Henrik Lundqvist is entering his 14th season in the NHL, having spent his entire career with the New York Rangers. And although the team is in a rebuilding mode for a future run at their first Stanley Cup title since 1994, the 36-year-old goalie wants to stick around and be a part of that process.
“People talk about rebuild and nobody knows how long of a project that is,” Lundqvist said at the Rangers’ practice facility in Greenburgh, New York. “There’s no other place I want to be. I feel great, excited to be back here and just see how far we can take this forward this year.”
The Rangers are in their current state after dealing several stars in a youth movement at the trade deadline last winter and then finishing 20 points out of a playoff spot while missing the post-season for the first time in eight years. Hours after their last game in April, coach Alain Vigneualt was fired and replaced weeks later by David Quinn, who made the jump from Boston University to the NHL.
Lundqvist said he got a “really good impression” of the new coach when Quinn travelled to Sweden during the summer to meet with the veteran goalie and forwards Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast. However, Lundqvist is eager to see how Quinn is during the season.
“It’s one thing to sit down in July and discuss, and another to discuss under pressure,” Lundqvist said. “I’m curious to see how things are going to feel in here. I think every time you have a new coach, you’re going to have a different feel in the room. Just the way they coach and the way they speak to the group. You always learn something.”
Quinn is fine with that.
The coach said he knew all along that Lundqvist wanted to be a part of the Rangers’ new direction.
“Just the shape he’s in tells you that he’s all in,” Quinn said. “I had a pretty good idea of where he was once I took the job, it was always part of the conversations. So I had a good idea he was all in and wanted to stay and wanted to finish his career here and be part of the next wave of success.”
Lundqvist is coming off a season in which he went 26-26-7 with a 2.98 goals-against average — the highest of his career. It was also just the second time he finished with fewer than 30 wins; the other was the lockout-shortened 2012-13, when he was 24-16-3.
His off-season training last year was delayed when he injured his knee playing for Sweden in the world championships. This year, he had a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right knee after the season, took a few weeks off and then began his summer routine.
“It’s back to where it needs to be,” he said. “I feel great. Right now, there’s nothing really bothering me. I can go 100 per cent.”
Happy that training camp has started, Lundqvist is looking forward to seeing how the team shapes up.
“Camp is always fun,” he said. “It’s always the same feeling. You’re anxious to get going, a little nervous, excited. It feels really good to be here.”
The Rangers still have plenty of talent on the roster, led by forwards Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and Zibanejad, and defencemen Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei and Marc Staal.
With Quinn’s desire to implement a “fast and physical” style of play that is different from what the team is used to, Lundqvist knows the early part of camp will be important for players to “pay attention to a lot of the new details and how we want to play the game.”
However, he didn’t want to make any predictions for the season.
“I don’t think we should look too far (ahead),” Lundqvist said. “We should look to get a good camp, get a good start and build off that and let’s see how far that takes us. That’s going to tell us how we’ll to stack up against other teams.”
The Rangers begin preseason play Monday night at New Jersey, and Quinn said how much action Lundqvist will see in the exhibition games will be determined on a day-to-day basis.
Alexandar Georgiev, who went 4-4-1 with a 3.15 GAA in 10 games down the stretch last season, and Marek Mazanec, signed after compiling a 8-13-4 mark with a 2.98 GAA in 31 career games for the Nashville Predators, are also in camp. Quinn said he is open to having the goalies split games in the preseason.
The Rangers open the season at home against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 4.