Rangers open up new season with veteran core
After last season's quick playoff exit, Rangers go into a new campaign with few changes made to the heart of their roster.
After two deep playoff runs, the New York Rangers’ 2016 postseason fizzled out quickly.
Eventual champion Pittsburgh dispatched them in five games in the first round, the last two by a combined score of 11-3.
“Now, obviously, there is going to be some changes,” coach Alain Vigneault said a few days later. “There are still some very good pieces. We have to decide in which direction we’re going to take.”
The direction he and general manager Jeff Gorton wound up deciding to take was mostly to give it another go with those good pieces. The changes over the offseason came mostly around the edges of the roster.
The big move was a trade of centers, sending Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad, who is quite a bit younger — and cheaper.
Veterans Dan Girardi, Rick Nash and Marc Staal are back after disappointing seasons, and the greatest change in 2016-17 could simply come from any or all of them recapturing their previous form.
Henrik Lundqvist will turn 35 during the season. The Rangers will give their returning core at least one more chance at a title in front of the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner before the window closes.
“The hunger for the game and to compete is, I think, the same,” Lundqvist said during the World Cup of Hockey as he thought back to the start of his Rangers career.
Along with Zibanejad, New York’s most notable additions were also younger players. Some members of the Rangers’ youth movement to watch:
The Hobey Baker winner as college hockey’s top player, Vesey chose to pursue free agency after his senior season at Harvard instead of signing with Nashville, which drafted him 66th overall in 2012.
Vesey picked the Rangers over seven other finalists in August.
“It seemed that they really needed to have me in their lineup,” he said at the time.
The 23-year-old forward had 24 goals and 22 assists in 33 games for Harvard last season.
Zibanejad is also 23 and already has two 20-goal seasons in the NHL. He set career highs with 21 goals and 30 assists in 81 games for the Senators last season.
Brassard, who just turned 29, had a careerhigh 27 goals last season.
“I think the potential is there for more upside,” Gorton said of Zibanejad. “He is just scratching the surface at age 23. There are not a lot of guys who have done what he has done as far as scored 20 before that age.”
PAVEL AND PIRRI
Pavel Buchnevich, a 21-year-old Russian left wing who was a 2013 thirdround draft pick, is looking to prove he’s ready to make an NHL roster. Brandon Pirri, a 25-year-old center, had a career-high 29 points last season but has already been traded twice in his career. The Rangers signed him to a $1.1 million, oneyear deal from Anaheim.
The Rangers also kept one of their own, signing restricted free agent forward J.T. Miller to a $5.5 million, two-year deal. Another 23-year-old, Miller had 22 goals and 21 assists, both career highs, last season.
“I don’t want to be satisfied on one pretty good year,” he said.
New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stops a shot on goal by Philadelphia Flyers’s Wayne Simmonds (17) during an Oct. 6 exhibition game at Madison Square Garden in New York. LAST SEASON: 46-27-9, 101 points. Third in Metropolitan Division. Lost to Pittsburgh Penguins in Eastern Conference first round. COACH: Alain Vigneault (fourth season, 15th NHL season). ADDED: F Jimmy Vesey, F Mika Zibanejad, F Brandon Pirri, F Pavel Buchnevich, F Michael Grabner. LOST: F Derick Brassard, D Keith Yandle, F Eric Staal, D Dan Boyle, F Viktor Stalberg. PLAYER TO WATCH: Jimmy Vesey. Celebrities such as Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC, actress Susan Sarandon, and athletes on other New York teams tweeted at the prized college free agent as he contemplated his options this summer. The Hobey Baker winner as college hockey’s top player as a Harvard senior last season, Vesey had decided against signing with Nashville, which drafted him 66th overall in 2012. OUTLOOK: After an inconsistent regular season and an underwhelming performance in the first-round loss to eventual champion Pittsburgh, the Rangers are mostly sticking with their veteran core to make another run at a title in front of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who turns 35 in March. Their hopes rest on a combination of older players bouncing back from rough seasons and younger additions adding speed to the roster.