Rangers coach David Quinn stands behind the bench during a game against the Sabres on Feb. 15, 2019, at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.


Hartnett: Key Challenges Facing David Quinn In Year Two With Rangers

Sean Hartnett
September 05, 2019 - 11:02 am

Year one of the David Quinn Era was about teaching, development and lessons learned for both the 53-year-old coach and a youthful-trending roster. As a team, the Rangers were programmed to play the Quinn way and the first-year NHL head coach tested the strategies and tendencies that served him well at Boston University under the pressures of the sport’s highest level.

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Quinn’s Blueshirts embraced hardworking, harder-edged traits after this team’s identity had evaporated during a difficult final season under predecessor Alain Vigneault. No one expected immediate fireworks given the changeover to a largely inexperienced roster and a rookie coach finding his way. Despite a 32-36-14 season, Quinn’s effect produced a sense of hope among The Garden faithful based on the identity and spirit shown on the ice.

Fans knew that last season’s roster was raw, undermanned and lacking star quality. The way that this group bought into Quinn’s ethics stirred up belief among the fan base. The Rangers embraced Quinn’s desire for discipline and structure in the defensive end and the need to play fast both with legs and mind in the attack.

Step one was getting the players to buy-in. Step two needed general manager Jeff Gorton to pull the right strings by identifying up-and-coming prospects and luring game-changing talents to The Garden. Gorton was able to acquire a potential franchise defenseman in Jacob Trouba. He also produced the star-studded capture of 87-point wing Artemi Panarin and had the fortune of landing Finnish super-prospect Kaapo Kakko in the 2019 NHL Draft.

With a shift to a more competitive roster and increased expectations, year two will throw different challenges at Quinn. Things change fast in the NHL. Opportunities to win are often slim and emerge suddenly.

The rival Islanders and fellow Metropolitan Division foes, the Carolina Hurricanes, demonstrated how quickly losing situations can change to winning ones. Heck, the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues sat last place in the Central Division on Jan. 3 before a storybook finish.

Let’s take a deeper look at some of the key challenges Quinn will face in season two.

Maximize Panarin's Talents

The Rangers invested a seven-year, $81.5 million commitment in the Russian ace and Panarin is eager to take on the pressures of playing in New York.

Panarin had opportunities to join other teams offering win-now propositions – but his heart was set on Manhattan. Importantly, Quinn’s system and Panarin’s talents should mesh well together. Quinn wants the Rangers to play with speed and Panarin is a talent who dictates play with his puck carrying and dominance in transition driving. On paper, Panarin and 74-point center Mika Zibanejad have the makings of a dangerous duo for the opposition.

Keep Buchnevich Trending In The Right Direction

Split Pavel Buchnevich’s 2018-19 into halves and you can see the difference in his second-half play last season. The 24-year-old wing collected 23 points in 32 games after the All-Star break after putting up 15 points in 32 first-half contests.

The tough-love messages and demands of Quinn eventually broke through, helping Buchnevich take strides forward in his career. Buchnevich has the explosiveness and high-end skill to be a star in this league. Quinn must keep him engaged and focused.

Manage Lundqvist's Minutes Effectively

Franchise netminder Henrik Lundqvist finished 2018-19 with career-worst numbers in save percentage (.907) and goals-against average (3.07). The 37-year-old was a 2019 All-Star and maintained a .924 save percentage during the month of November.

Blueline improvements in the form of Trouba and promising rookie Adam Fox along with the added scoring punch of Panarin, Kakko and fellow rookie Vitali Kravtsov should take some of the burden off Lundqvist’s shoulders.

Backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev shined down the stretch, finishing with save percentages of .935 and .938 in the months of March and April. Though Georgiev’s statistics are a small sample, the possibility of him playing an increased role and allowing Lundqvist to be fresh and at his best could be a winning combination.

Lundqvist can still be an elite goaltender if his minutes are managed efficiently and the blueliners do their part to make his life easier.

Defining Blue Line Roles

Trouba will lead the way as an all-situation, minute-devouring defensive stalwart. That much is clear. Beyond that, there’s a lot of blanks that need to be filled in aside from the expected first pairing of Brady Skjei and Trouba.

How NHL-ready is Fox in all actuality? Can Tony DeAngelo repeat the success of last season? How much does Marc Staal have left in the tank and how hard can he be leaned on at age 32? What role will Brendan Smith play if he begins the season in the NHL? Is Libor Hajek ready to make a full-time jump to the NHL?

There are a lot of questions to be answered defensively and, despite the key addition of Trouba, the Rangers remain a work in progress on the backend.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey