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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – NEW YORK RANGERS – Team Preview – Player Profiles

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 04: New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) in warm up before a game between the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers on March 4, 2023, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

REVIEW: The Rangers entered 2022-23 as serious contenders, and their performance in the regular season helped reinforce that. Their biggest weakness was their mediocre defense, which finished 16th in 5-on-5 expected goals against (174.2), but that was about the closest the team had to a concern and even that wasn’t a big deal because the Rangers employed goaltender Igor Shesterkin. He posted a 37-13-8 record, 2.48 GAA and .916 save percentage in 58 starts, leaving the Rangers with the fourth-best goals against per game (2.63) despite that mediocre defense. Additionally, while the Rangers’ blueliners didn’t make life easy for Shesterkin, they were great drivers of the offense with former Norris Trophy-winner Adam Fox leading the charge with 12 goals and 72 points. The squad also featured a strong and deep forward cast headlined by Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, who recorded 92 and 91 points, respectively. Seeing this team’s potential, GM Chris Drury put his cards on the table by acquiring forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane before the deadline. The Rangers entered the playoffs equipped for a lengthy run but were ultimately eliminated in a seven-game first round series against the Devils.

What’s Changed? Tarasenko left as a free agent while Kane, who isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the campaign after undergoing offseason hip resurfacing surgery, remains unsigned. The Rangers did add a fresh top-six forward option, though, by signing Blake Wheeler after he was bought out by Winnipeg. Jonathan Quick was also inked to serve as Shesterkin’s new backup.

What would success look like? Given the talent on this team coupled with the fact that Panarin, Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck, Jacob Trouba and Shesterkin are all now firmly in their prime, the goal this season must be a substantial playoff run, if not the Cup. One thing that’d really help in that regard is if Kaapo Kakko and/or Alexis Lafreniere took a significant step forward after recording 40 and 39 points, respectively, last year. Both have the potential to be great top-six forwards, and if they breakout it would elevate what’s already a strong offensive core.

What could go wrong? Shesterkin getting hurt is naturally the nightmare scenario, but it would be an especially big problems this year because the alternative is Quick, who posted a 3.41 GAA and an .882 save percentage in 41 contests last season. Combine that with the fact that Quick will turn 38 in January, and he’s not even a safe bet to be an acceptable backup, let alone assume the starting gig if the need arose. While on the subject of injuries: Panarin, Zibanejad, Fox, Trocheck and Trouba all played the full 82 games last year. Can the Rangers count on being that lucky this time around?

Top Breakout Candidate: A lot is expected of first overall picks, so the fact that Lafreniere has 47 goals and 91 points in 216 career NHL contests is disappointing, but it’s worth remembering that he’ll be turning just 22 on Oct. 11. The Rangers’ offensive depth has also put them in a position to ease him into the lineup far more gradually than a typical top pick, which partially explains his slow growth. Entering a two-year, $4.65 million “show me” contract, Lafreniere has the talent and motivation to take a significant step forward.


Mika Zibanejad

A big strong center who set a career high with 91 points (39 G, 52 A) last season, Zibanejad works well with Panarin, and has averaged more than three shots on goal per game in three of the past four seasons. His 133 goals rank ninth and 297 points ranks 14th in the league over that time. He scored 20 power play goals last season and has 60 goals with the man advantage over the past four seasons, the latter ranking second behind only Leon Draisaitl. Zibanejad has a strong base which allows him to shield the puck effectively, giving him more time to make a play or find an opening for a shot. It is noteworthy that Zibanejad was below break-even in terms of Corsi percentage and expected goal percentage, even though the Blueshirts outscored the opposition 51-34 during five-on-five play with Zibanejad on the ice. Zibanejad had a blistering finish to the regular season, tallying 23 points (7 G, 16 A), with 36 shots on goal in his last 16 games. Of course, like Panarin, Zibanejad struggled in the postseason, with four points (1 G, 3 A) in seven games against New Jersey. Considering how consistently productive he has been in recent seasons 35 goals and 80-plus points should be a fair expectation for Zibanejad’s production in 2023-2024.

