The New York Rangers posted 107 points during the 2022-23 season, which only landed them a third-place finish in the Metropolitan division. The Rangers went all-in at the trade deadline, landing Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane in moves that might have won them a Stanley Cup in the mid-2010s.
However, in 2022, the veteran-heavy lineup was no match for the speed of the New Jersey Devils' youth. The Devils put the Rangers out in Game 7 after the Rangers got out to an early lead in the series. New York may see the writing on the wall, and the Devils are now the team to beat in the division.
To fill out their depth, the Rangers brought in Blake Wheeler, Nick Bonino, Erik Gustafsson and Jonathan Quick this offseason. Once again, do they realize it isn't 2015 anymore? Despite the questionable decisions on their depth pieces, New York will still be among the division's best this season. The performance of star goalie Igor Shesterkin and their deep forward core will determine how good they are.
Let's make 3 bold Rangers predictions for the 2023-24 season.
Rangers drop to a wildcard position
The Carolina Hurricanes have been the Rangers' toughest challenge in the Metropolitan division, and the additions of Michael Bunting, Dmitry Orlov and Tony DeAngelo show that they aren't planning on slowing down. The Devils are a young team on the rise and will get better as they get more experience. Last season, the Rangers finished third behind these teams and now have to deal with improved versions.
New York can point to their veteran additions as a reason to show that they have also improved, but I don't see it. The team's best acquisition was Wheeler, who was stripped of his captaincy and bought out by the Winnipeg Jets in the past year.
The Pittsburgh Penguins hired Kyle Dubas to be their president of hockey operations, and he made himself the general manager. He then brought in reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, reigning Stanley Cup champion Reilly Smith and several other depth pieces. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin don't have many years left to win another Stanley Cup, and Karlsson is still looking for his first. The Penguins will be a highly motivated team, and it's hard to bet against a core of Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang and Karlsson.
The one place where the Rangers beat all these other teams is in the net. Shesterkin had a down year last season and still managed to post a .916 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average. If Shesterkin can put forth another season like his Vezina trophy-winning campaign, the Rangers can be the leaders of the Metro again.
I predict that the New York can grab a spot in the wild card. However, the Rangers better look out for a deep Atlantic division that can claim both playoff berths, leaving them on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
Kaapo Kakko's prove-it year
The Rangers took a big swing by choosing Kaapo Kakko as the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft. They then made an even bigger risk by starting him out in the NHL as an 18-year-old when he could have used more development.
Kakko has averaged 0.41 points per game in his career, but topped out at 0.49 last season. Any drop in point production will basically cement his likely status as a draft bust. If he can get over the half-a-point per-game benchmark, New York can work with that production as a middle-six forward.
The Rangers' title window will close if they can't find some youth to step up. This means their patience may be wearing thin with Kakko. I predict Kakko will step up and play a larger role for New York, helping temper the draft-bust conversation.
Blake Wheeler signing is a bust
The Rangers bringing in Wheeler was a low-risk move. Wheeler was a buyout from the Jets, so he came cheap at $800k. New York can easily cut bait and replace him.
Two young players, Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle, have been impressing the team in training camp. Othmann is arguably the team's best prospect and will start the season in the American Hockey League. If Wheeler falters, Othmann can slide into the third-line role that Wheeler will likely be occupying. As a 37-year-old veteran, Wheeler deserves a long look at holding his spot for the entire season, but don't be surprised if Cuylle or Othmann are getting top-nine minutes before the season ends.