With a new CBA finally approved, and an official schedule released, hockey fans are looking forward to finally seeing the puck dropped this Saturday. As players and staff scramble to hold abbreviated training camps, stories and speculations concerning all thirty teams are beginning to pick up. One of the questions being asked is can the New York Rangers continue with the success they had last season? After a high profile, off season trade and with a returning group of core players, expectations will be high for the original six team. Considering the physical, grinding style that the Rangers are known for, thoughts are that a shortened season might even work hugely to their benefit. Every player will have to perform well, but these five in particular will likely carry some extra weight on their shoulders.
Rick Nash- When Nash was finally traded to the Rangers in July, it was undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of the off-season. As a high profile player who talked about coming to New York for months before it actually happened, Nash will be under the same kind of scrutiny that Brad Richards was for the '11-'12 season. He proved himself to be a consistent goal scorer with the mediocre Blue Jackets, and the expectation is that with a close, well executed team like the Rangers, he will remain consistent and his numbers will steadily rise. Richards did what was expected of him and quickly became a fan favorite. The spotlight will certainly be on Nash to see if he can achieve the same.
Ryan Callahan- In his first season as the team's captain, Callahan was very much a leader both on and off the ice. His ability to score goals, create plays, and block shots made him a dangerous two-way player. He stepped up time and time again to infuse some energy when the team was struggling, and with his leadership, the Rangers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and within two wins of the Stanley Cup Finals. However, since he did so well last year, the expectation for this year is that he will do better. After last year's nearly tireless playoff run, fans will be looking for him to extend the Rangers' season just a little farther, ending it only after lifting the Cup.
Marian Gaborik- New York sports fans are loyal, but they aren't always patient. Gaborik was expected to make a big, and immediate impact for the Rangers when he signed, but he's struggled with consistency, and suffered a few injuries over the years. He exploded this past season with 41 goals, just shy of his career high 42, before stalling again in the playoffs. After the Rangers were eliminated, he admitted to having played with an injured shoulder that could have seriously hampered his on ice contributions. Gaborik underwent surgery during the summer that would have kept him out of the line-up until December anyway, but reports all say he is ready to go and back to 100%. Everyone will be looking for the Gaborik from last year's regular season, and anything less will simply be unacceptable.
Henrik Lundqvist- the “King of New York” has undeniably been one if the most consistent Rangers over the past several seasons, and at times he's stood as the glue that has kept the entire team from just collapsing upon itself. His do-what-it-takes goal tending style frequently has him making unbelievable saves while looking cool, calm, and collected. After being nominated on three prior occasions, Lundqvist finally brought home the Vezina Trophy this past summer and can now add that to his long list of accomplishments and awards. However, one trophy that has eluded him is that the one that matters most in this sport. Lundqvist has made no secret of the fact that raising the Cup is his ultimate goal in this league, and fans will be more than happy if this year is when he finally gets his chance. Of all the expectations set for Lundqvist, perhaps none are higher than his own.
Chris Kreider- Ok, so the rosters haven't been set and this kid may not even put on a Rangers sweater this year. But, given his record making performance in the playoff last year, it seems unlikely that he'd be denied the chance to exhibit his skills during the regular season. On the other hand, given his record making performance in the playoffs last year, Kreider will be under tremendous pressure to continue with the speed and intensity that he showed during that time. He'll have to prove to both the fans and the media that his playoff performance was no fluke. The expectations will be for him to make a big splash, and quickly, similar to what Carl Hagelin did when he was called up last season. Otherwise, a conditioning stint with the Connecticut Whale would be likely.
In the hockey mad market of New York, the expectations for the Rangers as a whole will be huge. This season marks 19 years since the cup was last raised by a Blueshirt and many fans feel now is the time to see it again. Every single player will have to come together to form one cohesive unit of efficiency and consistency. If these five can perform at the necessary level, well, they'll make the way easy for everyone else.
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