The New York Rangers have a lot to look forward to.
This does not stem solely from the fact that the club played postseason hockey for the first time since the 2016-17 season. In regard to short-term success, the team definitely turned heads during the 2019-20 season, even if they were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in three games during the qualifying round.
However, the Rangers’ short-term success is not (and should not) be the reason for excitement.
Instead, excitement should brew from the team’s long-term outlook.
To first understand how this team is set up for the future, it is best to look at the team’s most recent success this past season. The Rangers finished the shortened season with a 37-28-5 record and 79 points. This would be their first season over .500 since the 2016-17 season (48-28-6 with 102 points). Over the course of the regular season, the Rangers scored 233 goals and averaged 3.33 goals per game (GF/GP). Both amounts ranked fifth in the entire NHL. Additionally, their 22.9 power-play percentage (PP%) was seventh. Among all skaters on the roster, four collected 50 points or more. Artemi Panarin led the pack, as the 2020 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist tallied 95 points in his first season at Madison Square Garden (32 G, 63 A). The 28-year-old was followed by 27-year-olds Mika Zibanejad (75 points), Ryan Strome (59 points) and 24-year-old Tony DeAngelo (53 points).
The point of emphasis should not solely come in their age. Yes, all four are in their prime (or nearing it) and should be able to put together similar (or even better) production in future seasons. The main area to point out, though, is that all four skaters came from outside the organization. Panarin was a free agent signed to seven years and $81.5 million last offseason, while the other three skaters were assets brought back in trades.
This alone should be able to prove the notion that the Rangers have solid scouting and talent evaluation at their disposal. After all, their top-four skaters in terms of points originated with clubs not named the Rangers.
However, New York’s front office, spearheaded by general manager Jeff Gorton, has done more than bring in talent from outside the organization.
They have drafted it, too.
Under Gorton’s tenure as general manager (which officially began on July 1, 2015), high-profile prospects drafted by the 52-year-old, including Filip Chytil (2017 in the first round) and Kaapo Kakko (2019 in the first round) have started to collect NHL experience, as both combined to collect 46 points during their 2019-20 rookie seasons.
So, what is the point?
From veterans brought in from other organizations to homegrown prospects, the Rangers, entering the 2019-20 Qualifying Round, had the second youngest team roster among all 24 clubs (25.7). Only the Chicago Blackhawks had a younger roster (25.6). Even still, the distance between the two teams age-wise is not exponential. Regardless, the Rangers took a step in the right direction this past season despite having an extremely youthful team.
Their youth on the roster already, however, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Prospects in Zachary Jones, Nils Lundkvist, Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shesterkin headline a stacked New York farm that is generally stated to be one of the healthier and deeper farms when compared to the rest of the NHL. This is made aware from the overall balance of the system, as Jones and Lundkvist are defenders, Kravtsov is a forward and Shesterkin is a goaltender.
Such is this prospect pipeline further evidence of New York’s positive trend toward long-term success. And to think – this pipeline will only be further reinforced with the first-overall draft selection in the 2020-21 NHL Draft.
With an already young roster, more young players will only enhance the high-ceiling upside the team has. Forwards in Kravtsov (and potentially Alexis Lafreniere in the upcoming draft) will supplement an already potent offense while Jones, Lundkvist and Shesterkin will give the defense and goaltending a fresher look over the duration of a full season (the Rangers’ 34.0 shots allowed and 3.14 goals allowed per game during the 2019-20 season was 30th and tied for 23rd, respectively). Whether if it is in the upcoming season or several seasons after, the upside is there and should bear positive fruit for the Rangers at some point.
In total, you have a current Rangers’ roster that has performed well despite its youth, a farm system bustling with talent and a front office that has helped mold it all together.
Sure, the Rangers had a swift postseason exit this past season, but success has to start somewhere, even if that means having a season over .500 to kickstart it.
It is only the beginning for the Rangers. This alone is enough reason to show excitement.