakko and Lafreniere have 60 of them, then the goals will come from others. If we assume Lafreniere takes Buchnevich’s production, then we must also assume Kakko will take some goals from others. It certainly won’t be from Colin Blackwell’s numbers, so if Kakko gets to 25+ goals, expect the goal totals for both Ryan Strome and Artemiy Panarin to come down. If Strome is taken off PP1 for Lafreniere, then the smart money would be on Strome’s goal totals taking a dip. That’s just math.

The future of the team is with Lafreniere and Kakko. They will deliver.

3. Igor Shesterkin will finish as a Vezina finalist

If the Rangers are to succeed, they will need Igor Shesterkin to deliver. That does require staying healthy, which shouldn’t be too big of a concern now. People focus on the bubble play (no training camp prior), last season’s groin injury (no camp or preseason), and then the car accident (freak thing) as proof of a history of injuries. However when you take a step back and look at context, the injury prone moniker doesn’t pass the sniff test. Shesterkin will get the overwhelming majority of starts, 60 of 82 games. The final bold Rangers prediction is that he will finish as the best goalie in the Metro Division, and will be a Vezina finalist with Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Shesterkin is another key cog in the future of the Rangers. The Rangers wouldn’t have committed four years and $5.67 million a year to him if they didn’t expect him to carry the bulk of the load going forward. Shesterkin has delivered at every level thus far, and this year will be his breakout year in the NHL.