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Rangers’ ‘goal’ with very young roster is clear

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Everyone understands that the Rangers are in a stage of development when continued progress of this next generation of Bluebloods is paramount, whether they be located on or off Broadway for the coming season.

So it kind of goes without saying the Rangers most likely will not be in the conversation when it comes to the 2021 Stanley Cup. In fact, mention of the Stanley Cup went entirely without saying on Saturday’s virtual conference call, in which club president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton previewed the year in advance of the team’s first training camp session on Monday.

There was, however, talk of the playoffs, which the Blueshirts have missed the past three seasons, though they did get an invite to the qualifying round of last summer’s 24-team tournament — the less said about that the better.

“It’s a goal for sure,” Davidson said when asked if qualifying for the playoffs would be a barometer for success. “That’s what you set your sights on, to get into the big dance.

“If we do that, that’ll be really good for the organization for a number of different reasons. That means you’re in the battle all the way through. Barometer, yes, yes for sure. That is a goal. We have to have set goals in place. We have a very hungry team and a very hungry coaching staff and there’s no question that is a goal.

“I personally feel that when you get into the build situation, you need to hang your hat on something at the end of the season as you move forward to become a champion,” he said. “And if this club in this division makes the playoffs, that will be an accomplishment. That will be a good thing for us.

“And just going through the entire battle of getting to the playoffs will be something really advantageous, especially for our young players.”

This will mark the first Rangers training camp since 2004 without the presence of Henrik Lundqvist, but the baton was essentially passed to the Igor Shesterkin-Alex Georgiev tandem a full calendar year ago. The transition was made on the fly, so the impact of the King’s absence should be significantly diminished.

Still, as Lundqvist prepares for open heart surgery, the burden will be on Shesterkin and Georgiev to provide elite goaltending wire to wire. If Shesterkin can duplicate the efficiency and impact of his first season (10-2, 2.52, .932 in 12 starts), the Rangers will be free to use Georgiev as an asset on the trade market.

There is ample talent up front, beginning with Hart finalist Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, the latter of whom will be one of three players medically unfit to participate in Monday’s sessions. Gorton provided no information other than “day-to-day” regarding Zibanejad, Justin Richards and Keith Kinkaid. Keep in mind that players sidelined by COVID-related issues will not be identified during training camp, per the NHL/NHLPA agreement. That, though, does not mean that any of the three has been infected.

Alexis Lafreniere, who has been skating informally with his teammates for weeks, will make his official training camp debut. It is probable that the first-overall draft selection will be the left wing to flip to the right side if the Blueshirts do not stack Panarin, Chris Kreider and Lafreniere in their natural slots.

Lafreniere could flip to the right to join the Kreider-Zibanejad partnership or he could replace Jesper Fast — the only varsity forward not to return following his free-agent flight to Carolina — on the line with Panarin and center Ryan Strome.

Kappo Kakko
Kappo Kakko
Getty Images

The Rangers are anxious to see whether Kaapo Kakko, who was a bit of a revelation in last year’s summer camp preceding the tournament in which he played reasonably well, can take a significant step in his sophomore season. Everyone seems encouraged.

“From what I’ve seen to this point, and talked to our staff about, is [that] a lot of the young players were so young,” Davidson said. “Now they’ve gotten a little bit older, a few months and not even a year [since summer camp in late July], but they’ve changed.

“You saw Kaapo come back to the bubble in Toronto and play the way he played. And now he shows up after a solid summer of working out, he’ll be bigger and stronger. We’re always looking for things like that to hang your hat on.”

The Rangers expect K’Andre Miller, the 20-year-old defenseman without a game of pro experience, to compete for a spot on the wide open left side of the blue line. Miller exploded onto the scene with his play in the pre-bubble camp.

“I think K’Andre has a great chance [of making the team],” Gorton said. “I think we’re all excited in what he’s been showing. His commitment this offseason has been great, he’s been here for a long time working, training and skating.

“We’re excited to see how he looks with NHL players. He’s got a great chance.”

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