COACH: Alain Vigneault
2014-15 RECORD: 53-22-7, 113 points (first in Metro, lost to Lightning, 4-3, in Conference finals)
VITAL SIGNS: 3.02 goals-for per game (3rd); 2.28 goals-against per game (3rd); 16.8 power play pct. (21st); 84.3 penalty kill pct. (6th); PDO: 101.9 (1st); Corsi For pct.: 50.3 (19th); Fenwick For pct.: 50.5 (18th); face-off pct.: 46.7 (28th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Rick Nash – Derick Brassard – Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Kevin Hayes
J.T. Miller – Oscar Lindberg – Viktor Stalberg
Dominic Moore – Jarret Stoll – Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh – Keith Yandle
Dan Girardi – Marc Staal
Dan Boyle – Kevin Klein
OUTLOOK: Henrik Lundqvist and a deep, stalwart blue-line corps will always be the backbone of this team, but the Rangers squad that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season did so with an offense that took off in Alain Vigneault’s second year at the helm. The Blueshirts jumped from 18th in goals per game in 2013-14 to third in 2014-15, an increase that allowed them to weather Lundqvist’s lengthy injury absence. With the Capitals and Penguins reloaded and eyeing revenge for being knocked from the playoffs, the Rangers’ attack will have to turn in a repeat performance if they want to stay atop the Metro. Bringing in Stanley Cup winners Viktor Stalberg and Jarret Stoll will help fill the departed skates of veteran Martin St. Louis (retired), who was ineffective late last season and in the playoffs. The continued evolution of young guns Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes should bolster a dangerous top line of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and a healthy Mats Zuccarello. New backup Antti Raanta is a question mark in goal should Lundqvist go down again, a scenario that, offensive firepower or not, the Rangers would prefer not to have to deal with.
After coming within one win of a return to the Cup Final there is a sense of urgency here. “Guys notice we have a window to win a championship,” Nash told SI.com. “With the cap and everything there’s a window where you can keep guys together and I feel we know we’re in that window now, and we have to win now. It’s not like we have years and years to lose and have another shot at it. In the room we feel like we have to do it now.”
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Hayes
Although Hayes is blessed with Rick Nash-like size—actually, he’s even bigger than the Rangers’ No. 1 scoring threat—his game isn’t based around the bruising play of a power forward. Instead, it was Hayes’s silky hands and pinpoint passing that distinguished him during his eye-opening rookie campaign. His hold-up play in opponents’ zones, in which he’d control the puck along the half-boards before picking out the right passing option as reinforcements arrived, was the work of a veteran forward, not a 23-year-old straight out of Boston College. Look for Hayes to improve on the 17-28-45 he put up in 2014-15 as he gets more ice time and gels with prospective linemates Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider.
PREDICTION: 98 points, fifth in Metro