Rangers: Roles still open on Broadway
NEW YORK – Rangers coach Alain Vigneault promised a very competitive camp, and the Rangers most certainly delivered.
It was competitive to the point where Vigneault had to scrap his original plan of having pretty much his opening-night lineup for the final preseason game, a 4-2 loss to Philadelphia at the Garden on Thursday.
Instead, the lineup was again loaded with players hoping to win jobs, including two injured players who had played, combined, less than one period of preseason hockey to that point.
“Another chance for us to evaluate our team and try to put the puzzle together, where the pieces fit, how they can possibly fit, who’s ready to assume maybe a bigger role, or a first-time role on this team,” Vigneault said.
“There are two to four decisions, right now, that we’re looking at, that we haven’t made up our minds on.”
Eyes were on several spots. With forwards Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey locks, there was only one top-nine spot available – with Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Pirri the apparent candidates.
Buchnevich may have helped his cause on Thursday night. He scored a goal in the first period and assisted on Kreider’s in the second.
The fourth line was wide open, though Michael Grabner and Jesper Fast would seem to be sure things. Both are wingers, and since Nathan Gerbe is the only candidate who has played center, that line seemed to be somewhat set. But what about Tanner Glass? Or, who does he replace if he remains a regular?
Also, centers Josh Jooris, who suffered a groin injury in the first period of the first preseason game, and Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, who was hurt at last month’s Traverse City prospects tournament after impressing coaches and the front office, were both in the lineup against the Flyers, centering the third and fourth lines.
“It’s just a limited time, but it’s never too late to make a positive impression,” Vigneault said of those two forwards.
But the biggest decisions remain on defense, where Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Nick Holden and Brady Skjei play the left side and Kevin Klein, Dan Girardi, Adam Clendening and Dylan McIlrath play the right. Holden has played the right side quite a bit in camp, while Clendening has impressed, and Skjei and McIlrath struggled.
If Holden is indeed going to play the right side, Skjei would probably get a top-six spot on the left. If Holden plays the left, there is no starting spot for Skjei, and Klein, Girardi and Clendening line up on the right.
There aren’t many scenarios in which McIlrath beats out any of the other right-siders, and since he requires waivers to go to Hartford (AHL) and would likely be claimed, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is probably looking to make a trade.
So perhaps Skjei, who doesn’t require waivers, could start the season in Hartford until a deal is made. Or the Rangers could keep eight defensemen for the time being, though it makes no sense for Skjei to sit around as an extra when he could be playing big minutes in the AHL.
BRIEFS: Marek Hrivik and Nicklas Jensen, who were put on waivers Wednesday, cleared at noon on Thursday and were assigned to Hartford. Goalie Magnus Hellberg was waived Thursday so he can go to Hartford too. … Henrik Lundqvist was scheduled to start and play his first full game of the preseason Thursday. McDonagh, Zuccarello, Stepan and Glass were not in uniform. Zuccarello, who played in Olympic qualifying games for Norway, and then played eight World Cup games for Team Europe, did not play in the preseason. … The Flyers had Radko Gudas in the lineup. Gudas received a major penalty and game misconduct for boarding Vesey in Philadelphia Monday, but received no further discipline from the NHL. … The Rangers will be off the ice today and Sunday, then convene Monday to prep for their regular-season opener against the Islanders Thursday at the Garden. They technically do not need to have their 23-man (or 22 if they choose) roster set until Monday, but Vigneault indicated there will be roster cuts after the game or today. … Vesey was named the winner of the Lars-Erik Sjoberg award as the top rookie in training camp. The award is named for the late Rangers scout and former WHA star defenseman.