Rangers kickoff 2020-21 season by facing Islanders at MSG
The Rangers kick off the 2020-21 season with a pair of games against the Islanders, the first coming tonight at MSG. New York, as part of the East Division, will face each of their seven division rivals eight times for a total of 56 games, The top four teams will make the playoffs, creating an uphill battle for the Blueshirts in what may be the toughest division.
New York has opted again not to name a captain this season, instead, going with four alternative captains. Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba and Mika Zibanejad will wear the "A" on their jerseys. Panarin and Trouba replace Jesper Fast and Marc Staal, who donned the A last season. Kreider and Zibanejad both wore an "A" last season and either one could have been named captain this year with little pushback, but team management decided to go with four A's rather than one C this year. You wonder who, if anyone, will be the Captain in the future.
Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich
Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome-Kaapo Kakko
Alexis Lafreniere-Filip Chytil-Julien Gauthier
Brendan Lemeiux-Brett Howden-Phil Di Giuseppe
You could come up with a question for each one of the forwards. I expect Mr. Happy to continue his fine play from training camp, taking that next step forward. If not, who skates on the top line? Can Ryan Strome repeat the chemistry with Panarin? Does Kakko ably and seamlessly replace Jesper Fast while also building off the gains he had last offseason before the play-in round? Will Chytil show he can be the 3C or future 2C or will New York need to fully explore trading for PLD? If Laf doesn't win the Calder or finish second to Shesh, is it a disappointing campaign? Gauthier has the size and skill to succeed, but he has failed to put it all together at the parent level. Is this the year he does? Will Lemiuex learn from his mistakes last year or repeat the same errors, landing in the press box? This needs to be a year of growth for Howden or he will most certainly end up on the expansion draft list. What do we need to see from him to make it a successful campaign? PDG kept his spot with a string camp, but Kevin Rooney looms and he could eventually lose his spot in the lineup to Morgan Barron or Vitali Kravtsov. But for now, he is the fourth line winger.
K'Andre Miller-Jacob Trouba
Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox
Jack Johnson-Tony DeAngelo
The Praying Mantis, Miller, will be thrown into the fire right from the get-go. He impressed in the bubble last year and carried that growth into training camp. Originally, the plan seemed to be to shift ADA to the left side, but the experiment didn't last long. If Miller can prove capable opposite Trouba, we should also see improved play from him, which should go a long way to improving what was a weak blueliner. He brings size and quickness, allowing him to close gaps and limit time and space, a big issue last year.
We know how good Lindgren and Fox were last season, Give me a similar year this season and I will be ecstatic. Fox is viewed as a certainty, Lindgren, not yet. But the hope is that they can develop into the modern version of Brian Leetch and Jeff Beukeboom.
The third pair may be one where we hide our eyes. So much ink has been spilled on Johnson, writing more just seems a waste. if we don't have to say much, that means he is doing his job, which likely would shock us all. We know what ADA can do offensively, the growth needs to come on the defensive side, which is where he has struggled in the past. If he can make strides on that side of the ice, that too would go a long way to improving the team's defensive metrics. Brendan Smith is waiting in the wings and we know that the pipeline is strong, including Matthew Robertson, Tarmo Reunanen and others this year with Nils Lundkvist down the pike.
For the first time since 2004, someone other than Henrik Lundqvist is between the pipes to open a season. Shesterkin showed last year that he is more than capable to be the #1 netminder. But Quinn won't just roll with him, as Georgiev will see substantive playing time. I expect a 60-40 or 65-35 split, but if Igor starts hot, Quinn will ride the hot hand, especially since the Rangers have a league-low six back-to-backs.
New York will be in the mix for a playoff spot. If most of the above questions are answered positively, then the team should claim one of the four spots. Even if not, they should remain in contention with their prospect pool enabling a trade for a piece or two if needed. This season will be another year of growth, with the usual ups-and-downs from a roster that is the youngest in the league.