On Monday the Rangers announced their official Phase 3 training camp roster, complete with 19 forwards, 10 defensemen, and 4 goalies. Additions go from highly coveted forward Vitali Kravtsov to 2017 fourth round defenseman Brandon Crawley. It’s also worth noting that newly signed d-man K’Andre Miller is on the Phase 3 roster, but due to his contract signing, is unable to participate in Phase 4 (the eventual return-to-play).
A lot of work will be put in between now and August 1st when Phase 4 begins. There is a lot of optimism flowing within the group, as a determined Mika Zibanejad said on Monday, “win the whole thing. We’re not here just to participate and just be another team. We want to win.” However, there is still a lot to consider when it comes to the Blueshirts’ playoff chances. With the roster out and practicing underway, here are some of the strengths and weaknesses of New York’s training camp roster.
Weakness: Defensive depth
The Rangers were able to bring in some more depth on the left side, including Libor Hajek and Brandon Crawley, but there are still some questions when it comes to the Rangers’ d-core. The organization is also fresh off the departure of Lindy Ruff, the former defensive coach taking on a head coaching job across the Hudson for the Devils. Ruff faced criticism for the 3 years he was a part of the Rangers’ coaching staff, as the defense has continued to struggle immensely. The right side is looking strong, with Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, and Tony DeAngelo standing their ground. However, it will be interesting to see if pairings are modified. Despite Marc Staal’s playoff/veteran experience, his age is catching up to him and it separates him from the top shape he was once in during the Rangers’ deep playoff runs in the 2010s. Brendan Smith has also yet to prove himself as a top-pair defender alongside Trouba, slotting into former Ranger (and current Hurricane) Brady Skjei’s position. It’s hard to measure the Rangers’ defense up to the strong Carolina d-core complete with Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, and Jake Gardiner, to name a few.
Strength: Top six
The Rangers are definitely not the deepest team within the 24 participating in this year’s playoffs, their top 2 lines are not ones to overlook. So far, they have remained in training camp as they played out throughout the 2019-20 regular season:
L1: Kreider – Zibanejad – Buchnevich
L2: Panarin – Strome – Fast
Both Zibanejad and Panarin were tremendous in the regular season, and due to their impressive play, were able to elevate the play of their linemates. The first line (otherwise known as the KZB line) combined for 146 points, and will likely face off against the star-studded Carolina Hurricanes first line of Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen.
Chris Kreider, fresh off an extension, is set to be a leader in these playoffs, as he has the most experience in the postseason of the top six. Panarin will also be taking on a big role and will look to continue his outstanding, Hart trophy caliber play. Panarin will need to be at his best to face the strong defense of Carolina but has shown no sign of slowing down all season.
Since January when Igor Shesterkin was called up to the NHL, the Rangers have been juggling three solid goalies on a regular basis. All three have shown great signs of promise. It has not yet been decided who will make the first start of the 2020 Stanley Cup qualifiers, as David Quinn has stated how “you can make a case for all three guys.” No matter who’s between the pipes come August 1st, the Rangers are in a good spot.
Shesterkin has pretty much been the #1 goaltender for the Rangers since he made his NHL debut back on January 7th. Since then. He’s gone 10-2 with a .932 save percentage, impressive numbers for a rookie. Alexandar Georgiev has also taken great strides this year, despite serving as a backup for the majority of the season. His save percentage still stands strong at .910 and registered a shutout against the competitive Vegas Golden Knights back in December. And, of course, Henrik Lundqvist. The King is no doubt the best performer come playoff time for the Rangers for the past 10 years. In 115 games started, Hank has 10 shutouts, a .922 save percentage, and has won 13 elimination games in the postseason. He’s also put up great numbers against the Canes this season, putting up a .946 save percentage and 3 wins in 3 starts. Because of his advantage in playing time, I believe that Shesterkin edges out Lundqvist for the starting spot, but regardless, the Blueshirts are miles ahead of the Canes in the goaltending department.
With just 2 weeks until their first exhibition game, and 17 days to go until the puck is officially dropped for the 2020 postseason, the Rangers have some work to do. But hockey is back, and that in itself is enough to celebrate.