Adding the biggest prize of the free agent market this summer, Artemi Panarin, gives the Rangers an electric playmaker who will combine with center Mika Zibanejad and whoever David Quinn puts at right wing (Pavel Buchnevich will get first crack, but Kaapo Kakko likely will take a turn there at some point) to make up a first line that will be one of the most dangerous in the league.
Kakko, the No. 2 pick overall in the 2019 draft, and Chris Kreider will be the wingers on the second line, and they’ll create their share of offense, too. Who the center will be for those two is to be determined, though – most likely, a couple different guys will cycle through over the course of the season – and there’s the question of what will happen at the trade deadline, assuming Kreider isn’t signed to a contract extension by then.
There’s plenty of grit on the bottom two lines, and Brendan Lemieux adds an element of toughness, which will be nice to have for a change.
As exciting as it was to add Panarin and his offensive wizardry, the biggest pickup for the Rangers this summer may have been Jacob Trouba, who immediately becomes the No. 1 defenseman the Rangers have lacked since they traded away Ryan McDonagh in 2018 at the beginning of the rebuild. Quinn has said, on more than one occasion, that adding Trouba will allow the defensemen to slot into the spots where they belong, as opposed to last season, when players were asked to do things they weren’t really suited for. Trouba, a close friend of Brady Skjei, will partner with Skjei, and that should help elevate Skjei’s game. Veteran Marc Staal will now drop down to the second pair, with Tony DeAngelo, which seems like the appropriate role for those two.
If there is a concern, it will be the third pair, which looks, for now, as though it will feature two 21-year-old rookies in Libor Hajek and Adam Fox, or Fox and Ryan Lindgren (or Lindgren and Hajek). Two rookies together seems less than ideal.
Henrik Lundqvist has had a sparkle in his eye and a pep in his step this preseason, with the Rangers appearing to be on an upward trajectory after bottoming out last season. He also is feeling really good about his game, having made some adjustments he says have made a difference. He finished the preseason with a .943 save percentage, including stopping 55 of the last 56 shots he saw and stopping all three shootout attempts in earning a win in his final tuneup on Thursday. Both team president John Davidson and Quinn have said the Rangers plan on reducing Lundqvist’s workload this season, and Quinn on Friday promised that even if Lundqvist is playing well, he’ll resist the temptation to ride the 37-year-old. The coach said he has great confidence in his other goalie, Alexandar Georgiev, who posted a 2.91 goals against average and a .914 save percentage in 33 games last season.
As of now, there hasn’t been a target number of games Lundqvist will play, other than Quinn saying it won’t be 65 games. Georgiev seems ready to handle an increased workload, and with an improved defense and a revitalized Lundqvist, the Rangers’ goals allowed total should come down significantly from the 267 (ninth-most) it was in 2018-19.