The first key has been the center for the Rangers and their offseason plans: in order for the team to make a jump, it starts with the kids. Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Filip Chytil have yet to make the massive jumps expected from them but have steadily increased in production year after year.
The Rangers lineup, at least for opening night, has room for each youngster to develop and make a big difference and even solidify themselves in the top six. It will be easier for some than others.
Starting with Kakko, who will have the easiest way into the top six: though the Rangers brought in Blake Wheeler on a one-year contract, Kakko should start the year with top-six minutes. He is expected to take a jump, boasting the puck handling and physical skills not many offer. For Kakko, it comes down to finishing: if he is able to score more, watch out.
For Lafreniere, playing in the top six at his natural position of the left wing is hard, with Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider ahead of him. Still, the former first-overall pick can make some noise. It will be interesting how Peter Laviolette slots Lafreniere into the lineup as the season goes on. After a poor first round against the Devils, combined with an eventual contract extension, Lafreniere has some expectations he needs to reach.
Last is Chytil, who slots in as the Rangers’ second or third-line center, assuming he and Vincent Trocheck are interchangeable. Chytil scored over 20 goals for the first time in his career last season, and the hope is he can do the same next year.
The Rangers’ success, not only in the regular season, will come down to these three players. But, these three are not only hoped but expected to make jumps. It will be key for the Blueshirts for years to come.