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Season Preview: Rangerstown

The BEARD Hockey Dispersal Draft has come and gone, as has the Entry Draft. It is now time to look at how the New York Rangers stack up to their competition.

In doing so, we will review the expected lines and defensive pairings, and evaluate how the team will play 5-on-5 and on special teams as well as predict where they sit within their division.

Line 1: Chris Kreider / Connor McDavid / Jakub Silfverberg

The top line has the top player on planet Earth. That’s a good start! However, the impressive part of this line is that Silvferberg and Kreider can skate with McDavid and offer fantastic complementary skills. Kreider in particular will be expected to fly down the ice beside McDavid and supply a finisher who goes to the front of the net. Silverberg is no slouch physically either and has good playmaking and finishing. This should be one of the top lines in the league.

Line 2: Jonathan Drouin / Nico Hischer / Filip Zadina

The second line is nicknamed the “Kid Line” as it is short on experience but oozes skill. Again, skating is a premium asset for this trio. While there may be higher rated forwards than Zadina lower down in the line-up, management wants to ensure the high-end prospect gets premium minutes to aid his development as he, and line-mate Hischer, have major potential. Don’t expect this trio to be on the ice late in the game with a lead and they will likely feature mostly offensive zone starts as the Rangers maximize their offensive prowess.

Line 3: Andrew Cogliano / Nick Foligno / Artem Anisimov

The third line is a veteran group that could make up for Line 2’s lack of defensive zone starts. Foligno is one of the team’s better faceoff guys and checkers, while Anisimov is a good complementary scorer that keeps this trio offensively relevant. Cogliano is a the type of versatile 200-foot veteran player that every championship team needs. This line looked more offensively gifted before the Nolan Patrick trade, but more on that later.

Line 4: Alexander Holtz / Vinnie Hinstroza / Chris Stewart

The fourth line currently has the Rangers top prospect without NHL time manning the wing in Alexander Holtz (pending his creation). Depending how he rates, we could see him jumped to the third line to get a little more quality development time. If he is better suited to the AHL to start, Alexander True could team up with Hinstroza and Stewart. Stewart gives the team some veteran toughness while Hinstroza adds some versatility and a little offensive oomph.

Defense Pairing 1: Mikhail Sergachev / Eric Johnson

Johnson is a hard hitting anchor on the backend with high defensive ability and a simple, but effective, offensive element to his game. Sergachev is also physical, is a smooth skater, and has an improving offensive element to his game with good passing skills. His high potential should see him develop into the Rangers top rearguard for years to come.

Defense Pairing 2: Filip Hronek / Olli Maatta

While Sergachev should develop into the teams best all around defender, Hronek could be the most gifted blueliner as his solid passing and scoring skills are paired with elite skating and a sneaky physical presence. Maatta is a 'steady eddy' type that can chip in offensively but takes care of his own zone first and foremost, and he is also physical and tough to play against.

Defense Pairing 3: Brendan Dillon / Adam Boqvist

Brendan Dillon’s overall ability appears to be wasted on a third pairing unit. But the steady, hard-hitting, blueliner will be mentoring one of the most gifted offensive defensemen in the game in Boqvist, who has sky-high potential and impressive offensive skills already.

Power Play 1: Kreider / McDavid / Silfverberg / Sergachev / Drouin

The first thing you will notice on this unit is Drouin is the fourth forward with Sergachev being the lone D-man. Expect the team to set-up with McDavid and Drouin manning either half-wall and Kreider as a net-front presence. Silfverberg will pivot between the offset point position to down below the goal line as the play dictates. McDavid coming off the half board is expected to create serious movement on the defensive box, where there should be a lot of open ice - even against the best penalty kills.

Power Play 2: Anisimov / Hischer / Zadina / Hronek / Boqvist

At first, you would look at this unit and think it is the traditional 3-2 formation - but not so. Boqvist is expected to man the half-wall with Hronek being the blueline pivot in an umbrella formation. Look for Zadina to be the high-slot trigger man, Hischer to be the poor man's McDavid on the other half-wall putting pressure on the defense, and Anisimov to be playing net-front while pivoting to below the goal line (in a similar role as Silvferberg but with slightly less range).

