Barring any more moves by Glen Sather and company, the Rangers are looking at some intense competition for two of the final roster spots on the blue line come September. Four spots are a given: Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Mike Sauer, and Ryan McDonagh. One spot is all but a given (Steve Eminger), so if the Rangers decide to carry seven defensemen, that leaves two spots up for grabs. We all know the names, but let’s break them down into three categories.
The favorites for those last two spots are relatively clear: Tim Erixon and Michael Del Zotto. They are the ones that are the most NHL ready –or have prior NHL experience. Both bring an aspect to the game that the Rangers don’t appear to have on the blue line in their ability to jump start the offense with an outlet pass. Del Zotto has more offense to his game and may have the higher potential in that regard, but Erixon is likely to be the more rounded of the two in all three zones. Expect them both to be on the opening night roster, even if they are both left handed shots.
The Dark Horses
This category is also limited to two names really, and they are Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek. At first glance of the names, people will flock to Valentenko because he has that booming shot. However, it was clear last preseason that he was not ready for the NHL. Improvement in his skating and positioning were a must for Tenk. Kundratek may not have that shot, but he is a sound defender who plays the game well in his own zone. I would give Kundratek the upper hand here because he is currently better than Tenk in his own zone, and he is a much needed right handed shot.
The Possible But Unlikely
Only one name goes here: Dylan McIlrath. McIlrath is just flat out mean, and would give the Rangers much needed toughness on the blue line. Sauer can only do so much of the punishing on his own. McIlrath not only needs to impress, but he needs to show he can win the Calder in order to be a serious contender for a roster spot this season. In essence, he needs to do what Del Zotto did two years ago. The Rangers won’t make that mistake twice though. McIlrath is possible, but he won’t make the club this year.
If I had to put a ranking of those likely to make the roster, I would put Del Zotto at the front of the list with Erixon not far behind. Kundratek would round out the top three, and to be honest, any one of them can win a roster spot over the others with a strong camp. There is a big gap on my list between Kundratek and Valentenko, and an even bigger gap between Tenk and McIlrath. Those kids are going to be battling hard for those last two spots. Anything can happen.