Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at the New York Rangers.
There’s a boatload of intrigue up front in New York and while the most exciting players are on the wing, the most competitive position will be at center. I have Chytil as the future No. 1, but frankly Barron could be the guy, based on his early work at Cornell. Henriksson is another option, though he’s a bit undersized for a top guy. Howden’s excellent 200-foot game makes him the obvious shutdown candidate, but otherwise it’s a race to see who can earn the scoring line roles. On top of that, Andersson is a natural center who could also put himself in the running if some of the others falter. Panarin will lead the offense and bring lots of experience to a young corps, while Kakko and Kravtsov will be very hard to handle on different lines, giving opponents match-up problems. Lemieux brings grit, while Gettinger brings a lot of size and reach.
The top four seems pretty obvious here, even though Miller and Fox have yet to play a game in the NHL yet. After that, it’s going to be a fierce competition for playing time thanks to the way GM Jeff Gorton has built up the pipeline. Hajek and Lundkvist get the nods here, but you also have Yegor Rykov, Joey Keane, Matthew Robertson and Zac Jones to consider. It’s a great problem to have for coach David Quinn, who will oversee a great influx of talent in the coming years. With this particular top-six formation, there is an excellent variety of skill sets too. Size, skating, puckmoving acumen, power play prowess and physicality are all represented.
It’s gonna be strange not seeing Henrik Lundqvist in the home crease at Madison Square Garden, but that day is approaching. ‘The King’ is under contract until the summer of 2021 and by that time, the Rangers will be set to hoist his jersey to the rafters. While Alexandar Georgiev could be the short-term answer, New York has a couple of high-end prospects on the way who will be banging on his door. Shesterkin is the practical lock thanks to his wondrous career in Russia so far and it’s not hard seeing a scenario where Georgiev plays well enough in the next few years to earn himself a job with another NHL team.
Overall, this is going to be a very dangerous squad in five years. Heck, even 2019-20 is going to be fun as players like Kappo, Fox and Kravtsov make their NHL debuts. But with veterans Panarin, Trouba and Skjei as the connective tissue, this franchise has the chance to do something special if even half of the high-end prospects turn out to be as good as we think they will. The breadth of the system will be a huge advantage for Gorton, as he can tweak his roster along the way, knowing he has the assets to do so.
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