Penalty Kill 1: Foligno / Hischer / E. Johnson / Maatta

Hischer has surprisingly good defensive acumen and pairing him with Foligno gives the Rangers two decent guys on draws, while Johnson and Maatta are two very responsible defensemen. Hischer’s usage will have to be monitored as he shows up on the PP as well, but he can be spelled by Andrew Cogliano if necessary on this unit.

Penalty Kill 2: Silfverberg / McDavid / Sergachev / Dillon

I know what you are thinking - isn’t this the first PP unit? Well no, Dillon is there. Silfverberg actually is one of the best defensive forwards on the roster and McDavid isn’t far off. Currently, most NHL power plays have their first unit featuring four forwards and they stay on the ice for 90 seconds. How would you feel having a four-forward unit on the ice at the tail end of the PP and see McDavid coming over the boards, fresh to kill the last 30 seconds of the PP? The Rangers are guessing that opposing teams play it conservative and remove their best offensive players for the back half of penalties - or risk McDavid and crew taking advantage of the situation.

Obviously balancing ice time will be critical but expect the Rangers to be aggressive here. If Sergachev gets over taxed on the back end, seventh defenseman Slater Koekkoek could get some minutes, and Cogliano could spell either Silfverberg or McDavid if necessary as well.

Goaltending: Semyon Varlamov/Chris Dreidger

Varlamov will do the heavy lifting while Dreidger will split back to backs. Connor Ingram is expected to get most of the development minutes in the AHL, but could be pressed into NHL duty if there is an injury.

Overall Summary

GM Sean McAndrews is very happy with the team he has constructed. Having McDavid gives the Blueshirts an undeniable star player to build around, but the roster skill and youth should also provide a contender now and into the future.

A big part of their success will be Hischer’s ability to play a key role on the team, but also continue to develop into a franchise cornerstone. The same could be said for Sergachev, Zadina, and Hronek to a lesser extent.

The Rangers have recently highlighted that they could be in the market for a depth forward. This will be especially important if Holtz starts the year in the AHL. The team could also potentially look to improve their backup goaltender spot. But if Varlamov can stay healthy (no given considering his history), it may be less of a need.

The depth up front was depleted by the Nolan Patrick trade, but the assets that were brought back were significant.

The Pipeline

The Rangers currently have seven players on their opening day roster aged 23 or younger. Even if you exclude Holtz, having McDavid, Sergachev, Hischer, Boqvist, Hronek, and Zadina as a young NHL capable core is enviable.

The farm team also averages under 25 years old and has plenty of potential, so there could be some good depth coming through as well. However, based on the trade of Patrick and the nearly forgotten trade of Jason Zucker, the prospect pipeline is very well stocked.

Top 10 up-and-comers for the Rangers

1. Alexander Holtz, LW/RW: A primely gifted sniper with excellent hockey IQ

2. Dawson Mercer, C: Unreal puck distributor with a mature all-around game and high end hockey IQ.

3. Tobias Bjornfot, D: High-end defensemen with well-rounded defensive game, but advanced offensive game

4. Philip Broberg, D: Silky smooth defenseman that does everything everywhere on the ice really well

5. Jakob Pelletier, LW: Offensively gifted winger with a nose for the net and an surprisingly abrasive style of play

6. Mathias Emelio Pettersson, C: A later-round pick, Pettersson has been dominating in the NCAA and has been climbing up prospect rankings ever since being drafted.

7. Dustin Wolf, G: An undersized, but over-performing goalie, Wolf is the reigning WHL goaltender of the year and is pushing Spencer Knight for #1 duties in the upcoming World Juniors.

8. Maverick Bourque, C: An absolute wizard with his passing, Bourque combines high-end vision with the physical tools to find team mates. He has underrated finishing skills as well and is a high-end skater that is developing an extra gear as he adds strength to good technique.

