Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: New York Rangers
Last season: The Rangers finished just four games above .500 and watching their points percentage dip to .536 from .564, failing to qualify for the postseason for the third time in four seasons. It may have been disappointing, but it’s not unusual for a young team to take a step back, and it seemed excusable given the difficult circumstances surrounding a COVID-shortened season, especially for rookie Alexis Lafreniere and their young goalie tandem.
The team still managed to finish in the middle of the peak in most major statistical categories, including a major improvement in GA/GP, and featured three players who scored at least 20 goals, another great season from Artemi Panarin and a Norris-winning season from Adam Fox.
But the gut punch was how they responded – or lack thereof – to Tom Wilson’s throwdown of Panarin and the subsequent fervor, and further embarrassment of missing the playoffs forced an impatient James Dolan to take action, firing both his GM and head coach shortly after the season. It set the stage for a busy but somewhat bizarre offseason for the Rangers, who may or may not be a better team now than they were at the end of last season.
Best option: Artemi Panarin, LW
Panarin has scored 473 points since entering the league, the fifth-highest total during that span. He’s one of the few wingers in the league that teams can really build around, and whatever concerns about his size and lack of physicality are quickly wiped away when the puck is on his stick. He finished third with 1.38 points per game, behind only Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and did so with far inferior linemates – Colin Blackwell became fantasy-relevant because of Panarin, and will certainly struggle to score at the same pace. Panarin, on the other hand, is projected to finish fifth in scoring according to THN’s Pool Guide with 103 points, and remains an elite fantasy option.
Hidden gem: Kaapo Kakko, RW
Kakko made huge strides last season even if the raw stats didn’t really show it. He finished with fewer goals, points and shots than his rookie season, but his plus-minus improved by 29 points and his possession numbers were very good; Kakko led all Rangers forwards with a 53.95 5v5 CF% and 55.11 5v5 CF/60. It was obvious that he had gotten strong and gained a bit more confidence, and it’s very encouraging that the underlying metrics really support the eye test. His career 10.0 S% is still rather low for someone who hangs around the net and is known for scoring goals, but it’s a good sign that it improved from 9.2 S% to 11.1 S%.
New head coach Gerard Gallant wants his teams to push the pace and be more aggressive, and that should lead to more scoring chances. With Blackwell now with the Kraken, the spot opposite Panarin’s wing has also opened up, and Kakko’s fantasy value could get a huge boost if he gets that role. Alexis Lafreniere should also make huge strides in his second season, and as the former top pick he will likely draw more attention in fantasy drafts, but that just means Kakko might get overlooked and pay big dividends for those who use a late-round pick on him.
Goalies: Igor Shesterkin is pencilled in as the starter, but are we really sure about that? It’s been an impressive start to his career but the sample size is just 47 games; meanwhile, Alexandar Georgiev has 96 games of experience and his numbers have been pretty solid, too. While Shesterkin looks more like the long-term choice, it’s really anyone’s guess how the Rangers may fare this season and young goalies tend to be mercurial.
The Rangers are also lacking experience on defense, and will instead have to count on second-year player K’Andre Miller and rookie Zac Jones to potentially play big roles. To be safe, both Shesterkin and Georgiev should be rostered, and no one should be surprised if there’s some sort of timeshare at some point during the season. Still, quality goalies seem to be on short supply this season, and considering Shesterkin’s talent and potential workload, he’s a solid gamble as a top-10 goalie.
Outlook: Panarin, Fox and Mika Zibanejad are excellent fantasy options, and they will certainly be popular picks in the early rounds. But they will also have a middle class that can provide a lot of upside, including Lafreniere, Kakko, Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov, who will certainly soak up some of the minutes vacated by Pavel Buchnevich on the right wing.
In fact, it might be time to move on from Chris Kreider, who has been a 20-goal machine but will take a backseat to his more talented younger teammates sooner than later. It’s the same story on defense even though Jacob Trouba is only 27 years old; Miller, Jones and Ryan Lindgren could all make huge strides this season and overtake him on the depth chart. The Rangers will be interesting to watch all season.