It’s up to Panarin and Zibanejad
It may be overstating the obvious, but the Rangers won’t win unless Panarin and Zibanejad are firing on all cylinders. When they are, the Rangers’ offense is almost unstoppable with two top lines frustrating the opposition defense. Great players rise to the occasion in big games and the first game against the Hurricanes will be the biggest game the team has played in three years.
Considering the youth and inexperience of the rest of the forwards, it’s impossible to have any kind of expectation about them. Can Kaapo Kakko replicate his two goal performance in the opening game of the World Championships last year, when Finland upset Canada? It was a big game performance by a teenager. Maybe he can do it again.
The great news is based on their past performances, we can expect Panarin and Zibanejad to start well as they have their entire careers. Its going to be up to Kreider, Strome and Buchnevich to elevate their games and build off the excellence of the two superstars. That’s how the team was doing it when play was stopped.
One caveat to this whole discussion. Just as this has been the most unusual NHL season in league history, it is entirely possible that the Rangers will mix up their forward lines, based on how the players are doing in the brief training camp. With as many as 28 players on the roster, the coaches will have the latitude to get creative with their lineup, based on what they see in practice and scrimmages. We are still weeks away from that stage of the return of hockey so there is plenty of time to speculate.