Dearie Diary: New York Rangers 2020-21 Season Preview
As we have seen the amazing progress of the New York Rangers ever since their “letter” about rebuilding on February 8th, 2018, there also comes a lot of uncertainty about the upcoming season. Uncertain because while we thought we had the right aspects at the beginning of the 2019 season, they ultimately fell short of the Stanley Cup in the 2020 playoffs. There are 3 key factors that I think will help this team out in the 2021-2022, 56 game season. The new approach of goaltending now that Henrik Lundqvist is no longer with the organization, the fact that they got the #1 overall pick that is Alexis Lafrenière, and the stars of the team that played a huge factor in the Rangers late playoff push.
If you are a Rangers fan like me, it still hurts to know that Henrik Lundqvist is no longer on the team. The man who was the face of the franchise for more than a decade, and a pillar in the success the Rangers had ever since he stepped into goal, will no longer be in net for the New York Rangers. He won’t be in the net at all this year for the Capitals due to a heart condition that will force him to opt-out of the 2021-2022 season. With that being said, the Rangers still have the great tender that is Igor Shesterkin. While he was unable to perform in the early games of the playoffs, there are still high hopes for the 24-year-old. Before Igor was put in goal for the Rangers, fans were ecstatic to have this Russian phenomenon play in New York. From drafting him in the 2014 NHL draft to playing his first NHL game, Igor has been nothing short of amazing. In just his first NHL season, he went 10-2. To say that it is an exciting time for goaltending in NY would be an understatement. While some fans may still be upset about Hank being gone, I can assure you that we have something quite astounding happening here in New York for the Rangers.
What a time to be alive if you are a New York Rangers fan, huh?! The Rangers secured the 1st overall draft pick this year, following a year where they had the 2nd overall draft pick in 2019. While Kaapo Kakko was a bit shy on his play in the 2019-2020 season, you can still feel the excitement over him. There is a bright future in Kaapo, and I cannot wait for him to explode over the next couple of years. In this year's draft, the Rangers got left-winger Alexis Lafrenière. Former captain of the Rimouski Océanic, the expectations behind Laffy are huge. Some people even call him the next Sidney Crosby of the NHL. Some people won’t say too much about him until he proves himself in the years to come. Either way, the future is BRIGHT for this New York Rangers team after signing Alexis. In 2018-2019 while in the QMJHL and the Rimouski Océanic, Lafrenière scored 105 points in just 61 games played! In the following season, he scored 112 points in 52 games. You can think all you want about this stud, but by the looks of it, this kid will be the face of the franchise in years to come.
Who would you call the star of the 2019-2020 season? You can’t. Some too many players stood out this past season, that you can’t just pin one person. Let’s start with Artemi Panarin. Panarin, entering his 1st season in New York, truly shined throughout the entire season. With 32 goals and 63 assists, you can tell that he is fitting in just fine. With a bit of poor play in the 2020 playoffs, the excitement behind Panarin is still there. Throw in his excitement, (ahem, the broadway leg kick), he is already a fan favorite here in New York. While you look at the players around him, like Mika Zibanajed, it’s very hard not to see these players shining through each other. Mika was one of the stars on the team before signing Panarin, but throw him in the mix and you have an elite player in Mika. While he was forced to sit out a good chunk of the season due to injury, Zibanajed came through after his return. With 41 goals, a career-high and the most goals on the team last season, Mika was up there with the most elite players in the NHL for scoring. You can’t think of any times recently where you had not just one, but two players up in the top goals and assists categories.
While the start of the season is tentative, the rumors are that it will be a January 13th start for the 56 games of the upcoming season. Even though the 2020 season ended not too long ago, fans everywhere are more excited than ever. It has been a weird year for us all, and starting the new year with the NHL returning is what we are all looking forward to. This New York Rangers team will look different, feel different, and play differently. I can tell you one certain thing, it may not be this year, it may not be next year, but there are multiple Stanley Cups coming back to New York in the years to come.