Rangers: 7 Must-Watch Games in 2019-20

Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers, NHL Schedule

Another season of New York Rangers hockey is set to begin. The regular season is right around the corner and the anticipation is building. Every game is a must-see, but here are the seven games that you definitely don’t want to miss.

Oct. 3 vs. Winnipeg Jets

It has all come down to this. It’s opening night inside the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The Rangers will line up against the Winnipeg Jets. The 2018-19 campaign was a struggle against most teams in the NHL for the Rangers, and the Jets were no different. They were 0-1-1 in the two matchups last season.

This game is huge. It will be the first regular-season game for a good portion of this team. Kappo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Adam Fox will see their first NHL action when it counts. Additionally, it will be the start of sophomore seasons for Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson and Brett Howden, who will likely take up the bottom three center spots behind Mika Zibanejad.

Additionally, it is a pair of Broadway debuts for Artemi Panarin and former Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba. Both likely will be apart of their respective first lines, you will see each of them in the lineup for the opening face-off for the Rangers regular season.

Oct. 17 @ New Jersey Devils

It is the first act of the revamped and reignited Hudson River Rivalry. The Rangers take on the New Jersey Devils in Newark, New Jersey on Oct. 17. Each team used this offseason to turn their franchises from being bottom-feeders in the Metropolitan division, to fighting for a playoff berth.

Kakko gets to take revenge on the team that skipped over him and selected Jack Hughes in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Young talent is infused inside both of these organizations from top to bottom.

Kaapo Kakko New York Rangers Draft
Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers, 2019 NHL Draft (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Looking back on the rivalry, over 36 years of it, the bad blood between the Rangers and Devils has deep roots. With the close proximity between teams, fans living inside New Jersey have a choice to root for one and hate the other.

After being drummed out by the Devils this preseason, the Rangers have some extra motivation to beat them when it counts. These two teams have an outside-looking-in bubble spot for the playoffs, and will likely be battling for the final spot.

Nov. 25 vs. Minnesota Wild

The former mainstays on the Rangers roster were not going to make it to the other side of this rebuild. That was made very clear in the letter to fans, this team was going to be different. One of those changes was parting ways with Mats Zuccarello, often described as the heartbeat of the Rangers.

After being traded, he only suited up twice in the second half of last season with the Dallas Stars. He was injured and came back just in time for Dallas’ playoff run. He decided to go in a new direction with the Minnesota Wild after the Stars were eliminated in the second round to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the St. Louis Blues. On Nov. 25, 2019, he returns to his former home, Madison Square Garden.

The feelings and emotions will be at its peak for this game. Both fans and players will remember the impact that Zuccarello made in his time with the Rangers. “ZUCC” chants will rock the Garden one more time, and it will probably be the loudest ever.

Dec. 5 @ Columbus Blue Jackets

Unlike Zuccarello, this homecoming will be a hectic one. After two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, including back-to-back playoff appearances and a dramatic first-round beat down of the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, Panarin decided to part ways with Columbus. Instead,he took his talents to the bright lights of Broadway, and the Blue Jackets will probably never forget that.

Columbus Blue Jackets Artemi Panarin
Former Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin (AP Photo/Paul Vernon, File)

This has all the meanings of being a physical game. Every time Panarin steps on the ice, the spotlight will be on him. Fans will boo him extensively, and the Blue Jackets will do everything in their power to make sure he doesn’t get a chance to score.

Panarin wasn’t the only loss for Columbus, as they also lost their starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to the Florida Panthers. Losing two key members of their roster, in addition to Matt Duchene to the Nashville Predators, tips the tide in the Rangers favor.

Feb. 22 vs. San Jose Sharks

This game against the San Jose Sharks could be Kreider’s last with the Rangers. It is the Rangers last game before the trade deadline, and Kreider could be delt before the possibility of being lost in free agency after the end of the season. The Rangers are very limited in the salary cap, and if Kreider has a marginally better season, his price may be too steep.

Chris Kreider New York Rangers
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Following the theme of the past two seasons, this team is rebuilding itself from the ground up. They went out and got Panarin and Trouba for lucrative contracts, they had to re-sign Pavel Buchnevich, and they had to use some of the remaining cash on depth pieces like Brendan Lemieux, Phillip Di Giuseppe, Greg McKegg, and Tony DeAngelo. After all of that, the Rangers are stuck in a very tricky situation with their available cap space. Next season, Chris Kreider, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jesper Fast, Lemieux and DeAngelo, along with Alexandr Georgiev, highlight the key free agents.

They are projected to have a little over $16 million in cap space for those six players, factoring in the buyout of Kevin Shattenkirk at $6.083 million. Kreider will certainly be at the top of the list for the Rangers at the end of the season. If he can take a hometown discount, it is certainly possible for him to return along with a few of those other names.

March 1 vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Another one of the veteran Rangers that got dealt at the trade deadline last season was Kevin Hayes. He is now a part of the Philadelphia Flyers and has a bit of a grudge against his former team of five seasons.

This game on March 1, 2020 is going to be a must-see. It will be Hayes first regular-season game back in Madison Square Garden since being traded to the Winnipeg Jets last season for Brendan Lemieux and a set of draft picks. He was then traded to the Flyers over the offseason and reunited with his former head coach, Alain Vigneault.

Kevin Hayes Rangers
Kevin Hayes, New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers are going to have a tough match-up with their Metropolitan Division rival. Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, Justin Braun, and Carter Hart will be ready to go alongside Hayes. The Rangers young talent, at this point, will be used to the NHL level of play. Last season, the Rangers were 1-2-1 against the Flyers. This upcoming season could be a completely different story.

March 7 vs. New Jersey Devils

This final matchup against the Devils is just as important as the first one of the season. This time around, it could be for the final wild card spot in the playoffs. It all comes down to this matchup.

Each team has been upgraded and should certainly improve upon their records from last season. Each game of this rivalry will have a playoff atmosphere.

If the final act of this four-part series wasn’t enough to get you excited, this game could also have some hardware riding on it. Kakko and Hughes are likely to be the winner and runner-up for the Calder Trophy, and this game could help decide the clear-cut winner.

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