It’s been an interesting summer at Madison Square Garden to say the least. The memory of Tom Wilson rag-dolling the Rangers is still fresh in the club’s memory and has certainly helped mold their offseason plans. Chris Drury, on a mandate from ownership, has gone out and made the club tougher to play against for sure with the additions of Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodrow, and Sammy Blais. Will the additions of grit and sandpaper actually make a difference for the club where it matters the most though? The answer to that question is yet to be seen though. Here I will give you my five biggest predictions for the 2021-2022 Rangers season.
5: Kappo Kakko Will Finally Breakout:
With being the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Ranger fans have been craving a difference maker in the young Fin. Under David Quinn it always appeared as though Quinn was treating Kakko as a square peg and trying to insert him into a round hole. Kakko plays offensively creative and will not play like a typical grinding forward which is something you often saw with Quinn. He wanted all his players to play the same kind of stlye and that just doesn’t work for everyone. Also with Pavel Buchnevich’s exodus we will see Kakko get much increased ice time under Gerard Gallant. I’m expecting a 25 goal performance at least from Kakko this year under Gallant’s tutelage. We’ve seen it before that Gallant does have a way with developing young Finnish hockey players, just look at Sasha Barkov.
4. Gerard Gallant Will Be Drury’s Biggest FA Addition:
You can blame covid or just the fact that he was a first time NHL head coach but for whatever reason things just didn’t work out under David Quinn. Not to mention with the fact that James Dolan felt the team underachieved, it was time for a new voice to lead this young crop of Blueshirts. With that, Drury nailed his first head coaching hire in the Prince Edward Island native, Gerard Gallant. Gallant brings a mentality that many Rangers fans will love from the onset, not only does he want his teams to be talented but he wants them to play with an edge. It’ll be a beautiful mix of the old “Black and Blueshirt” days infused with the young Rangers high flying talent ability. Gallant is also a proven winner in the NHL ranks and that’s something that many Ranger fans are ready to get back to. Adding all this young talent has been fun but New Yorkers love to win and Gallant will certainly put the club back on that path.
3. Igor Shesterkin Will be a Vezina Candidate:
Once you get paid it comes time to start showing you’ve earned that paycheck. The pressure of playing in New York will always be one thing and then there’s the pressure of performing once you’ve gotten paid to be a number one goalie. However, Shesterkin will face even more pressure living up to the legend that was Henrik Lundqvist and trying to live up the legacy left behind by the Rangers great. In his rookie year, Shesterkin showed how dominating he could be behind a team that wasn’t exactly good defensively and faced a little bit of a Sophomore slump in year two with his win-loss record. However Shesterkin’s GAA and save percentage were still extremely good for a future number one goaltender. This year many believe the Rangers goalie will have to take that next step into becoming an elite level number one NHL goalie and I for one absolutely believe he has that in him. From his KHL dominance, to dominating the AHL, he’s now faced NHL adversity and will become that much better for it. I don’t know if he’s going to win the Vezina this season with the likes of Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy but he will absolutely throw his name into the Vezina ring and get serious consideration this season.
2. Mika Zibanejad Will Price Himself Out of New York:
The Rangers have long sought a number one center and they landed themselves one when they traded Brassard for Mika Zibanejad. Even after a slow start to his Rangers career that included a broken leg, Zibanejad has taken off to be one of the best Rangers not named Artemi Panarin over the last three seasons. Even after a horrendously slow start last season, Zibanejad finished on a hot streak reminding everyone exactly what he can do when he’s healthy. This season under Gallant I can see Zibanejad going back to lighting it up early and driving up the price for any potential extension with the Blueshirts. With a lot of young players needing to be paid in the future and the thoughts of any potential Jack Eichel trade on the horizon, an extension for Zibanejad should ideally be done before the season to prevent the risk of Zibanejad pricing him out of New York.
1. The Blueshirts Will be Top 3 in the Metro:
After the all the moves made and the criticism that the club has received this summer for letting Tom Wilson “live in their heads” this thought almost seems unfathomable. However, the fact still is that the Rangers have a highly talented club that needed tweaking and the edges rounded out for them to become a much harder team to play against. Whether fans like it or will admit it, thanks to the moves that Drury has made this club has become a better and harder team to play against. In a division where you’ll have to beat the Isles in order to make the postseason it won’t hurt to have guys that grind and will muck it up like Goodrow and Reaves. In terms of high end talent the Blueshirts definitely have the Islanders number but what they didn’t have was grit to do whatever it takes to win those hard fought games that win postseason series and Cups. In terms of the Metro division it can be stated that a lot of the better teams have not taken that next step in order to keep the Rangers out of the top 3. Carolina has gotten worse, Pittsburgh is far closer to the end of their run than they are the beginning especially with their questions in net. Washington is marching towards a rebuild whether their fans want to admit it or not. Philly made some moves to make themselves better but it’s hard to look at an Alain Vigneault coached team in year three and think that they’ll be serious Cup contenders. Looking at what Drury has done this summer it is definitely conceivable that his club will absolutely be in the running for a top 3 spot within the Metro division and a guaranteed postseason spot.Embed from Getty Images
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