The New York Rangers clinched their second consecutive postseason berth on March 27 following losses from the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres. New York will be looking to make its first Stanley Cup Final since 2014 and win a championship for the first time in 29 years.
The top three clubs in the Metropolitan Division are close as the Carolina Hurricanes have 109 points, New Jersey Devils have 108, and the Rangers have 106. New York still has an outside chance to win the division if they win their remaining two contests and the Hurricanes and Devils do not win another game. It is more likely the Rangers will finish in second or third place in the Metro and play New Jersey or Carolina in the opening round of the 2023 Playoffs.
Let’s take a look at four reasons the Rangers qualified for the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
When Igor Shesterkin made his debut during the 2019-20 season, fans could tell he had the ability to be the Rangers’ next starting goaltender. He has progressed during his four years to become one of the league’s top goalies as he won the Vezina Trophy following the conclusion of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Shesterkin needed to play flawlessly for the Rangers to have a better chance at winning last season. He was undoubtedly the primary reason they finished two wins shy of reaching the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. He has been a key part of their success this year but the offense has improved a bit in goals for per game played (GF/GP). During 2021-22, New York finished 17th in the league with 3.05 GF/GP and this year they are ranked 10th with an average of 3.35 GF/GP.
Shesterkin’s play is significant for the Rangers to win a Stanley Cup. Out of every player on the roster, I have the most confidence in his ability to lead New York to success this postseason. If they win a championship this year, I would expect him to be the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Rangers’ Young Players Continue to Show Positive Development
Filip Chytil finished third on the Rangers with seven goals in 20 playoff contests last season, catching fans’ attention that he could be on the verge of having a breakout year in 2022-23. His previous career high in points was 23 and he has nearly doubled that total with 45 this season. The line of him, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko are seeking to improve further in the postseason as they aim to become key offensive contributors. When the ‘Kid Line’ produces points, New York has a better chance of winning games.
Defensemen K’Andre Miller is having a good season for the Rangers as he continues to form one-half of a dependable defensive pairing with team captain Jacob Trouba. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native has 34 assists in 77 games, becoming another defenseman besides Adam Fox that can contribute offensively. The 23-year-old blueliner leads club defensemen in time on ice (TOI) at even strength with 1,502:54 per Natural Stat Trick. In terms of being a complete player at his position, only Fox has been better for the Rangers this year.
Braden Schneider has done well for the Rangers, becoming a steady blueliner on the third defensive pairing. He is good at delivering hits as he ranks third among defensemen with 140 and leads them with 179 hits taken. He is fourth behind Miller, Fox, and Trouba in time on ice with 1,154:12 at five-on-five play. The 21-year-old is second among blueliners with 117 shots blocked at even strength, further solidifying himself as one of their most reliable defensemen.
New Additions in Trocheck, Tarasenko and Kane
Vincent Trocheck agreed to a seven-year, $39.375 million deal last offseason with the Rangers that has an average annual value (AAV) of $5.625 million through the end of the 2028-29 season. He replaced Ryan Strome as New York’s second-line center and has done a good job in that role as his 63 points this year are the second-highest of his 10-year career.
He has settled in after taking some time earlier in the season to adjust to his new surroundings. The 29-year-old center has benefitted from playing with such players as Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Patrick Kane. Since March 1, Trocheck leads the Rangers at even strength with 12 assists, proving his play has been enhanced with the additions of Tarasenko and Kane.
The Rangers acquired Tarasenko on Feb. 9 in a multi-player deal with the St. Louis Blues, adding an experienced, championship-winning forward to their top six. He has been one of New York’s top offensive players since he was acquired two months ago. He has 15 points at even strength, which ranks fourth among forwards.
President and general manager (GM) Chris Drury further added to the depth on Feb. 28 by trading with the Chicago Blackhawks for Patrick Kane, a former Conn Smythe Trophy and three-time Stanley Cup winner. The Buffalo, New York, native is capable of playing a supporting role during the postseason for the Rangers.
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Kane has not been himself this season as he has been playing with a lower-body injury that caused him to miss back-to-back contests on April 5 and April 6. He returned for their latest win on April 8 versus the Columbus Blue Jackets but head coach Gerard Gallant will be cautious with him over their final two regular season games. The forward is viewed as a central piece in getting the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final considering his previous success with the Blackhawks in the playoffs.
Great Seasons From Other Core Players
Besides Shesterkin, Mika Zibanejad, Panarin, Kreider, and Fox have led the Rangers to their second consecutive playoff berth in 2022-23. Considering the significance of the center position, Zibanejad has become arguably their most important player as he has a new career-high this season with 20 power-play goals (PPGs) and 37 power-play points (PPPs). He has two goals and ten assists in his last ten games, including one goal and five assists on the man advantage.
Panarin continues to be one of the NHL’s top players in racking up assists, leading the Rangers with 63. He is usually one of their top players during the year and needs to translate his regular-season success to the postseason. His game-by-game production last postseason may not show it, but he was inconsistent. I may be expecting too much from him but he needs to be better in the playoffs for the club to win a Stanley Cup.
The Rangers have received many contributions from the players mentioned as well as Kreider and Fox. Kreider is always a threat to score considering his net-front presence. Fox is perhaps the league’s best offensive defenseman as his 59 assists are third among blueliners. He will be in consideration for the Norris Trophy once again following the conclusion of the playoffs.
The Rangers have a tall order ahead of them in winning the Eastern Conference this postseason. Divisional foes in the Hurricanes and Devils are tough, not to mention the teams in the Atlantic Division that include the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Tampa Bay Lightning. If New York is playing at the top of their game collectively, they are capable of reaching the Eastern Conference Final for a second consecutive season. The Bruins or Lightning will be a challenging opponent if one of them advances to the Conference Final as anticipated. However, the Rangers have the talent to compete with any club in a seven-game series and will be a difficult opponent in their own right.