The New York Rangers: Hockey’s Team to Watch in 2021

After half a decade of Stanley Cup contention, the New York Rangers organization released a letter to fans in 2018 announcing that the team would be moving toward a rebuild. Fan-favorite players were traded away, and the Rangers began to see the loses pile up. Through it all, the loyal New York fans continued to show their support and had faith that they would soon return to the top of the league. Just two years later, the Rangers are raising eyebrows and garnering hype towards their future as a team.

The Rangers finished the 2020 season with a 37-28-5 record, placing seventh in the Metropolitan Division. Due to a COVID-19 shortened season, the Rangers qualified for a spot in the first-ever Stanley Cup Qualifiers, where they were abruptly swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in three games.

For a team in the midst of a rebuild, the Rangers exceeded many expectations.  It was the first season played with the recently signed superstar Artemi Panarin. Panarin would record 95 points in just 70 games and was nominated for the Hart Trophy (NHL’s MVP award). Notable rookies, including defenseman Adam Fox and 2019 second overall pick Kappo Kakko, flashed potential as future franchise pieces. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin played exceptionally well in his first career games, leading the NHL in save percentage. “Before COVID-19 hit, he was playing outstandingly, going 10-2,” said junior Matt Sollitto.

After a disappointing end to the 2020 season, the Rangers struck gold in the offseason: winning the #1 overall selection in the draft.  With the top selection, the Rangers took the phenom prospect Alexis Lafreniere from the Rimouski Océanic. Lafreniere was one of the most hyped hockey prospects of the decade and has been compared to the likes of Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. “I think he will be lights out and will be even better in years after,” said junior Hunter Brenneis. Lafreniere joins a talented pool of Ranger prospects that show great promise for the future of the franchise.

2021 will be an interesting year for the New York Rangers. Outside of the draft, the team did not make any drastic changes during the offseason outside of losing longtime goaltender Henrik Lundquist, passing the torch to Igor Shesterkin. “I think Shesterkin is going to have a great year. He’s going to be one to watch for upcoming years, and the Rangers are lucky to have landed him,” added Sollitto.  Fans are hopping that centerman Mika Zibanejad can continue to progress into a star player and reliable centerpiece. Zibanejad led the NHL last year in goals per game and showed that he could perform as one of the league’s best. The defense will also look to make major improvements from their subpar previous season. A young defensive duo of Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo is one that fans can be excited for through the next few seasons. The Rangers will also look to bring Jacob Trouba back to his prime form after a rather disappointing debut season with the team.

Playing in one of the league’s toughest divisions, the Rangers will have a difficult journey to make it to this year’s postseason. “I think they’ll be decent with their draft picks from this year. They also have a lot of young kids who gained experience last year and who will rise to the occasion,” said junior Conor Lynch. Without a doubt, the Rangers will be one of the NHL’s most interesting teams to watch next season. The Rangers’ mix of headline players and young talent makes for an electric combination that could quickly translate to victories, and fans should be excited for the next season and the years to come.