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Training camp storylines, roster projections

The New York Rangers last made the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. And they last won the Stanley Cup in 1994 when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks. It’s quite the drought for a historic, Original Six franchise such as the Rangers. However, the tides of the NHL could be shifting in their favor sometime soon.

The Rangers posted another 100+ point finish in 2022-23. It marked their second straight 100+ point finish. And it’s the first time New York has strung together consecutive 100+ finishes since 2014-15 through 2016-16 when they did it three times.

Furthermore, the team has come close in the last two seasons. They made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2022, coming within one game of the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, ending their season prematurely.

With the 2023-24 season on the horizon, the Rangers certainly hope things play out differently next summer. Especially with a new man behind the bench leading the team. Here is a complete preview of the New York Rangers ahead of the upcoming NHL season.

Blake Wheeler’s presence

Blake Wheeler’s time with the Winnipeg Jets came to a rather unceremonious end this summer. The Jets bought out the veteran forward, allowing him to hit the open market. That buyout came one year after Wheeler had his captaincy stripped from him.

Rumors also persisted that Wheeler’s presence in the Winnipeg locker room caused a divide. The extent of the divide is unknown, as is exactly how his presence caused this divide. But he is walking into a locker room in which he is not the team’s foremost leader.

In fact, you could argue that the team’s foremost leader is captain Jacob Trouba. Trouba and Wheeler know each other well from their days with the Jets. Are Trouba and Wheeler bound to clash? Or was the speculation around Wheeler’s effect on the Winnipeg locker room overblown? Either way, this is an interesting situation to monitor this season.

Is Quick quality insurance?

Another recognizable name joined the Rangers this summer. Goaltender Jonathan Quick decided not to call it quits after winning his third career Stanley Cup with the Vegas Golden Knights. Instead, he signed a one-year contract to play for his favorite childhood team.

On the surface, this is nothing major. Quick is not making a ton of money, and the 37-year-old will serve as a backup barring any major injury to starter Igor Shesterkin. However, Quick is not the goalie he once was. And he isn’t really close to that form, either.

Shesterkin can hold down the fort without a doubt. That said, Shesterkin can’t play all 82 games, and having him play 60 is not an ideal outcome either. Quick will need to provide quality play when he’s in between the posts, but it remains to be seen if he can provide the necessary cover.

The Lafreniere/Kakko duo

The Rangers selected two highly touted prospects in recent years that many believed would turn into legitimate franchise cornerstones. Kappo Kakko joined the organization in 2019, and one year later, New York drafted Alexis Lafreniere. When the team returned to contention, fans envisioned these two leading the charge.

However, that just hasn’t happened. Neither player is exactly a bust, mind you. They’ve held their own in the NHL so far, and could still carve out long-term roles in the league. That said when it comes to them breaking out as elite players, that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Kakko is entering his fifth season while Lafreniere is entering his fourth. The Rangers need more from them, especially if they want to win a Stanley Cup sometime soon. And both players must show the ability to produce at a higher level if they want to keep their roles on the team.

Potential odd men out

Forward Alex Belzile is on the outside looking in heading into training camp. The 32-year-old forward is cheap depth at this point. Especially given the amount of depth the Rangers brought in this summer. If Belzile desires a full-time role in the starting lineup, he has a lot of work to put in before the season begins.

On the blueline, Zachary Jones is a player who finds himself on the roster bubble. The Rangers added to their defense this summer, signing Erik Gustafsson and Connor Mackey. Furthermore, Braden Schneider has an inside track to a roster spot once again this season. Jones could be someone New York dangles on the trade market before the season.

Final roster projection

Forwards: Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Kappo Kakko, Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck, Blake Wheeler, Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytl, Barclay Goodrow, Jimmy Vesey, Nick Bonino, Tyler Pitlick

Defensemen: Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba, K’Andre Miller, Adam Fox, Erik Gustafsson, Braden Schneider

Goalies: Igor Shesterkin, Jonathan Quick

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