Artemi Panarin

Playoff struggles, including zero goals and two assists in a seven-game first-round loss against New Jersey last season, are starting to overshadow Panarin’s outstanding regular season production. In four seasons with the Rangers, he has accumulated 341 points (100 G, 241 A) in 268 games, which ranks fourth in the entire league in that span, finishing behind Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Nathan MacKinnon. That track record suggests that small sample playoff struggles should not be Panarin’s defining characteristic. Panarin has excellent vision on the ice and can find an open teammate with ease, sometimes to the detriment of his own scoring. He has a top tier shot, capable of scoring from distance, but when he gets too focused on playing the setup role, he loses some of his effectiveness. Panarin is also a force on the Blueshirts’ power play.  After the All-Star break, Panarin racked up 42 points (17 G, 25 A) with 75 shots on goal in 33 games. That he would suddenly fall flat in the postseason was hardly a foregone conclusion. There is little reason to believe that his regular-season production is going to dry up, so expect 25-plus goals and 90-plus points from the Rangers’ game-breaking winger.

Vincent Trocheck

A feisty two-way center, Trocheck put up 64 points (22 G, 42 A) in his first season with the Rangers, his most since a career high 75 points for Florida in 2017-2018. He did this despite his shooting percentage dipping to 9.8% after scoring on 12.9% of his shots in the previous two seasons with Carolina. In addition to his point production, Trocheck drives play and brings a physical game, so he offers substantial value in the second-line center spot. He has recorded more than 180 hits in each of the past two seasons, one of 12 forwards to cross that threshold in both seasons. In the last month of the regular season, Trocheck contributed 15 points (3 G, 12 A) in 17 games all while his ice time decreased. He had averaged 19:54 time on ice per game before that point and then played 17:06 per game the rest of the way, losing first unit power play time to Patrick Kane. With Kane unsigned, that could mean that Trocheck returns to the Rangers’ first power play unit, depending on where Blake Wheeler fits in, and Trocheck should still have a good chance to hit 60 points.

Chris Kreider

Kreider was practically guaranteed to regress after scoring 52 goals in 2021-2022 and he did, but 36 goals last season still counted as the second highest total of his career, and he scored one more even strength goal than he did during his 52-goal campaign. Kreider has rare skating ability for a winger of such size. He is listed at 6’ 3”, 230 pounds and when he gets a full head of steam going, he is a handful for defenders. Kreider also uses that size to bang bodies on the forecheck and create space in front of the net. He is superb in the net front position on the power play, setting screens, tipping pucks, and knocking in rebounds. It is not the most glamorous work, but those goals all count, too. Because of the manner in which he scores so many of his goals, Kreider is not in position to pick up a lot of assists. In his last 22 games of the regular season, Kreider had 11 goals and just one assist! The rarity of those helpers does put a limit on Kreider’s scoring totals, but he could still deliver 35 goals this season. It might just come with something like 55 points.

Blake Wheeler

Bought out of the last year of his contract by the Winnipeg Jets, Wheeler will be 37 by the time the season starts, and he is no longer the premier setup man that he was at his peak, but he can still contribute offensively. He has 161 points (48 G, 113 A) in 187 games across the past three seasons, ranking 64th in the league over that time. Wheeler is much more a distributor than shooter, so if he is in a setup role that should still play to his strengths even if he is in the decline phase of his career. Last season started well for Wheeler, as he produced 24 points (8 G, 16 A) in 25 games, he had just five points (1 G, 4 A) in his last 13 games. To his credit, Wheeler earned six points (2 G, 4 A) in Winnipeg’s five-game first-round loss to Vegas. In a supporting role with the Rangers, Wheeler can still put up 55-60 points and, on his bargain contract, that will provide significant value.

