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For years the Rangers seemed to lack the dynamic firepower that could deliver the first Cup since 1994 for the franchise. Fans have seen the Rangers chase after that elusive offensive dynamo in different forms over the past 15 years. Signing Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, or trades for Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis. While those players have provided the Blueshirts faithful with some memorable moments none of them have ever been able to be the finishing touch for the Cup puzzle.
Since the Rangers committed to their rebuild by getting younger and faster through the draft and not relying on older veteran free agents to fill their needs, there has been a strong sense of hope on Broadway that a Stanley Cup parade down the Canyon of Heroes is not to far off. While Jeff Gorton flexed muscle in free agency last summer to add Artemi Panarin, the Blueshirts future forward core has been made of players that have either been drafted and developed or acquired via trade.
Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Vitali Kravtsov are all forwards drafted by the organization who figure to be a huge part of the clubs future moving forward, with Kakko and Lafreniere being the two game changing talents the club feels they have been missing for years. Then there is the successor to the King, Igor Shesterkin who is set to take over for the Rangers legend. Add in defensive players like trade stud Adam Fox, prospects K’Andre Miller with Nils Lundkvist and hey the kids are looking to shine bright on Broadway.
When you look at teams who have won Cups recently a big theme has been that they have all had dynamic offensive talents that were drafted and developed in house by the organization. While the Rangers from 2011-2015 were good to great teams, they never had that offensive talent that struck fear into opposing teams. They were all sound defensively and the offense was spread throughout the teams lineup which is great to have but when you’re in the playoffs you need that one game breaking talent offensively to get you over the hump.
Case in point look at last year’s Cup champs in Tampa, they were stout on the blueline and great in net and had as much depth as any GM could or would ever want but the difference for them came in with their elite level top end talent. Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov were true difference makers for the Bolts and it led them to a championship with their Captain Steven Stamkos playing only five minutes in the return to play.
With the Rangers rebuild nearing its end they finally have those dynamic offensive cornerstone pieces added to their puzzle for the future. Having luck shine upon them and gifting them Kakko and Lafreniere in back to back years adds a dimension to this team that, quite frankly, younger fans have never seen before from this organization. Talking about these kids and I’m leaving out emerging star center Mika Zibanejad who has finally reached the level that the Senators organization hoped he would achieve while in Ottawa and also leaving out superstar Artemi Panarin who transformed the Blueshirts upon his arrival last season.
Looking ahead to this season we are likely to see Chris Kreider stay on the top line with Zibanjead and Buchnevich. Of Course Ryan Strome and Panarin will now be joined on the right side by second year pro Kakko, which could anyone be luckier than Kakko right now? Being able to play on the opposite wing of a player like Panarin who drives play for his line like we generally would only see from centers. Kakko and Strome this year will produce just by accident from getting to play with an elite playmaker like Panarin. With the top two lines set virtually in stone, you start trying to figure out where number one overall pick Lafreniere will join. With the LW log jam ahead of him with Kreider and Panarin he naturally will start alongside Chytil and Julien Gauthier on the 3rd line.
If you have seen any of Lafreniere’s game you will already know that he should not need much of a transition to the NHL. He is about as NHL ready as you can get, and while he won’t have a Connor McDavid level impact in a 56 game season, the Rangers will certainly feel his impact in a positive way. No player will be positively impacted more than Chytil however. Chytil has the size, speed, and skill to be on heck of player at the NHL level but it has not been able to shine through yet. We have seen flashes of the kind of player he can be but now he gets to play alongside a player like Lafreniere, whose playmaking ability is one of best skill sets, who will be able to take some pressure off the young center. Lafreniere also has the unique ability like that of Panarin to be able to drive play from the wing which will also help to make Chytil’s life easier.
While certainly the Rangers will not be contending for a Cup throughout this covid affected season, they’ve finally have some dynamic offensive talent and flexibility that should be able to make them Cup champions in the very near future.