9. Patrik Puistola, RW: A high energy, high skill combination player that does all the little things right. An inefficient stride has been cleaned up since his NHL draft date and his prospect stock has picked up significant helium.

10. Vasily Ponomarev, C: An exceptionally skilled center who did well in his first year in North America in the QMJHL. Production didn’t match the eye test, but another year adjusting to the North American game should see stats rise.

Given the high-end young talent already in the pros and the quality of the prospects in the system, the Rangers have to be very excited with their future. The real challenge will be ensuring the team can compete for cups while McDavid is in his prime (thankfully should be for the next 7 years or so).

There are no core pieces that are open to free agency in the immediate future, so there is some wiggle room. But McDavid won’t wait for several years to have a contender in the Big Apple. The pressure is on GM Sean McAndrews, but he appears to have a plan in place and a recipe for success.

Division Preview

We’ve given you a detailed breakdown of the Rangers roster and organization. Now we are going to have a brief look at the other teams in the Metropolitan division.

Given that we just went through a Dispersal Draft, it’s no surprise that there is a lot of balance in the division and it is almost impossible to do a true ranking. But here is a bit of analysis for the other teams the Rangers will be playing the most.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes have a very nice mix upfront with a nice one/two at center in John Tavares and Vincent Trocheck, and skill on the wing with Andrei Svechnikov and Tyler Bertuzzi with balance throughout. On the backend, there are some good pieces - but how much will they get out of Brent Seabrook, Marc Staal, and Michael Del Zotto? Torey Krug could be counted on for a lot of production this year and in the future on the Carolina blueline.

Columbus Blue Jackets

A very well-balanced team with it’s best players north of 30 in Patrick Kane and Erik Karlsson. There is a lot of grit on this team which may see them bully their way to a few wins. If they can make the playoffs, they will not be fun to play against. Definitely in “win now mode”, the roster will need to be rebuilt shortly if the team doesn’t gel.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are a team to be reckoned with, led by Nathan MacKinnon and a blend of youth and veteran skill upfront. They have Roman Josi leading a veteran D-corps, which will need to be very good as they have below league-average goaltending lead by Juuse Saros. Still, there is a lot to like with the roster once you get outside of the blue paint.

Pittsburgh Penguins

In contrast to the Flyers, the Pens have built their team from the crease out with Freddy Andersson in goal and super-elite young blue liners in Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar. There is also some young talent up front in Kappo Kakko, Cody Glass, and Roope Hintz. But you have to squint a little bit to see where the veteran scoring is going to come from. If the youth can carry this team, it will do well - but its asking a lot of the backend if they don’t get some scoring from someone older than 22 up front.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils are built to win now with proven leaders in Jonathan Toews, Brad Marchand, Mattias Ekholm, Jacob Trouba, and Darcy Kuemper in goal. There are some youth pieces, but more are in depth roles and the team made a lot of picks in the draft (although with relatively later picks). There are no glaring holes in the team, but they could be short on star power over the next five years if their core doesn’t deliver soon.

New York Islanders

The Islanders are perhaps the Rangers' biggest rival and have McDavid’s nemesis in Leon Draisaitl, who is teamed with Aleksander Barkov to create a formidable duo upfront with some really good complimentary pieces. The defense is strong, led by Colton Parayko and Josh Morrissey with a decent goalie in Thomas Greiss. They sacrificed some organizational depth to acquire Draisaitl, but there is a lot to like on the island right now and their core should be good for a long time.

Washington Capitals

The Caps have a very interesting roster where their best players are at their peak. But its questionable how many years they will remain there for guys like Tyler Seguin and Ryan Ellis. However, there is enough youth sprinkled throughout the roster with guys like Jakub Vrana, Brock Boeser, and a few others that even if their stars drop off, the others may fill the gap. The team also has a really nice prospect pool and some interesting farm players, so even if the team isn’t a top one immediately, they could be one to watch a few years out.

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