The New York Rangers won the offseason, but landing Kaapo Kakko, Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba doesn't guarantee immediate success. Here's everything you need to know about the Rangers heading into the 2019-20 NHL season:
The big question: Is the rebuild over?
The Rangers infamously decided their winning window had closed in February 2018, as management parted with many familiar faces and stockpiled draft picks. Just 20 months later, is it possible they're back in the mix? An excited flurry of offseason moves has the Rangers at least relevant again. In the best-case scenario, the youngsters take a step forward and New York emerges as a dark-horse playoff team. More realistically, we see promise, but 2020-21 is when the Blueshirts actually level up.
Offseason comings and goings, cap situation
With the No. 2 pick of the draft, the Rangers selected dynamic scoring winger Kakko, an early favorite for the Calder Trophy. They also won free agency's top prize by signing Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million deal. New York's blue line improved with top-pairing defenseman Trouba (acquired via a trade with Winnipeg) while rookies Adam Fox and Libor Hajek will get the chance to prove themselves.
The Rangers said most of their big goodbyes at the trade deadline (Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, Adam McQuaid). Neal Pionk and Jimmy Vesey were traded over the summer. The team also bought out defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. After inking restricted free agentsBrendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo, New York has very little cap space.
Kakko scores the most goals for a rookie since 2005-06, when Sidney Crosby scored 39 and Alex Ovechkin had 52. In that span, only Evgeni Malkin has topped 30. Kakko is only 18 years old but has already played with grown men -- and thrived. He put up 26 goals in 50 games in Finland's Liiga last season, then had an incredible World Championships performance, with six goals in 10 games playing against many NHLers.
Breakout candidate: Pavel Buchnevich
All eyes will be on Kakko on the right wing, but look for Buchnevich to take the next step. Buchnevich had 21 goals in just 64 games last season. He'll get a golden opportunity to up that total playing on the top line alongside Mika Zibanejad and Panarin.
Youth. The Rangers are expected to have 13 players on the opening roster age 25 or younger. That includes some of their top prospects. After seeing significant action last season, New York is looking for improvements from 24-year-old Buchenvich, 23-year-old DeAngelo, 19-year-old Filip Chytil and 20-year-old Lias Andersson. Winger Vitali Kravtsov (19) will get a crack at the lineup, while Fox and Hajek (both 21) should get time on the blue line.
Center depth. Zibanejad has become a dependable and dynamic first-line center, and Rangers fans should be excited about the 26-year-old, who feels like he's just hitting his prime. But the guys stacked up behind him -- Chytil, Ryan StromeandBrett Howden -- won't intimidate many opponents.
Rangers in NHL Rank
- 17. Panarin, LW
The Rangers landed in the top spot for prospects, No. 4 for cap and contracts and No. 10 for owner/GM/coach. However, they were dragged down by having the No. 20 ranked current roster.
- 2. Kakko, RW
- 21. Kravtsov, RW
- 37. K'Andre Miller, D
- 40. Adam Fox, D
- 58. Igor Shesterkin, G
- 99. Matthew Robertson, D
Fantasy facts to know
Big upgrades on offense mean Panarin and Kakko will help lift all boats. If there is chemistry with Panarin, Zibanejad may be a top-30 fantasy play (He was almost top-50 last season without much help). Chris Kreider has sleeper potential depending on his role. And Buchnevich could finally break through on offense.
Trouba is going to announce his presence in a big way this season. Playing in the formidable shadow of Dustin Byfuglien for his entire career, Trouba takes over this Rangers team as the unquestioned leader on defense. Career highs should follow across the board.
With the outlook so positive for this Rangers team all of a sudden, what of the 37-year-old Henrik Lundqvist? Normally, you should run away screaming from goaltenders that reached adulthood prior to Y2K, but there might be something here. The only goaltenders to have solid fantasy seasons at Lundqvist's age are Hall of Famers (or soon-to-be Hall of Famers), such as Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour, Patrick Roy and Roberto Luongo. Lundqvist might be among the few whose name doesn't sound out of place with such a group. Don't count him out. -- Sean Allen