After an eventful offseason with many twists and turns, the 2019-2020 season opener has arrived for the New York Rangers (7:00 P.M. ET, MSG).
During the offseason, the Blueshirts made many key acquisitions including Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko and Artemi Panarin. Fox and Trouba were acquired in separate trades. The Rangers were fortunate enough to move up to second in the draft and select Kakko. On July 1st, the Rangers landed the biggest fish in free agency after handing Panarin a contract worth over $80 million dollars. These added pieces have given the Rangers an exciting and fresh feeling that has many fans intrigued. All four players are expected to make their New York Ranger debut on Thursday Night.
“We’ve circled this day since the schedule came out and then you’re working towards it and you’re just waiting to drop the puck tomorrow,” said second-year head coach David Quinn.
While the Blueshirts have some fresh faces, many of the familiar names are back and are motivated to get back in the playoffs. Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in his 14th consecutive season-opening game.
“You work the entire summer, you have a month where you skate at home, then you have Training Camp for three weeks,” Lundqvist said. “You just miss the game. You miss that excitement. It’s a good feeling to be back.”
Marc Staal will play in his 841st career game and will tie Vic Hadfield for seventh place on the Rangers all-time games played list.
One noticeable omission from the opening night roster is Filip Chytil. The 20-year-old made the opening night roster in each of his first two seasons. Chytil, along with Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shesterkin will start the season in Hartford. However, it will come with no surprise if we see any of these three players sooner rather than later.
“Listen, this is one of the toughest days in hockey for management, for coaches, to have to sit down with these players and tell them they’re not on our team,” said general manager Jeff Gorton on Monday. “But we explained to everybody that opening day is one day of the season. Sometimes we put too much stock into one day. Just because things happen quickly in this business. The team we have is for now.”
While the Rangers had an eventful offseason, so did their opening night opponent. The Winnipeg Jets negotiated most of the offseason with restricted free agents Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine. While they eventually managed to sign both young forwards, their defense took some major blows. They first traded away Trouba to the Rangers prior to the draft. In that trade, they acquired former Ranger defender Neal Pionk who will play against his former team tonight. They also lost Tyler Myers in free agency to the Vancouver Canucks. Dustin Byfuglien is currently on a personal leave of absence and has reportedly considered retirement. The Jets will have to lean heavily on Josh Morrissey who they just handed an eight-year contract.
Connor Hellebuyck is expected to get the opening night start for the Jets. Hellebuyck concluded last season with a goals against average of 2.90 and he had a save percentage of .913. Despite allowing three goals in each game against the Blueshirts last season, the Jets offense was too much for the Rangers to handle in each game.
The young Rangers will be the only team in the NHL to open with eight players aged 23 or younger on their opening night roster. Libor Hajek and Adam Fox, a pair of 21-year-olds will be on the same defensive pair to start the game.
“Libor’s a smart player,” Fox said. “He’s obviously defensive-minded, which helps me and kind of lets me play my game. And both being young guys, we kind of bounce things off each other that we see and pick up on. It’s been good so far.”