Filip Chytil

The Rangers’ third line center busted out last season to set career highs of 22 goals and 45 points. He has a quick release and his confidence noticeably increased as he started to find the net. He had a 13-game stretch from early January to early February in which he scored 11 goals on 36 shots, which was phenomenal production considering he was playing 15 minutes per game. Chytil was obviously not going to keep scoring on 30% of his shots, but he scored 19 of his 22 goals at even strength and his career high shooting percentage of 12.4% was hardly an unreasonably lofty rate. The challenge for Chytil to increase his production is how to get more ice time. With Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck ahead of him on the depth chart, Chytil does face an uphill battle trying to earn more time with a scoring line. Under those circumstances, Chytil should be able to produce 40 points, but if he could find his way to a bigger role, then obviously there is more upside to be discovered.

Kaapo Kakko

Drafted second overall in 2019, Kakko has taken some time to find his footing in the NHL, but he made progress last season, connecting for career highs of 18 goals and 40 points. The puck tends to move the right way when Kakko is on the ice and, aside from his rookie season, the Rangers have outscored the opposition with Kakko on the ice, so the 22-year-old right winger is having a positive impact for the Blueshirts. Can he take his game to another level, one in which he scores more consistently and plays an even bigger role? That should be his objective, but Kakko’s progress has been gradual, so it is hard to fathom a sudden explosion. Consistency can be a challenge for Kakko, but he flashes potential. In a nine-game stretch starting in mid-January, Kakko produced 10 points (2 G, 8 A), and he is still just 22-years-old. If Kakko continues to skate on the third line, then another 40-point season is a reasonable hope. If he earns a spot in the top six, there is room for him to grow offensively.

Alexis Lafreniere

When you are the first overall pick, as Lafreniere was in 2020, expectations are for immediate stardom, rather than preaching patience for eventual results. On one hand, Lafreniere had a career high 39 points (16 G, 23 A) and started to have more of a physical impact with 141 hits last season. At the same time, the first overall pick is three years into his career and is still searching for his first 20-goal campaign. There was an 11-game stretch in January and February last season in which Lafreniere produced 10 points (5 G, 5 A), and that is tempting production from a 21-year-old. Lafreniere’s supporters can note that he has scored 32 even-strength goals in the past two seasons, which is the same number as Sam Reinhart, Rickard Rakell, Jamie Benn, and Brayden Schenn. It is one more even-strength goal than Mika Zibanejad. In any case, if Lafreniere has been disappointing to this point in his career, all hope is not lost. All the same, time is of the essence if he is going to prove that he is more than a third-line winger. Lafreniere does not have great speed at this level and has found it difficult to create separation in the NHL. That may not change, but he is getting comfortable with his physical play and a 40-point season should be within his grasp.

Barclay Goodrow

With back-to-back seasons of more than 30 points, Goodrow has increased his offensive output since arriving in New York. Even so, he is probably playing too much, as the Rangers have been getting outshot handily with Goodrow on the ice. He is a gritty forward who adds a physical presence, but he is paid too much to toil on the fourth line and that is probably where he fits best. Goodrow has surpassed 30 points in both of his seasons with the Rangers but, with any objective evaluation, he would start losing ice time, because the Rangers fare better when he is not on the ice, so it might be a reach to expect a third consecutive 30-point season for Goodrow.


Adam Fox

One of the premier defensemen in the league, Fox won the Norris Trophy in 2020-2021 and has finished fifth and second, respectively, in voting in the two years since. The 25-year-old standout has recorded more than 70 points in back-to-back seasons as he has become very adept at quarterbacking the Rangers’ power play. Fox has a great understanding of the game, anticipates where he needs to be and is confident when he moves the puck. He dominates possession at both ends of the rink and the Rangers have outscored opponents by 82 goals at even strength in Fox’s four NHL seasons, which ranks sixth among defensemen over that span. He is a perennial Norris Trophy contender in his prime. Fox had a nine-game point streak in November, during which he accumulated 14 points (4 G, 10 A), and had two six-game point streaks in January and March, respectively. His consistent power play production should give Fox yet another season with more than 70 points.

