The 2020-21 season is crucial for the development of many New York Rangers
When it comes to the New York Rangers, the 2020-21 season will be important for many players. Will they be able to improve on impressive debuts? Will they be able to repeat outstanding seasons and justify long term big dollar contracts? But for a handful of players, this campaign could be a make or break season determining their future with the Rangers and their chance to make a lot of money.
It’s easy to break the team into five different groups. The first group includes youngsters like Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko Julien Gauthier, Brett Howden and Filip Chytil. All cost controlled on Entry Level Contracts (ELC’s), these kids will work to justify their first round draft status.
The second group includes young players like Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Igor Shesterkin who will see if they can build on impressive debut seasons. They are have established themselves as quality NHL players, but are still on cost controlled ELC’s.
Then there are the kids who haven’t proven themselves yet and will try to make the team. That includes players like Libor Hajek, Vitali Kravtsov, Tarmo Reunanen and K’Andre Miller, all under ELC’s and destined to play in New York or Hartford. There’s the additional factor of the expansion draft after this season, a cause for concern for players like Hajek who may not be protected.
The fourth group are the veterans like Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba and Chris Kreider whose roles are clearly established. They will continue to be team leaders and will need to justify their hefty paychecks. Will they be under pressure to succeed? Absolutely, but with their contracts, they aren’t going anywhere.
But there is a fifth group, made up of five players for whom the 2020-21 campaign will determine their future with the Rangers and in the NHL. Each of these five players have different reasons why this season will be crucial, but it will be up to them to live up to or exceed expectations.
#1 Ryan Strome
Although he signed a two-year deal in November, there are many questions about Strome that will hopefully be answered this season. Is he a true second line center who can help the Rangers into the postseason or was the best year of his NHL career because he was he riding Artemi Panarin’s coattails?
Strome has a head start as he will again be Panarin’s center. If Strome can build on last season it will cement his role as a perfect center for the Rangers’ highest paid player. He will be setting himself up for a big payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in two years and that will be a conundrum for the Blueshirts. Sign him or let him go?
If Strome regresses and plays the way he did with the Islanders and Oilers he will be expendable and not part of the Rangers future. He may find himself on the third or fourth line and become nothing more than a former top five draft pick who didn’t live up to expectations.
If that happens, look for the team to use him as cost controlled trade bait at the deadline or next summer. The odds are that he won’t be a Ranger in two years,but if he can improve on last season, the team may be hard pressed to cut him loose.