Can Patrick Kane Lift the Rangers as the N.H.L. Playoffs Loom?
The most stirring moments for Patrick Kane came in the pregame warm-up and player introductions, which is an indication of how things went on his first night playing for the Rangers. Kane skated onto the ice at Madison Square Garden about a half-hour before the opening face-off on Thursday, and fans greeted him with a standing ovation, holding up signs of appreciation and cheering his every move until he skated off.
“It’s a special place to play,” Kane said after the game. “Original Six franchise, New York Rangers, playing at M.S.G. And to get a reception like that, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Kane said his new Ranger teammates had whispered to him before the game, letting him in on what they knew was coming. Even the opposing Ottawa Senators, like the former Ranger Derick Brassard, noticed the enthusiastic reception as they warmed up at the other end of the ice.
“It was pretty cool for us to see the ovation that he got in the warm-ups,” said Brassard, who played in his 1,000th game. “It’s going to take some time for them to get the chemistry together.”
Kane, 34, is the latest superstar to join the Blueshirts in their 30s or late 20s, adding to a list that includes Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Pavel Bure, Eric Lindros, Jaromir Jagr, Luc Robitaille and Phil Esposito.
But on a night that was supposed to celebrate the arrival of this new Ranger, an old Ranger spoiled the festivities as Brassard scored twice in the Senators 5-3 win over the Rangers, putting a small damper on high expectations.
Kane looked slightly nervous or rusty at times, turning the puck over or failing to corral it as deftly as he normally does. A few times he declined open shots in favor of an extra pass, to the dismay of fans, who screamed for him to shoot whenever he had space.
But with 446 goals and 779 assists in 1,162 career games, Kane is as much a playmaker as a scorer — as skilled with the puck on his stick as anyone over the past 16 seasons, since he was drafted No. 1 overall by Chicago in 2007 and emerged as one of the best American-born players in the history of the N.H.L.
It has been a brilliant career to date, with three Stanley Cup championships, a Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie and a Hart Trophy as its most valuable player in 2016 as he became the first American to win that award.
“I think our team loves having him,” said Gerard Gallant, the Rangers coach. “Too bad it didn’t go well tonight, but he’s a great addition for our group.”
The Rangers acquired Kane from Chicago in a three-team deal with Arizona on Tuesday that did not cost them much. Chicago got the minor league player Andy Welinski, a conditional second-round draft pick in 2023 and a fourth-round pick in 2025, and the Coyotes got a conditional third-round pick in 2025.
In return, the Rangers got a legend. After playing his entire career in Chicago, Kane grew tired of the rebuilding and wanted to be a Ranger. Since Chicago last won the Stanley Cup in 2015, they have lost in the first round of the playoffs or missed them entirely. The Rangers are seen to be going in the right direction.
As with most teams and their supporters, the Rangers love the megastars, and already some fans wore brand-new Ranger shirts with Kane’s No. 88 and his name. Jack Walsh, 30, an accountant originally from Albany, said he purchased his jersey on Wednesday at the N.H.L.’s store in Manhattan. As an upstate New Yorker, he has long admired Kane, who is from Buffalo.
“It’s pretty awesome that he’s here,” Walsh said. “I hope it works. But you never know.”
The loss was a little sobering for the fans. But the trade was not about one night, and Kane left the building feeling good, knowing that he was finally a Ranger, and that once he finds the chemistry with his new teammates in the coming weeks, wins are likely to follow.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” he said, “but we’ll find it.”
He doesn’t have long. The Rangers, in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, have 20 games left to play in the regular season and if anything, the defeat in Kane’s first game provided a small measure of caution to the euphoria over his arrival ahead of the N.H.L. trade deadline on Friday.
It appeared that the trade, which seemed months in the making, might not happen after the Rangers acquired Vladimir Tarasenko from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 9. It was then that Kane’s interest in the Rangers became clear, because he publicly lamented that Tarasenko was headed to New York instead of him.
“It wasn’t like I was extremely mad about the situation when they made the move for Tarasenko,” Kane said Thursday morning after a brief skate. “It didn’t seem like it was still in the cards to still be an option for me. Now, I’m obviously very happy they made that move and both of us are here. I’m excited to play with Vladdy.”
There is hope about Kane reuniting with Artemi Panarin, his former linemate in Chicago when Panarin played there from 2015 to 2017. Kane won the Hart Trophy in their first year together and Panarin won the Calder. Gallant had them on the same line again on Thursday, and even amid the flakes of rust, there were also moments of cross-ice telepathy.
The Rangers, who have lost five of their last seven games, envision they are far better-positioned now to challenge the mighty Boston Bruins in the East. Boston leads the league with 48 victories and have won their last nine games. The teams will meet on Saturday afternoon in Boston as the Rangers look to resurrect their playoff ambition.
Kane and Tarasenko are now a big part of that ambition, and that has electrified Rangers fans. But there is another side to the trade. Many Chicago fans were sad to see Kane leave. A handful showed up at the Garden on Thursday in their red sweaters bearing Kane’s name and number, including Melanie DeCaprio, a nurse from outside New Haven and a longtime Kane fan.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “When I first saw him on the ice, my stomach sank. I’m glad I can come see him play more often. But it’s hard to see him in another jersey.”