Kids prove that the Blueshirts have bright future

The final score read Rangers 5, Bruins 4 in the 56th and final game of the ’21 season. At least it ended on a better note. They snapped the merciful five-game losing streak that derailed any playoffs along with the jobs of good hockey people in Jeff Gorton and John Davidson. Chris Drury is now in charge of the direction of a promising franchise.

The final bookkeeping noted that Mika Zibanejad scored his 23rd and 24th goals to finish with 50 points. A better conclusion for the top center than the disappearing acts against the Islanders and Capitals. If only that talented player had performed in those key games. He was far from alone.

Before Tom Wilson ended his season, even the dynamic Artemi Panarin couldn’t do anything in the last three games versus the Islanders. He didn’t even register a single shot. It just goes to show how far the Rangers still have to go. It won’t be a 56-game schedule next time. More than likely, a full 82.

Back from serving a one-game suspension from the ridiculously inconsistent NHL Player Safety, Pavel Buchnevich assisted on a trio of goals. That included Zibanejad’s game-winner which was needed due to Patrice Bergeron making things interesting in Boston. Buchnevich finishes the year with a career high 48 points (20-28-48) in 54 games. That was a good way to end the season. In mid-summer, we’ll know if he stays for a significant raise.

Most noteworthy in Saturday’s rare one-goal victory was the play of the kids. Three of the team’s five goals were scored by rookies. That included the first goal coming from defenseman K’Andre Miller off a face-off win by Filip Chytil. It also featured Alexis Lafreniere turning a good Anthony Bitetto pass into a beautiful goal by schooling Tuukka Rask with a backhand top shelf for his 12th goal. The top pick showed a lot of promise. He finished with 21 points while playing all 56 games.

Another young player who got on the score sheet was 21-year old Vitaly Kravtsov. On a good play started by 20-year old defenseman Zac Jones, Ryan Strome was able to find Kravtsov open for a quick one-timer that beat Rask for a two-goal lead in the third period. It was his second goal. Although he wound up with four points over 20 games, the Russian forward showed a lot of poise in his first taste of the NHL. A fluid skater who has a good idea defensively, the former ’18 first round pick should improve next season.

In truth, it’s the kids who proved that the Blueshirts have a bright future. Jones went from winning a national championship at UMass to adjusting well to the NHL. In 10 games, the smooth skating left shooting defenseman posted four assists. He looks to have some good upside offensively. Indeed, Jones will be a fixture on the power play not unlike offensive D leader Adam Fox. Although he went cold down the stretch, Fox proved he belongs in the conversation among the top defensemen. He may still pace all blue liners in points with 47 (5-42-47).

Fox’s partner Ryan Lindgren was missed after injuring himself on a hit involving Cal Clutterbuck. A physical player whose penchant for getting cut by errant sticks or pucks, he’s become the new warrior of the Blueshirts. Not much different from Dan Girardi, Lindgren is a gamer who’ll do anything to help the team win. That the defensive defenseman wound up with a goal and 15 assists with a plus-20 rating in 51 contests is a good indication of the kind of high character player he is. The 23-year old has been a steal since coming over from Boston in the Rick Nash trade. One of Gorton’s best. It also netted Strome, who he stole from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner. With two assists, Strome finished with 49 points (14-35-49) in all 56.

Although he struggled mightily without Jacob Trouba, Miller finished on a brighter note by notching his fifth goal from newcomer Justin Richards and Chytil. More of a two-way defenseman who could take time to develop, the 21-year old former Wisconsin Badger went 5-7-12 with a plus-nine rating in 53 games. Coach David Quinn heaped praise on him the other day following a predictable shutout loss after the fireworks against the Caps. He emphasized that it isn’t easy to play 20 minutes a night as a first-year player. Especially adjusting to a much busier schedule. That’s true. We’ll learn more about Miller this Fall. A long way off from now.

Igor Shestyorkin was supposed to have the day off. Third string goalie Keith Kinkaid did a good job stopping 28 of 30 Bruins’ shots. However, an injury forced him to exit with over 11 minutes remaining. Pressed into action, the 25-year old starter allowed two goals on nine shots in 11:10. Neither of which he was responsible for. Even though his first full year didn’t end the way he’d like, Shestyorkin proved capable of taking the mantle once held by Henrik Lundqvist. He finished 16-14-3 with a 2.62 GAA, .916 save percentage and two shutouts in 35 games. A good athletic netminder who likes to challenge shooters, Shestyorkin will need to do a better job staying on his angles. That way he doesn’t let in the occasional bad goal. Better balance along with staying healthy are the keys.

Featuring other young players including Libor Hajek, Tarmo Reunanen, Brett Howden, Julien Gauthier, Morgan Barron, Kaapo Kakko and Chytil, the Rangers are faced with some decisions this off-season. With the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft on the horizon, some faces could be on the move.

Drury will be busy getting Nils Lundkvist signed with a likely buyout of banished offensive defenseman Tony DeAngelo. He spoke to MSG about the future of the team before yesterday’s game. There’ll be a lot more revealed after exit interviews. That includes the coach, who said he sure could use a vacation. It was a strange and unpredictable year. The question is will Quinn be retained for Year Four. We’ll soon have our answer.

Whatever lies ahead, it’s the bright future of Lafreniere, Kravtsov, Kakko, Chytil, Shestyorkin, Fox, Lindgren, Miller and Jones that fans can continue to get excited about. Until next time.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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2 Responses to Kids prove that the Blueshirts have bright future

  1. buyouttheglider says:

    And now Comes the Second season of Caveman hockey as the NHL calls the Stanley Cup playoffs. Because large physical players generally have limited skills, can’t complete 3 passes in a row, they play fetch the puck, AKA dump and chase, screen the goalie. I hope Taveres gets his cup or the Oilers make a run. The rest of this hockey is unwatchable. It’s sad that this group of rangers won’t be able to stay together because we will have to deal some of them for physical players to compete in the playoffs. The Rangers regular season was more fun to watch than any other team in their division. Next year should be more of the same.


    • Derek Felix says:

      It’s just how it is. Even in the big regular season games, you have to adjust your style to win. This team didn’t. It cost two good guys jobs. They have some key areas to improve. Face-offs. Grit and grind. Team toughness. No. I’m not advocating a one dimensional enforcer. They can make some tweaks. I can see 2-3 guys getting sacrificed like Chytil and maybe Buchnevich. We’ll see what they decide.


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