The New York Rangers have made the playoffs. It’s been five years since the team has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so it is intriguing to assess which Rangers play the game needed to succeed in the postseason.
During the playoffs, there is much less open ice. Zone entries need to be more precise, forechecking needs to intensify, and players need to get to dirty areas. Generally, goals scored in the playoffs aren’t very pretty.
The Rangers are a young team that has many inexperienced players. This potential run will be invaluable for their development. But this team has enough experience from their veterans so they may not be outmatched by their opponents.
Rangers on the current roster have played a combined 505 playoff games. This number does not include Tyler Motte, Greg McKegg, Julien Gauthier, Libor Hajek, or Jonny Brodzinski who may not see much action. Alexis Lafrenière, Braden Schneider and K’Andre Miller have never appeared in a playoff game. Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Igor Shesterkin all have their only experience in the bubble, so those 13 total games from those five players can really be voided from that number.
Leading the way in games played are Justin Braun (100), Ryan Reaves (84), Chris Kreider (84), Barclay Goodrow (65), Andrew Copp (34), Jacob Trouba (30) and Artemi Panarin (30).
“16 Game Players”
Players who elevate their game come playoff time are popularly referred to as “16 game players.” Chris Drury made it a priority to acquire players of this nature to balance out the postseason roster. The seven players we mentioned with 30 or more games of playoff experience are the ones we will look to lead the way. Four of them joined the team this year.
Braun leads the pack with 100 postseason games played. He accumulated a large chunk of them (84) with the Sharks, specifically on their 2016 run to the Final. The rest are from the Flyers short run in the bubble. While Braun may not play every game, when he rotates in on the bottom pair he will not be a liability. Specifically, he could be a great partner for Braden Schneider, who will be seeing playoff ice for the first time. However, with a rotation of these two and Patrik Nemeth (28 playoff games played), we could see three different combinations on the third pair.
Reaves has a very clear role for the Rangers and that will not change in the playoffs. He may not appear in every game, but when he does he will know what to do. It is beneficial that he has played multiple series under Gerard Gallant back in Vegas. It is worth noting that he has been undisciplined in the postseason before, but he has appeared more levelheaded this season.
Kreider has the expectation of being the Rangers best all around player in the playoffs. He is the only Ranger that is still around from the deep runs in 2014 and 2015. While his statistics aren’t amazing, you are all aware that he has evolved as a player since that time. However, even back then he always came up in the big moment. He scored the tying goal late in Game 3 of the Conference Finals against Montreal in 2014. He did the same in Game 7 of the Second Round versus Washington in 2015. He even debuted in the 2012 playoffs, scoring five goals before appearing in an NHL game. With the season he is having and the play style he sports, Kreider is expected to be the leader of this team as they embark on a potential run.
Goodrow was a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion with Tampa Bay the past two seasons. That honestly says enough. He plays every regular season game as if it’s a playoff game. He is a Swiss Army Knife and can be thrown anywhere in the lineup. He will be vital to the penalty kill, and show Rangers fans why he was awarded his current contract.
Copp, Trouba and Panarin have all played fewer games than the others, but they have been around the block. Many may think that Panarin’s play style won’t translate, but he is still almost a point per game player in the playoffs (28 points in 30 games.) Expect him to still be a game breaking force. Trouba and Copp both made their playoff runs with the Jets. In 2018 they appeared in the Western Conference Final where Reaves’ Golden Knights sent them home. For anyone who’s been watching, it is clear that these two will be huge factors. It may not appear on the scoresheet like Panarin, but they can both do it all in every zone and can play in all situations. Copp’s ability to win draws will a crucial difference maker.
It will be very interesting to see what Mika Zibanejad brings this time around. He has played in just 16 games between New York and Ottawa and recorded eight points in those games. Like Kreider, he has evolved tremendously since 2017. He could be the X-factor for this team.
Lafrenière, Chytil and Kakko (if he plays) will likely not have as much ice time as they have recently. Nonetheless their play will still be important. It is a great opportunity for them to gain this experience at this age. They could even step up and have an impact right away. With Gallant having made a trip to a Stanley Cup Final, he knows what it takes from his players to make it there. He emphasizes intense forechecking/backchecking and effort in all three zones. While there will be less open ice for these three to operate, if they can adjust and emulate Gallant’s system, they could be big factors.
While Fox, Lindgren, Schneider and Miller are inexperienced, they shouldn’t have much of an issue translating their games. Lindgren and Schneider have proved to be physical presences, and Miller has been playing at a borderline elite level since January. He has increasingly used his size to his advantage as well. We know what Fox can bring, and there is hope that he can step right in and continue it. The ability to break out of the zone and not get caught in their own end will be essential for this group’s success.
Shesterkin appeared in one game during the 2020 bubble. There isn’t much worry in his experience level. Looking back at his stint in the KHL, he was consistently phenomenal in the postseason. In his last playoff run with SKA St. Petersburg, he posted a save percentage of .904 with a goals against average (GAA) of 1.95.
He has proven he can elevate his game when his team needs it. He will be the most important player on the ice for the Rangers. Everything he has displayed so far proves that he is up to the task.
It is impossible to project every player’s future performance. However, there are players with track records that prove they can be relied upon. There are enough experienced players on the roster for the Rangers to potentially make a deep run. With Shesterkin in net, anything is possible quite honestly.
The play of the inexperienced Rangers will likely make the difference. If the youngsters can adjust, and Zibanejad and Fox can translate their play, the Rangers are right up there with the rest. It will be disappointing if they do not move past the first round, but this core of players gaining this experience together will be a silver lining regardless.
Who do you think will be the best playoff performer?