Igor Shesterkin #31 of the Rangers makes the second period save...

Igor Shesterkin #31 of the Rangers makes the second period save against Jeff Skinner #53 of the Buffalo Sabres (not shown) at Madison Square Garden on March 02, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

1. Igor Shesterkin must stay healthy. Shesterkin has mostly been brilliant with the Rangers, putting up a .921 save percentage and 2.59 goals-against average and a 26-16-3 record in 47 career NHL games. However, he has been injured in each of his first two seasons, and this will be the first time he will be looking at being a No. 1 goaltender over a full, 82-game campaign. He said he worked over the summer on improving his flexibility, "So, I’m basically like a gymnast now,’’ he cracked. The Rangers will cross their fingers and hope he can handle the workload.

2. Kaapo Kakko needs to break out. Entering his third NHL season, it’s time for the 20-year-old Finn to start scoring goals – a lot of them. In his first season, as an 18-year-old, he had to adjust to living away from his family, in New York, and he had to learn the North American game. He was much better defensively in Year 2, but had COVID and only scored nine goals in 48 games. This year he’s starting out on a line with Artemi Panarin. It’s time to score, big.

Rangers' Kaapo Kakko, center, celebrates his goal during the second...

Rangers' Kaapo Kakko, center, celebrates his goal during the second period against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.  Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

3. All that grit and toughness they added must pay off. Barclay Goodrow scored some big goals for Tampa Bay during the Lightning’s run to consecutive Stanley Cups. But his career high for goals in a season is eight. The Rangers will be hoping for more than that from him.

4. Mika Zibanejad is playing for a new contract. Having COVID in training camp blew up the first half of last season for him, but he’s starting the season healthy this year. If he puts up numbers, it’ll be good for him and the Rangers.

5. Can Adam Fox be even better in his third season? That would be hard to imagine for the reigning Norris Trophy winner. But he, too, is playing for a new contract. How much better can he be, and how far will that take the Rangers.

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