The Rangers season kicks off next week with a home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
1. Igor Shesterkin finishes top three in Vezina Trophy voting
This prediction is likely the most accurate of the bunch. Shesterkin looks unstoppable in net most nights, so much so that last season, the Russian goaltender showed he could carry his team to a conference final.
Statistically, Shesterkin has held the highest save percentage (.928%), highest high danger save percentage (.863%) and third lowest goals-against average in the league since the 2019-20 season. His quality starts percentage over the last three seasons is also a whopping .705%. At just 26 years old and surrounded by a stronger team, do not expect Shesterkin to falter this season.
2. The team fires Gerard Gallant
This prediction is by far the most outlandish considering that the Rangers just made the conference finals, and the latest polls place Gallant as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, which is awarded to the coach of the year. Nevertheless, the Rangers’ successes are not from him.
The NHL is one of the most balanced leagues in North American professional sports. With very high parity and an abundance of talent, almost every team can beat every other team in the league on any given night. As such, five-on-five metrics demonstrate the prowess of the coaching staff’s systems, including their line combinations, possession strategies and preferred styles of play.
While having a well-constructed lineup certainly aids in five-on-five performances and a weak lineup hinders them, coaching has a massive impact on how a team plays. The Rangers’ absurdly pathetic five-on-five statistics have to do with Gallant in some part. Last regular season, the Rangers’ Corsi For percentage was 25th in the league, their Fenwick For percentage was 23rd, their expected goals for percentage ranked 23rd, and their count of scoring chances came in at 26th. Those are the numbers of a rebuilding team, not a cup contender.
The playoffs were not much better. The Rangers lived on their special teams and relied on Shesterkin to bail them out of trouble far too often. The emergence of younger players on the team and the increase in depth scoring came in well-timed flashes during the playoffs, which enabled the Rangers to win games.
Gallant needs to be fired, and new systems need to be put in place to take advantage of the Rangers’ strong line-up and talent. The Rangers’ top-end talent can produce under any system, but Gallant has stifled the team’s depth. Replacing him will help pave the way for the faster development of the Ranger’s youth.
As long as the Rangers are winning games, Gallant’s job will be unjustifiably safe, but if the team falters — which is inevitable for every team — Gallant should be the first out the door. His strong polling among league-award voters does not validate his performance, but rather reveals how voters often look at the standings too superficially.
3. Chris Kreider does not reach more than 40 goals
Kreider has always been among the better shooters in the league, often reaching the high 20s in goals. However, last season, he lit the lamp 52 times. That will not be happening again.
Kreider’s shooting percentage was 20.2%, which is 9.7% higher than the Rangers’ average and considerably higher than the league average, 9.8%. Many underlying statistics, including possession metrics, do not suggest that Kreider’s play has radically improved, but rather that he got lucky. Expect a fall in goals.
4. K’Andre Miller becomes the second-best defenseman
Miller is entering his third season in the NHL as one of the best-kept secrets in the Eastern Conference. At just 22 years old, he is a crucial member of the Rangers’ top four defensemen and has all the makings of a star. He can skate well for his stature, has a high-end shot and has strong passing skills. While Miller can still improve his agility, his long, strong strides and good balance allow him to fly up and down the ice.
So far in his career, Miller has played more than 20 minutes a night during the regular season, earning penalty killing time and some power play time. During the postseason last year, he averaged almost 25 minutes of ice time, showing a high level of responsibility for a young defender. With natural development and the guidance of high-end players such as Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba, Miller might end up being the Ranger’s second-best blueliner.
5. Brennan Othmann will play for the Rangers sometime this season
For those who do not follow prospects, the name Othmann means nothing; however, he is the Rangers’ best prospect. A pure scorer, Othmann netted 50 goals and 97 points last season playing in the Ontario Hockey League. He possesses an NHL-ready release, impressive physicality, high-end skating and deceptively smart playmaking ability, making him a real candidate to play for the Rangers this year.
This preseason, the Rangers sent Othmann, 19, back to the OHL to further develop. The Rangers would prefer he play in the American Hockey League, but an agreement between the NHL and Canadian Hockey League prevents players drafted out of the CHL from playing in professional minor leagues until they are 20 years old by Dec. 31 of that year or have played four years in the junior leagues.
Still, with a need for depth scoring, there is a real chance that Othmann plays with the big club this year after some extra development.
Contact Ahaan Sabherwal at [email protected]