Expectations for the Rangers Have Never Been Higher
April 16, 2023 – Gregory Calvaruso
“It’s a special place to play. It’s an Original Six franchise. Playing in MSG and you get a reception like that? It’s something I’ll never forget.”
This is what Patrick Kane said when he was asked about his reception from the Madison Square Garden crowd as he skated on the ice for the first time as a New York Ranger. For a player like Patrick Kane, playing in the lime-light, in the heart of New York, will not be an unfamiliar feeling. After all, he was expected to be one of the best American born hockey players ever when he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks at 18 years old. Sixteen years and three Stanley Cups later, he has proven those expectations to be true and established himself as a hall-of-fame player who thrives under pressure. Now, after a historic career in Chicago, he finds himself competing for another Stanley Cup, for another Original Six team, in the world’s most famous arena.
The fans who call that arena home could not be more excited.
On February 28th, Patrick Kane officially waived his no-move clause so that a trade to the New York Rangers could be completed. This trade was one of several moves the New York Rangers made before the trade deadline, as they bolstered weaknesses on their roster prior to their second straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Other than the Kane addition, the Rangers added forward Vladimir Tarasenko, forward Tyler Motte, and defenseman Niko Mikkola. All of these additions helped improve major weak points of the roster and have propelled the Rangers to a very strong finish to the regular season.
After struggling in his first few games, Niko Mikkola is starting to feel comfortable and is providing size, skill and physicality on the third defensive pair. Vladimir Tarasenko has fit in well on the second line as a secondary goal-scorer, and has been a major factor in the improvement of the second powerplay unit. Tyler Motte has brought his energy and relentless pressure of opposing puck-handlers back to the Rangers fourth line where it belongs. And finally, after a rough start where the chemistry between him and Artemi Panarin looked lost, Patrick Kane has settled into a first line role, alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, where he has begun to thrive.
When you consider all of these additions, the caliber of players they acquired, and the improvement the team has shown since the additions occurred, it is easy to get excited about a potential deep playoff run for the Rangers this spring. After all, they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last year with a less talented group of forwards. Is it really a stretch to think they can do better this year?
One major obstacle in their way is the fact that this year’s eastern conference playoff pool is loaded with high caliber teams.
The Bruins have had a historic season, the Devils finally broke through and have become a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup, and pesky perennial playoff pushers like the Islanders, Lightning and Panthers all have chances to make deep runs. The road to the Stanley Cup will not be easy, but the Rangers front office took the initiative to make sure the team was well prepared for a deep playoff run.
One of the major weaknesses addressed by the front office with these trades was a lack of depth at the winger position. By adding two top-six wingers, the Rangers have strengthened their top-six forward group while simultaneously allowing players already on the roster to return to roles they are better suited for. Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey will now play together permanently on the fourth line instead of playing on the wing with Panarin or Zibanejad out of necessity.
The best symptom of these additions is the permanent reunion of “the kid line” as the team’s third forward line. The line consists of Kappo Kakko, Alexei Lafrenière and Filip Chytil, and they were given “the kid line” moniker after having success playing together during last year’s postseason run. At times this season, the line was split up for a variety of reasons. Kakko and Lafrenière took turns playing with the top-six, and they played well, but ultimately the best way for these players to contribute to a Stanley Cup run is together on the third line.
The reason for this is simple. The talent possessed by these three players is incredible, and so is their chemistry together on the ice. On most teams, they would each hold a firm grasp on a spot in the top-six forward group, but the Rangers aren’t most teams. The Rangers are a team filled with players in their prime who are ready to compete for a championship now, and their trade deadline acquisitions reflected this attitude. However, this doesn’t mean their young players can’t contribute to winning, and the best way for this group of young players to help the Rangers win is by being a mismatch for teams as the third forward group. No team possesses the caliber of talent the Rangers have in their bottom-six forward group with the presence of “the kid line.” This advantage will be huge for them in the playoffs when this line matches up against other teams’ third lines that possess much less overall skill.
It is truly incredible in any sport when a team acquires one or several great players that both improve the team with their individual play, and allow the players around them to thrive. That is the exact situation that has been created by the front office with their trade deadline additions. Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko have shown they can make that type of impact for the Rangers and it is exciting to see the product displayed on the ice as the postseason looms around the corner.
At the end of the day however, these moves will mean little if the Rangers do not capitalize on the momentum of this talent influx and have a successful postseason run. When a team trades for big-name players, the result is often big expectations. When a team trades for a multiple-time Stanley Cup champion like Patrick Kane, the result is championship expectations. At this moment, expectations for the Rangers have never been higher, and the impact of the front office’s trade deadline decisions will have a pivotal role in the success of this team as they look for their first Stanley Cup championship since 1994.
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