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Scouting, predicting the Rangers ahead of the 2018-19 season

New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev looks on

New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev looks on against the Buffalo Sabres in the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, March 24, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GOALIES

Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev.

Lundqvist is now 36 years old and obviously past his prime. That is reflected in his stats, which have dropped off the past two seasons after being a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate for most of his career. Rangers management still talks him as the unquestioned franchise No. 1, but Georgiev, 22, looked really good in 10 games at the end of the season last year and management is on record saying how he’s going to need to play this season to continue his development.

At the moment, the plan is for Georgiev to play the normal workload for a backup and then go down to Hartford once in a while to get some extra work in the AHL, to stay sharp. But the kid can play, and he’ll be pushing Lundqvist for playing time. And behind Georgiev, there’s another 22-year-old prospect named Igor Shestyorkin, who’s tearing it up in the KHL right now and intends to come to North America next summer. So there’s pressure on Lundqvist to perform.

DEFENSEMEN

Fredrik Claesson, Anthony DeAngelo, Adam McQuaid, Neal Pionk, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, Marc Staal.

Shattenkirk, who signed a big-money free agent contract with the Rangers last summer, injured his knee a year ago and was a shell of himself before eventually having surgery and missing the second half of the season. He’s healthy now, and back to help run the power play, which scored in each of the Rangers’ six preseason games and went 10-for-27 (37 percent) in the preseason. Shattenkirk had five assists in the three preseason games he played, including three in the last two games, which were back-to-back. The Rangers’ power play was 14th of 31 teams last season, scoring at a rate of 21.1 percent. A healthy Shattenkirk should help boost that number.

Meanwhile, the Rangers’ 268 goals allowed last season was fourth worst in the league. The addition of Adam McQuaid, who was acquired from Boston in a trade on the eve of training camp, as well as a definite defensive plan implemented by new coach David Quinn, should help tighten things up and reduce that number. And, from a chemistry standpoint, the roster has four lefthanded-shooting defensemen and four righthanded-shooting defensemen. That’s the kind of balance coaches love.

FORWARDS

Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes, Brett Howden, Chris Kreider, Vinni Lettieri, Cody McLeod, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Vesey, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello.

Assuming they stay healthy, Zibanejad, Kreider and Buchnevich, the likely top line, appear poised to have a productive season. Both Zibanejad (concussion) and Kreider (blood clot) missed extended time last season, and Buchnevich spent a lot of time in former Alain Vigneault’s doghouse. But the trio looked good together in the preseason, so if they stay healthy and stay together, they should produce.

Presumed second-line center Kevin Hayes signed a one-year contract as a restricted free agent this summer, so he’ll be playing for his next contract. He’ll likely be starting on a line with Jimmy Vesey, who signed a two-year contract this summer, and Mats Zuccarello, who’s in the last year of his contract and likely will be traded away at the deadline. So all three have incentive to produce offense. Filip Chytil, the 19-year-old who was the team’s second first-round pick in 2017, is bigger and stronger than he was when he made the team for the first two games of the season last year. He has a full year of small-rink, North American hockey under his belt, and he should be exciting to watch. 

BEAT WRITER’S PREDICTION

37-38-7, 81 pts., seventh in Metropolitan Division

They’ll be competitive, and in the playoff hunt most of the season. But ultimately, the roster’s only slightly better than last season, and they’ll be sellers at the trade deadline again.

This is the second season that Colin Stephenson has covered the Rangers for Newsday. 

New York Sports