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Biggest X-Factors for Penguins, Rangers in Playoff Series

Who are Pittsburgh Penguin and New York Ranger secret x-factors?

The Pittsburgh Penguins battle the New York Rangers in the first round of the NHL playoffs. One of the best stories every year are the under-the-radar and the depth players that pitch into a Stanley Cup run. In this first round series between division foes, I want to take a stab at picking who these players might be for each team.

Pittsburgh Penguins

When the Penguins signed Danton Heinen to a one-year, $1 million deal this past offseason, I don’t think many folks had him penciled in as an 18 goal scorer. Talk about a value contract. His three goals in the first three games cooled off to a more average 15 over the remaining 79, but his play has picked up again towards the end of the regular season. 

The biggest reason for his improvement down the stretch is relying on his strengths. While not the fastest or most talented player, he is a great forechecker and his shot is seriously underrated. In the last eight games, he has four goals, five points, and has seen an increase in playing time. 

He’s skated on three lines over the last couple weeks at different times, and is finding a way to stay productive. After entering into Coach Mike Sullivan's dog house, his play has forced Sullivan's hand. He will need to continue proving his worth to help the Penguins defeat the Rangers. 

The Ranger’s defensive game plan will be focused on shutting down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and the Penguins are in desperate need of depth scoring from someone like Danton Heinen if they want any chance at winning this series.

New York Rangers

The Rangers have weapons throughout their lineup, and Pittsburgh is strategizing for ways to outmaneuver them. Someone they ought to take a closer look at though, is 22-year-old defenseman K’Andre Miller. The former first round pick is playing in his second season with the Rangers, putting up seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points.

He plays with Jacob Trouba on their second pairing. He also plays time on both special teams units. He will most likely see action against one of the Penguins future Hall of Fame centers throughout the series. His reach (he’s 6’5) and strength make him a formidable matchup for Evgeni Malkin and his wingers. Two years into his professional career, he looks to be a staple in the New York Rangers top 4 for years to come.

Miller is also an excellent skater. His speed and puck possession abilities are a huge part of the offensive system for the Rangers. The emphasis on the top end talent in New York is warranted. 

Adam Fox is elite. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider all have game changing skills as well. But even if they don’t produce, the Penguins will have to find a way to shut down the rest of the Ranger’s potent lineup. And though he isn’t the first Ranger name mentioned in these kinds of articles, the Penguins must keep tabs on the gifted, young defenseman, K’ Andre Miller. If they don't, Miller's talent might be too much for the Penguins to handle. 

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