For a young Rangers team that is on the tail end of a rebuilding process and looking to establish itself as a consistently competitive organization, gauging expectations heading into one of the most abnormal NHL seasons in history may be more complex than usual.
“Expectation is a funny word,” Chris Kreider said on a Zoom call Wednesday. “You ask every single guy on any team in the league and their expectations are going to be higher for themselves and for their group than anyone outside the group could possibly put on them.
“I think it’s our goal [to make the playoffs] as opposed to an expectation. You’re not entitled to anything or given anything in this league. You have to earn it every single night, there are no bad hockey teams in this league, every team has depth and talent — there’s a reason it’s the best league in the world. [Playoffs are] the goal. To achieve that goal we have to take it one game at a time and continue to build and continue to progress because it’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be a long season in a way, and also short, I guess.”
With management, head coach David Quinn and players all maintaining throughout training camp that earning a playoff berth come May is a realistic goal, the Rangers will have to adjust to the loss of lineup staples, integrate new faces and improve as one cohesive team to get there.
All while competing in a loaded, realigned East division over a condensed 56-game schedule featuring intradivision play amid a rampant pandemic.
“We don’t have 82 games to figure it out,” said Kreider, who is entering his ninth season on Broadway. “A big focus in our training camp was acknowledging that we don’t have as much time to prepare over the course of training camp, we don’t have as many games to punch our ticket. The biggest thing is to hit the ground running and have a good start.”
The Rangers will open the 2020-21 season Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the Islanders. Henrik Lundqvist won’t be in net for the first time since 2005, Marc Staal won’t be on the blue line for the first time since 2007 and Jesper Fast won’t be on the wing for the first time since 2014.
The Rangers will have a highly touted goaltender in Igor Shesterkin, a young, big-bodied defender in K’Andre Miller and a once-in-a-generation talent in Alexis Lafreniere. Shesterkin and Miller have been ripening in the organization’s system and have finally been harvested for the opening-night roster. And the Rangers won the right to draft Lafreniere first-overall when their logo popped out of a lottery machine in August.
The future is here, and all three rookies have been handed major roles for this upcoming season.
“We certainly have a lot of young guys, I think we’re probably going to be up there as one of the youngest teams in the league,” Kreider said. “The older guys that we do have, the guys that have experience, have really been helping the young guys and meshing pretty well, getting to know the young guys. For as young as our group is, something that I’ve seen is guys who might’ve been 18, 19, 20 year olds last year and some guys in their first year look a lot more comfortable on the ice, in the room. I think the group has been together long enough that there’s that [comfort] with everyone. The new guys coming in have been welcomed and I think have fit in right away.
“I think the exciting thing about having such a young group is how much potential this group has, how much potential each individual has for growth, day by day. It’s a very exciting time to be a Ranger and a Rangers fan.”