The New York Rangers are set to begin the 2018-19 season at home Thursday night against the Nashville Predators. The mid-week opener will give the NHL an idea of where the Blueshirts are in the midst of the rebuild while Nashville is a heavy favorite to come out of the Western Conference next May.
With the conclusion of the preseason Sunday night the Rangers issued their opening night roster. One big surprise was 2017 first-round, seventh overall pick Lias Andersson’s demotion to the AHL. Many figured that he would be on the roster heading into 2018, but the organization felt that he wasn’t ready quite yet and kept Vinni Littieri instead.
Notable players to make the final roster are rookie forwards Filip Chytil and Brett Howden, who will pair with Littieri on the fourth line, third pairing defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, and backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev.
Chytil and Littieri are skilled forwards who saw some action last spring for the Rangers, while Howden is a big, powerful center who can create space for his wingers and also finish around the net. The Oakbank, Manitoba native tallied 86 goals in 175 regular season games for Moose Jaw in the WHL and he is somebody who the Rangers believe can be a steady scoring threat in the near future. He helped Team Canada win gold at the U20 World Junior Challenge by securing three goals and four assists in seven games, proving that he can be a dominate player on a big stage.
Georgiev will compete alongside Henrik Lundqvist for time between the pipes this fall after the 22-year-old posted a .918 save percentage in 10 games for New York last spring. Lundqvist’s contract still remains a problem for the Rangers’ rebuild and the former Vezina Trophy winner wants to remain in Manhattan. His numbers have been steadily declining over the past three seasons, but he is still a solid NHL goalie. With him in net it only hinders their chances of sustaining a lottery pick next June.
Defenseman Brady Skjei inked a 5-year contract extension to remain at Madison Square Garden and will be paired with Kevin Shattenkirk Wednesday night. Shattenkirk will be back from an injury ridden 2017-18 campaign and him and Skjei will likely log the most minutes on the back-end.
The top line will consist of Chris Kreider–Mika Zibanejad–Mats Zuccarello, but the biggest question is—for how long? Zuccarello will likely be traded by the All-Star break as New York needs to get rid of valuable assets in order to build for the future.
Thursday night will give a very good indication of the direction of the club, especially with rookie head coach David Quinn behind the bench. The Predators have arguably one of the best back ends in all of hockey, and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne in goal.
Nashville failed to reach the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive seasons after being upset by Winnipeg in the second-round, but they have essentially every key piece returning. MSG will be rocking for the home opener and New York will hang with them for a while, but The Preds are just too deep and too well-rounded and the Blueshirts bolster an inexperienced roster to begin the year.