So much for the slow and steady rebuild.
The New York Rangers catapulted up projected 2019-20 standings this summer thanks to an aggressive offseason from general manager Jeff Gorton.
While the organization is keeping its promise of constructing a contender through its youth, the Rangers weren’t afraid to splash some cash or make a big trade.
It has the team poised to make a run toward the playoffs in a difficult Metropolitan Division that featured five of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams.
It won’t be an easy task considering there is plenty of questions involving the team’s reconstructed defense and its depth down the middle of its forward lines.
With plenty of promise and concern, Metro takes a look at some of the most important things to watch out for regarding the Rangers this season:
While the Rangers have an abundance of youngsters ready to take the torch, the organization lacked an established, marquee name to provide a reliable, immediate threat within the offense.
They got just that in the blockbuster signing of Artemi Panarin, who turned down more money to sign a seven-year, $81 million deal with the Rangers in July.
Panarin is one of the most gifted playmakers in the NHL where he’ll flank the Blueshirts’ first-line left-wing spot for years to come. He’s recorded at least 74 points in each of his first four NHL seasons and is coming off a career-high 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
THE NEXT ONE
While the Rangers offered Panarin the promise of playing in a big market with an Original 6 franchise, they also had just acquired one of the most promising young talents available at the 2019 NHL Draft.
With the No. 2 pick, the Rangers took Finnish right-winger Kaapo Kakko, regarded by many as the top player in the Class of 2019, even better than Jack Hughes — who went No. 1 to the New Jersey Devils.
As an 18-year-old he recorded 22 goals and 16 assists (38 points) in just 45 games in Finland’s top professional league.
Kakko is incredibly strong on the puck and will be a scoring threat from almost anywhere on the ice. Pair that with above-average vision to distribute and the Rangers might have a golden playmaker on their hands.
There was no denying that the Rangers were in desperate need of help on their blue line after allowing 272 goals last season, which was sixth-worst in the Eastern Conference last season.
Gorton was plenty aggressive in finding that help, acquiring Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets and Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes.
The 25-year-old Trouba is coming off a 50-point season with a career-best 48 takeaways, providing a bona fide first-pairing partner alongside Brady Skjei.
Fox, 21, is a Long Island native who has a high-ceiling in the NHL. However, it remains to be seen how he’ll adjust to life in the pros. Expect him to start as a third-pairing blueliner alongside fellow youngster Libor Hajek and work up from there.
THE KING’S LAST STAND?
It’s clear that Henrik Lundqvist’s best days are behind him.
The 37-year-old is coming off his worst season as a pro, going 18-23-10 with a .907 save percentage and a 3.07 goals-against average.
It didn’t help that the defense in front of him was sieve-like — and the hope will be that his numbers will improve after adding the likes of Trouba and Fox on the blue line.
To keep him fresh, it will be imperative for the Rangers to properly manage his time on the ice. Alexander Georgiev performed well last season, which could be enough to earn him more starts in 2019-20.
A well-rested Lundqvist will only increase the chances of a return of “The King,” who has been one of the game’s most reliable goaltenders of this generation.
Rangers 2019-20 projected lines
Artemi Panarin – Mika Zibanejad – Pavel Buchnevich
Chris Kreider – Ryan Strome – Kaapo Kakko
Vladimir Namestnikov – Brett Howden – Jesper Fast
Brendan Lemieux – Lias Andersson – Brendan Smith
Jacob Trouba – Brady Skjei
Marc Staal – Anthony DeAngelo
Libor Hajek – Adam Fox
Metropolitan Division predicted standings
Washington Capitals- 103 pts.
Carolina Hurricanes- 100 pts.
New York Islanders- 95 pts.
Pittsburgh Penguins- 93 pts.
New York Rangers- 90 pts.
New Jersey Devils- 89 pts.
Philadelphia Flyers- 80 pts.
Columbus Blue Jackets- 76 pts.