GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Fall is a time for optimism for NHL teams, naturally. And after an active summer in which they traded for a No. 1 defenseman, signed the top free agent on the market and selected a guy with the second pick in the draft who has the look of a potential megastar, the Rangers are feeling pretty good about themselves as players reported to the MSG Training Center Thursday for training camp.
“I’ve been here for quite a number of weeks, in and out, and I’ve gotten to know some of the guys,’’ John Davidson, the Rangers’ new team president, told the media Thursday. “There’s a tremendous air of excitement here.’’
The additions of free agent winger Artemi Panarin, defenseman Jacob Trouba, No. 2 overall draft pick Kaapo Kakko, and defenseman Adam Fox, as well as the arrival of 2018 first round pick Vitali Kravtsov, have Davidson (who took over for the semi-retired Glen Sather as president) thinking that a postseason berth could be a possibility for a team that finished with 78 points last season, missing the last playoff spot by 20 points.
“I want improvement, for sure. [I’d] love to make the playoffs,’’ Davidson said when asked about his expectations for this season. “This is a very close league, it’s a very young league … I mean, [making the] playoffs is a goal, for sure. But there’s got to be improvement the right way, that you can count on, long term.’’
With 56 players in camp — the only player missing is unsigned restricted free agent defenseman Tony DeAngelo, Davidson said — the former St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets president said he is “comfortable with where we are,’’ after a summer spent trying to speed up the rebuilding process. Davidson said that when he joined the organization in May, after the Blue Jackets were eliminated from the playoffs, the team had a plan for the summer, but he hinted they may have strayed from the plan when they had the chance to get Trouba, and then Panarin.
General manager Jeff Gorton traded for Trouba on June 17, sending defenseman Neal Pionk to Winnipeg and returning the first-round pick the Jets had sent to the Rangers in the Kevin Hayes trade. Trouba, 25, was a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, and the Rangers signed him to a seven-year, $56 million deal in July. Panarin, a left wing who played for Davidson with the Blue Jackets, signed a seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the Rangers on July 1.
“One thing I learned in both St. Louis and Columbus is, you’ve got a game plan, you try and stay to it,’’ Davidson said. “There’s always going to be wrinkles — ‘Oh, boy, this is a good idea,’ or, ‘Oh, that’s a bad idea.’
“So, I think when you have an opportunity to find a Trouba, or a Panarin, you’ve got to step up and do when you need to do and find a way to make it all work, and make sure it’s still part of the plan, long term. And both of them are, for sure.’’
Davidson wouldn’t say whether left wing Chris Kreider is also part of the long term plan. The 28-year-old Kreider is entering the last season of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, but Davidson, who met with Kreider Thursday morning, wouldn’t say if the Rangers intend to negotiate a contract extension with him.
“We’ll just see where it all goes,’’ Davidson said. “I’m not going to get into contractual discussions here, it’s just not right. But we’ll see how it goes. He’s a very good hockey player. I hope he has a tremendous year. And then everything’s going to go in the right direction for everybody.’’