Hartnett: Panarin, Emergence Of Fox Highlight Rangers Early Season Positives

Sean Hartnett
November 29, 2019 - 8:20 am
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Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it’s time to reflect on what Rangers fans can be thankful for as November turns into December.

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On Wednesday, the Blueshirts defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 to extend their winning streak to a season-high three games. The 23-game mark is a shade over the season’s quarter waypoint, so let’s take a closer look at the Rangers’ five biggest positives.

1. PANARIN SHOWING WHY HE’S A TRULY ELITE WING

The Rangers invested a lot of bread in “The Bread Man” by handing Artemi Panarin a seven-year, $81.5 million contract. Through 23 games, Panarin has recorded 12 goals and 20 assists and is producing the strongest points per game of his entire career at 1.39.

That figure is sixth best in the NHL and is higher than Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Jack Eichel and a host of other household names. Panarin is incredibly difficult to contain because of the sheer variety of his skillset. He scores one-timers, cashes in breakaways, dances through multiple defenders, excels at driving possession and is a constant provider of primary assists.

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin in action against the Winnipeg Jets Oct 3, 2019; New York, NY
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The 28-year-old is on pace to finish 2019-20 with 114 points. That would be the second-highest single-season point total in franchise history behind Jaromir Jagr’s 123 points in the 2005-06 season.

 2. THE SWIFT EMERGENCE OF FOX

Rookies making the leap from college to the NHL are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes, the increased responsibilities of being a professional and NHL-level speed can make for a difficult adjustment.

That’s not the case for Adam Fox, who has arguably been the Rangers’ best defensemen. The 21-year-old has chipped in four goals and nine assists through 23 games. His goal against Carolina proved to be the game winner.

Fox has now recorded 12 points in his last 14 games. His poise in both ends of the rink and outstanding vision could propel him into the Calder Trophy race.

 3. STROME’S STATISTICAL LEAP

When the Rangers acquired Ryan Strome from the Edmonton Oilers last November, few could have predicted that he would be playing at an 0.96 point per game clip one calendar year later.

It’s hard to tell if he’s a late bloomer or if his surging play is the product of an extended hot streak. We’ve seen heated debates over his ability unfold on social media, dividing the fan base. At this point, all we can do is see how the rest of his season plays out.

Whether at center or on the wing, Strome has fit the bill. Though some fans and analysts have called for the Rangers to sell high while he’s at his maximum value, Strome has proven his worth. Though his production and 18.2 shooting percentage are bound to fall, I think the Rangers view him as an important piece of the puzzle.

 4. DEANGELO’S IMPRESSIVE START

As you may have read in Tuesday’s column, Tony DeAngelo is on pace to score more goals than Hall of Famer Brian Leetch did in any season. The 24-year-old blue liner is fast on his way to setting career highs in goals, assists, points, power play goals, power play assists and power play points.

 5. KAKKO LEARNING AND DEVELOPING

The NHL Draft lottery gifted Kaapo Kakko to the Rangers. Make no mistake, the young Finn is on his way to becoming a franchise player.

Being an 18-year-old in a new country and adapting to the NHL isn’t easy. I don’t think anyone expected Kakko to figure it all out right away. Still, six goals and four assists is a decent return through his initial 21 games. He’s currently on pace to finish his rookie season with 38 points.

Oct 3, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) in action during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

For comparison’s sake, Alex Kovalev recorded 38 points in his rookie year and Chris Kreider finished with 37 points in his first full season. Franchise legend Rod Gilbert registered 31 points in his 1962-63 rookie year.

It’s important to be patient when it comes to Kakko’s expectations. In time, he’s going to figure out how to better utilize his 6-foot-3, 199-pound frame and terrific hands.

 Follow Sean on Twitter: @HartnettHockey