It stands to reason that the Carolina Hurricanes must limit Artemi Panarin’s time and space to stand a chance of eliminating the Rangers.
Panarin has recorded 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 27 career playoff games split between the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets, and all eyes will be on No. 10 in his first postseason as a Ranger. He will be expected to build on a 95-point regular season by serving as the Blueshirts’ go-to guy in the playoffs.
The Hart Trophy finalist possesses all the hallmarks of a game-changer. His off-the-charts skill, laser-guided shooting accuracy, and ability to make teammates better means that any mistake by Carolina will be punished.
If the ‘Canes are able to keep Panarin quiet, the Rangers will need to find supplemental offense. Here are five other Rangers who are capable of making a big impact in the NHL playoffs qualifying round.
NO. 5: KAAPO KAKKOThe 19-year-old Finn arrived with huge expectations on his back after being drafted second overall. Though his 10-goal, 23-assist output fell short of Calder Trophy consideration, he can be an electrifying talent when he’s at his best.
Kakko’s pure strength, rapid acceleration, skilled hands, and feisty approach could allow him to elevate his game in the postseason. He developed a reputation for big-game performances for Finland by winning gold at the 2018 World U18 Championships, the 2019 World Junior Championships, and the 2019 World Championships. Delivering in his first NHL playoffs will be an entirely different animal, but don’t sleep on Kakko.
NO. 4: TONY DEANGELODeAngelo has put together consecutive seasons of considerable improvement, and finished the 2019-20 regular season tied as the NHL’s fourth-highest scoring defenseman with 53 points.
The offense-driving defenseman is dangerous on the power play, having notched 19 power play points. His shooting percentage jumped from 3.6 percent last season to 10.1 percent this season. He has the ability to unlock a Carolina penalty-killing unit that finished fourth overall with an 84 percent success rate.
Rangers fans hope DeAngelo will carry his success against the ‘Canes into the playoffs – he tallied four assists in four games against Carolina during the regular season.
NO. 3: PAVEL BUCHNEVICHLast week, there was some concern that Buchnevich would miss some or all of the qualifying round due to an undisclosed issue. Thankfully for the Blueshirts, the 6-foot-3 wing is healthy and ready for the series’ start.
Though not quite a finished product, Buchnevich excels in one-on-one situations due to his impressive dangling ability and fancy puck skills. There is an element of unpredictability when the puck is on his stick, and he has added a level of consistency that was missing during his first three seasons.
Buchnevich caught fire by notching 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in the final 19 regular season games. The improving 25-year-old could be primed for a playoff breakthrough.
NO. 2: CHRIS KREIDERThe 29-year-old earned a seven-year, $45.5 million extension in February for good reason: it would be difficult to imagine the Rangers without Kreider’s speedy, muscular presence in their lineup.
Kreider has contributed to several memorable postseason runs, and fans will be counting on him to provide leadership and clutch heroics. His six playoff game-winning goals only trails the legendary Mark Messier’s franchise record of seven. He also ranks seventh on the Rangers’ all-time playoff goals list with 23 in 77 games.
NO. 1: MIKA ZIBANEJADHaving finished the regular season as the NHL’s fifth-highest scorer with 41 goals, Zibanejad has established himself as one of the league’s most reliable centers since pulling on a Rangers sweater.
The 6-foot-2 Swede has totaled 233 points in 267 regular season games as a Blueshirt, and chipped in nine points in 12 postseason games in his first playoffs with the club in 2017.
His scoring touch reached new heights in 2019-20. Zibanejad scored on just under one of five shots, finishing the regular season with a 19.7 shooting percentage. That mark was better than David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin, and Auston Matthews.
Zibanejad’s 27 power play points tied him for eighth overall in the NHL. Similar to Panarin, he is equally adept at scoring and setting up teammates. Panarin deservingly was showered with praise and individual award consideration after a 1.38 points per game campaign – but Zibanejad was only a tick behind at 1.32 points per game.