K’Andre Miller

The rangy 23-year-old blueliner is emerging as a standout stick-on-puck defender. Standing 6’ 5”, with a great reach and outstanding skating ability, Miller can swallow up the space surrounding any attacking player. His confidence and point production both seemed to spike in his third NHL campaign, as Miller scored 38 of his 43 points at even strength. That is the same number of even-strength points as Miro Heiskanen, Alex Pietrangelo, and Brent Burns. Miller’s offensive breakthrough started in December, when he had 15 points (4 G, 11 A) in a 16-game span. His limited role on the power play does put a ceiling on what Miller can reasonably be expected to produce so it is fair to expect 30 to 35 points. Maybe he can get back to 43 points despite limited power play production, but that is a tall order.

Jacob Trouba

A thundering hitter who is one of the most intimidating defenders in the league, Trouba has recorded 425 hits and 373 blocked shots, ranking seventh and second among defensemen, respectively, while missing just one game in the past two seasons. Trouba is not just a physical presence, however. He is a strong skater who can move the puck and has recorded four seasons with at least 30 points in his career, including the past two seasons, when his per-game shot rates have also been the highest of his career. Trouba was the only Rangers regular to be outscored during five-on-five play, but he also had an expected goals percentage of 49.1%, so getting outscored looks like it was earned. He is not asked to handle a huge offensive role, but Trouba can still contribute in that way. During a nine-game stretch in March, he produced 10 points (4 G, 6 A) with 24 shots on goal. He should still be good to deliver a 30-point season for the Rangers.

Erik Gustafsson

While the veteran blueliner has not necessarily had the most secure place in the lineup for most of his previous six stops in the NHL, he has tended to deliver quality results, so he is a valuable third pair defender who skates and moves the puck well enough to offer support on the power play. In New York, there is little pressure for Gustafsson to play a prime puck-moving role, but he does give the club insurance behind Fox and Miller, at the very least. Gustafsson’s puck skills can lead to some scoring surges. In December of last season, when he was playing for Washington, Gustafsson scored 13 points (6 G, 7 A) in seven games and only two of those points were on the power play. He added eight assists in the last six games that he played for Washington before getting traded to Toronto. There is some variability when setting expectations for Gustafsson, and it just requires a simple look at his track record. There are a lot of ups and down in his career, so the safe expectation is to look for 30 to 35 points, understanding that he is capable of more if he is given the ice time to do it.


Igor Shesterkin

Everyone was watching the Big Apple last season to see if goaltending phenom Igor Shesterkin – who seamlessly transitioned the Rangers from the Henrik Lundqvist era to a new one under his regime – was the real deal. And while the 27-year-old’s fourth year of NHL games didn’t quite yield the same superhuman numbers that he had put up the year prior, he was still good enough to sit comfortably among the league’s biggest threats – even on a team that hadn’t made back-to-back playoff appearances since 2017.

Shesterkin’s game is rivaled by very few around the league; during an era of tumultuous performances and changing guards for the NHL’s goaltending corps, he’s one of the most impressively consistent young talents available. He’s managed to steady the ship for the Rangers as they flirt the line between a quick retooling and a full rebuild, taking the controlled and precise style that Henrik Lundqvist perfected for the Rangers and adding a few twists of explosive strength and speed all his own. He has one of the league’s most consistent baselines; after every shot, he manages to re-set himself flat on the goal line to give himself a better opportunity to face tricky offensive systems designed to draw goaltenders out of position. Add in a strong tracking game and mental read of shooters, coupled with a game that minimizes extra movement to avoid fatigue, and there’s very little about Shesterkin that’s not to like. The only real question this year? Just how he’ll handle sharing a net with a Lundqvist-era legend; he’ll share the crease with none other than Connecticut native Jonathan Quick, who has returned to the East Coast to back up Shesterkin after a disappointing year for Jaroslav Halak as his number two. Quick’s style sits on the opposite end of the spectrum from Shesterkin’s – so it will be interesting to see how the team handles such variance in what they’ll need to do to prepare for games with each of their respective starters.

Projected starts: 60-65