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NY Rangers 2022-23 Season Primer: Defense & Goaltending

Bruce Bennett. Getty Images.

Opening night for the New York Rangers 2022-23 season is right around the corner, and after finishing as a final four squad it'll be a season of pressure. A season of expectations. A season where, instead of answering "are they for real?", the question becomes "can they be even better?" The Baby Blueshirts are growing up & won't be catching anyone by surprise this year. They'll have a target on them as one of the East's top contenders and anything short of another ECF trip will be considered a disappointment. With their core in their primes and several youngsters overdue to break out, regression isn't an option.

When you look at most championship teams it all starts between the pipes - and you could easily argue the Rangers have the best you can ask for. After a near-unanimous Vezina-winning campaign, the 26 year-old Igor Shesterkin comes in as this year's favorite to repeat and outside of health there's no reason to believe he won't return to form. Not much has changed in front of him defensively in terms of personnel besides the anticipated addition of Zac Jones. Kids like Miller and Schneider should take steps forward so it's likely Shesty sees less onslaughts as he did a season ago. With Georgiev's move to Colorado, Drury nabbed Jaroslav Halak as a veteran backup and if you know anything about recent Rangers history, Halak may very well be the best goaltender to ever play at MSG. He knows his role and has done it well so there won't be much concern when Gallant decides to give his superstar a night off.

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No team had as consistently deployed top two pairings in terms of 5x5 ice time together than the Rangers did last season (Trouba & Miller #1, Fox & Lindgren #3) . Familiarity goes a long way when looking for defensive success as a team and that should once again be a theme this year. Adam Fox is the unquestioned alpha of the bunch & will garner his usual Norris consideration. His partner Ryan Lindgren has grown into a bit more than just a warrior on the back end but, although he's a capable skater & can move the puck, his biggest contribution will continue as being the heart & soul of this defensive corps. Together they'll once again be one of the league's top tandems. No surprises here.

Right behind them will be captain Jacob Trouba & budding superstar K'Andre Miller. Miller really ascended the second half of last season and playoffs, showing why the Rangers traded up to draft his high ceiling back in 2018. He's a giant who can skate like the wind & is capable of game-breaking rushes but what he proved most is his ability to defend. His confidence allowed him to play a more patient game and even if an opponent has him beat for a second, his length and athleticism can make up for it immediately. Key's third pro season may very well be where he puts the league on notice as an elite shutdown defender next to the Trouba Train. The hard-hitting blueliner will always be judged by his $8M AAV but the fact is he was among the NHL's top all-around defensemen a year ago. Top-10 in SOG, hits & blocks. 10th in even-strength goals, 21st in even-strength points & 20th in plus/minus. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better second-pair option who obviously brings tremendous leadership while ensuring the opposition keeps their heads on a swivel. Make sure to give Troubs credit when the Miller hype explodes.

The third pair for the Blueshirts brings the most question marks as it looks like it'll be 21 year-olds Braden Schneider & Zac Jones. We're a long way from last year's duo of Nils Lundkvist & Patrik Nemeth. Nils simply wasn't ready and was done no favors by trying to find his way alongside the shitshow that was Nemeth. Fast-forward to today and both are gone. Schneider took full advantage of last year's opportunity to become a mainstay while Jones seems to finally be getting a legitimate (and overdue) shot. Both have tremendous upside - Schneider as predominantly the big, stay-at-home bruiser (although he can skate and Panarin loves to look his way streaking in the o-zone) & Zac Jones the small, shifty, smart puck mover. They'll be protected as far as their deployment is concerned, but both easily have the potential to play as top-four options. Whether or not they'll scratch the surface as a tandem this year remains to be seen - you know GG's just itching for a reason to get Hajek back in there - but all signs point to Jones being ready to hold his own.

Injuries aside, this Rangers d-corps should be among the league's most consistent, reliable groups in the league with tremendous upside. Bad seasons can happen but on an individual basis there's just no reason whatsoever to expect any of last year's crucial pieces to regress. You know what you're getting from Fox, Lindgren and Trouba while sky's the limit for Miller, Schneider & Jones. Chemistry is there, familiarity is there and most importantly the taste of success should have them all hungry for more. Most of this group have barely even entered their primes at 24 or younger and Trouba, the elder statesman, is only 28. The Rangers are anchored by Vezina & Norris winners. Then there's the warrior. The wrecking ball. The athletic freak. Then a pair of highly-talented kids with complementary skillsets rounding out the back end. If you're looking to make noise now and for years to come you can't ask for much more.

VIVA LA BLUESHIRTS!!!!!!!!