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2021-22 New York Rangers Preview: Upheaval in the Big Apple

James Dolan finally remembered he owns the Rangers. Now with a new regime, can the Rangers make a return to the playoffs?

Mika Zibanejad #93 and Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers celebrate after scoring a goal in the second period against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on May 3, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

The New York Rangers have become quite a fascinating team in the past few months.

The state of affairs in Manhattan seemed to be all fine and dandy for the Rangers during the 2021 season — they’d just landed Alexis Lafreniere after winning the first pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Igor Shesterkin had fully taken the reins in the crease, not to mention the one-two punch of Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad.

But a rather meaningless game against the Washington Capitals on May 3, 2021 ended up having a ripple effect across the entire organization. Let’s get into it, shall we?

Where they left off

The Rangers had an okay season on-ice, finishing with a winning record of 27-23-6, but ended up on the outside looking in at the postseason, finishing fifth in the East Division. But off the ice, it was quite a drama-laden season.

Before we get into the events of May 3 and the days that followed, let’s rewind back to February. After an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, The Athletic’s Rick Carpiniello reported that defenseman Tony DeAngelo and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev were involved in an “altercation” after the game. DeAngelo’s ugly off-ice history is well documented, but this incident seemed to be the final straw for then-Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton, placing him on waivers the following day. DeAngelo was then bought out in the offseason.

The Rangers’ off-ice issues didn’t stop there, as Artemi Panarin took a leave of absence after reports surfaced that Panarin had assaulted an 18-year old woman in Latvia in 2011. The Rangers said the story was an intimidation tactic being used against Panarin for his stances against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a press release.

The May 3 game against the Capitals was the final catalyst for major changes in the Rangers organization. During the game, Tom Wilson inevitably did Tom Wilson things, cross-checking Pavel Buchnevich before throwing a helmetless Panarin down to the ice. Panarin would end up missing the rest of the season.

After the NHL Department of Player Safety decided not to suspend Tom Wilson, the Rangers had some harsh words for Department of Player Safety head George Parros, calling him “unfit” to continue in his role in a statement:

The very next day, both President of Hockey Operations John Davidson and General Manager Jeff Gorton were both surprisingly fired by Rangers owner James Dolan, who then named assistant general manager Chris Drury to both President of Hockey Operations and General Manager. A few days later, head coach David Quinn was given the pink slip as well, with former Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant hired as his replacement.

2021 Entry Draft

The Rangers had eight total picks in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, and held the 16th overall pick in the first round. In what became a theme for Chris Drury’s first off-season at the helm of the Rangers, they selected Flint Firebirds forward Brennen Othmann, a high-paced and very intense player. In an interview with Scott Wheeler of The Athletic, Othmann’s personal trainer, Bryan Knipe, had very high marks for Othmann, saying, “He’s amazing... He’s extremely hardworking, he’s very goal-oriented (and) once he sets a goal he’s going to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. And that’s just the type of player he is too.” Josh Tessler of Smaht Scouting compares him to Brenden Morrow, in that both Othmann and the former Dallas Stars captain both have an affinity for finding open ice in the offensive zone.

The Rangers’ next pick wasn’t until the third round of the draft, when at pick 65, they selected another physical forward in Jayden Grubbe. The Rangers then traded up to select Ryder Korzcak, a very good skater who couples his skating ability with great stick-handling at 75th overall. Ben Kerr of Last Word On Sports notes that Korzcak “can make plays while moving at top speed... this helps him to create offence on the rush.”

In the fourth round, the team selected Green Bay Gamblers forward Brody Lamb with the 104th overall pick. Rich Coyle of Blueshirts Breakaway, a popular Rangers podcast, called this pick his favorite of the Rangers’ draft, citing Lamb’s 52 goals and 35 assists for his Minnesota high school hockey team.

The Rangers had two more picks in the fourth round, selecting Finnish left wing Kalle Vaisanen with pick number 106 and Tri-City Americans goaltender Talyn Boyko with the 112th overall pick. They rounded out the draft with forward Jaroslav Chmelar in the fifth round and defender Hank Kempf in the seventh.

Roster

Chris Drury’s mission for the Rangers in the off-season was for them to become a harder team to play against, and the off-season acquisitions and signings certainly followed that plan. The first big acquisition in Drury’s budding tenure was trading for former Sharks Game 7 hero Barclay Goodrow, acquiring his rights from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Goodrow was then given a six-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $3.6 million. A few days later, the Rangers traded Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Samuel Blais and a 2022 second-round pick.

When free agency began on July 28, the Rangers addressed their depth, signing forwards Greg McKegg and Dryden Hunt to one-year contracts and defender Patrik Nemeth to a three-year, $2.5M AAV contract. They also decided to hammer home the point that the Rangers needed to get tougher by signing hard-hitting defenseman Jarred Tinordi to a two-year contract, before trading a 2022 third-round draft pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for enforcer Ryan Reaves. Reaves signed a one-year contract extension worth $1.75 million shortly thereafter.

There’s been a lot of commotion that Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel wants out of Buffalo, and Manhattan seems to be a prime landing spot for him — so much that the aforementioned Blueshirts Breakaway podcast hosts Ryan Mead and Greg Kaplan bought a billboard in Buffalo imploring the Sabres to trade Eichel. But in the event that said trade doesn’t end up happening, Daily Faceoff projects these to be the Opening Night lines for the Rangers:

Forwards

Alexis Lafreniere — Mika Zibanejad — Kaapo Kakko
Artemi Panarin — Ryan Strome — Vitali Kravtsov
Barclay Goodrow — Filip Chytil — Chris Kreider
Morgan Barron — Kevin Rooney — Samuel Blais

Defenders

Ryan Lindgren — Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller — Jacob Trouba
Patrik Nemeth — Nils Lundkvist

Goaltenders

Igor Shesterkin
Alexandar Georgiev

What can we expect in 2021-22?

Under new head coach Gerard Gallant, you can certainly expect the Rangers to play a much grittier and more physical game, partially in the hopes of what Tom Wilson did on that night in May does not happen again. Gallant’s system, though, has proven successful in his time coaching the Panthers and Golden Knights. His “players’ coach” method of coaching should help out a Rangers team that is in need of a new voice in the locker room.

Though it’s certainly been a baffling offseason for the Blueshirts, they should not be underestimated by any means. 2018 first-round pick Nils Lundkvist (familiar last name, right?) signed his entry-level contract in June, and should make his NHL debut when the season begins. Fresh off of winning the Norris Trophy in only his sophomore professional season, the sky seems to be the limit for 23-year-old Adam Fox, and up-and-coming goaltender Igor Shesterkin isn’t going anywhere after signing a four-year contract extension.

Add all that up with the young core of Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, as well as the star power of Panarin and Zibanejad, and you’ve got yourself a Rangers team that could very well snatch a Wild Card spot in the playoffs come April.

The Sharks and Rangers first face-off on Friday, December 3 at Madison Square Garden, with the puck scheduled to drop at 4 p.m. PT. They’ll then meet one more time on Thursday, January 13, 2022 at SAP Center, scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. PT puck drop.