Apr 16, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) talks with teammates before a face-off against the Detroit Red Wings during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Rangers improved by leaps and bounds this season. A lot of that had to do with the balancing of the lineup by President and GM Chris Drury. His acquisitions of Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves got the ball rolling in the right direction.
At the Trade Deadline he filled in the remaining gaps with Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte and Justin Braun. All four players were given big roles in this postseason. Of course, all four are UFAs and will be difficult to bring back.
That leads us to which Rangers we believe will play a more prominent role next season.
Alexis Lafrenière in the top six
Alexis Lafrenière had a strong finish to his sophomore season scoring 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points in his final 21 games. On the 2021-22 campaign, he netted 19 goals and 31 points in 79 contests while averaging 14 minutes per night.
The 20 year-old impressed in the playoffs with his physical play using all 6-2 and 193 lbs of his frame to lay some big hits. In his first taste of postseason action, Lafrenière recorded 9 points in 20 games while racking up 50 hits.
Next season will be a big one for the first overall pick from 2020. Despite having both Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin occupying the top two left wing slots, Alexis wants top minutes.
“I want to play in the top six eventually, that’s my goal,” he said after the season ended. “I want to watch them and learn from them but hopefully next year I can play in the top six.”
That will likely come if he’s successful in moving to the right wing. However, he knows there’s another aspect of his game he needs to work on.
“I want to be a better, faster skater, so I’ll work on my skating, but I want to be stronger, too,” he said via the NY Post. “I’ll try to find a balance and work on everything, but my skating is more of the focus.”
Depending on how free agency shakes out with Frank Vatrano, Lafrenière could find himself on the right side of the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Worst case scenario, he’s on the second line with Artemi Panarin and either Ryan Strome or Andrew Copp.
Filip Chytil more minutes and responsibility
New York took a chance by selecting Filip Chytil in the first round of the 2017 draft when every noteworthy draft expert did not have him that high. In 253 games, the big center only has 93 points but he’s given the Rangers glimpses of offensive prowess.
The Rangers have been patiently waiting for Chytil to realize his potential. After another regular-season of offensive struggles, something appeared to click for the strapping 22 year-old in the playoffs.
In his first official postseason (not counting the 2020 Qualifying Round), he recorded 7 goals and 9 points in 20 games. Chytil was particularly instrumental in eliminating the Carolina Hurricanes with 3 goals in Games 6 and 7.
Chytil will continue to man the third line center role but should get more than the 13:11 he averaged this past season. In addition, if the Rangers sign Andrew Copp over Ryan Strome, that opens the door for some time as the second line center.
Zac Jones and Braden Schneider
The Rangers called up Braden Schneider in January expecting to just get a look at their 2020 first round pick. Instead, he scored a goal in his first game and played liked a seasoned veteran making it very difficult to take him out of the lineup.
He’s been great all year,” Ryan Strome said. “For such a young kid, he’s so professional. You never have to worry about him. He’s mature beyond his years on and off the ice.”
After playing every game of this past playoff run and picking up three assists, Schneider is locked in as the third pair right-defenseman for next year. He should also get more opportunities to kill penalties.
New York is also dealing with limited cap space so signing a veteran left-defenseman to be his partner will be very difficult. If they can successfully trade or buyout Patrik Nemeth, who has two-years remaining at $2.5M that money will be used to re-sign some of their key free agent forwards.
That’s why Zac Jones should be given a long hard look to claim the third pair left-defense spot.
Jones, 21, is in the final year of his entry-level deal that comes with a low cap hit of $925,000. He’s shown he has the ability to play in the NHL using his high hockey IQ to compensate for his size at 5-11, 185lbs.
The Rangers third round pick in 2019 played 12 games with the team this past season and tallied two assists. With the Wolf Pack, he was their leading scoring defenseman with 35 points in 52 games.