With a recent surge into playoff contention, the New York Rangers’ rebuild looks to be solidly ahead of schedule.
Despite losing their last two games, the New York Rangers are still 11-5 over their last 16 games and 9-3 over their last 12. That surge has put them just four points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, with two games in hand on Columbus entering Tuesday.
Two years ago, Rangers president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton declared their rebuilding plan. The hiring of David Quinn as head coach out of the college ranks (Boston U.) showed a commitment to tear it down and build back up, and a 32-36-14 mark in 2018-19 was plenty good enough under the circumstances.
The Rangers signed winger Artemi Panarin in free agency last summer, and they acquired defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets in another notable move. And rather than trade winger Chris Kreider at the deadline, they signed him to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract extension.
A quick look at the Rangers’ current roster shows just two guys, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (38) and defenseman Marc Staal (33), who are over 30 years old. Defenseman Brendan Smith is 30 years old, and no one else will turn 30 on their next birthday. Panarin, Kreider and forward Jesper Fast are the next oldest at 28 years old, with Kreider turning 29 on April 30.
The clearest sign of the Rangers’ youth movement is seen in the goal crease. Alexandar Georgiev (29 starts this season) just turned 24 on Feb. 10, and Igor Shesterkin is 24 himself. Lundqvist has been the odd-man out when everyone’s healthy since roughly the first of the year, and his time in a Rangers’ uniform seems to be winding down.
It’s worth noting the Rangers took advantage of a soft slate of games to vault into playoff contention. The schedule has already started to get tougher, and it will remain so with 12 of their final 17 games against teams currently in a playoff spot, and nine of those 17 on the road.
This is only Quinn’s second season behind the bench, and the first year with Panarin and Trouba in the fold as key pieces of what the franchise surely hopes will be its next serious Stanley Cup contender. So even if they don’t pay off a February surge with a playoff spot, the 2019-20 season can be marked as a move in the right direction and a success for the New York Rangers.
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