The Bottom Defense Pair Competition

August 9, 2011, by

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

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.


  1. Matt J says:

    All I’m gonna say is Mcilrath better make the club next year or the year after at the worst. He would truly solidify us as a top defensive team, and wingers would be scared to go to his side of the ice. We might not have have any superstars on D (with the exception of Staal) but depth wise we are unrivaled which is key to winning games. I hated seeing Staal, Girardi, Sauer, McD, all eat up over 25 minutes of ice time during the playoffs, but it’s beginning to look like those days are over.

    • Zen says:

      After the significant improvement by McIlrath in this year’s development camp, I believe that he will end up making the team next year. We’ll will just have to see how this year goes for him.

  2. ArtyFan says:

    Dave, I have to disagree on your assessment. MDZ, the least favorable to start the season with the big club. Vtank was the last to assign to Whales last pre-season and it was tough decision for Torts: he or Sauer. Tank, not only has ‘booming shot’, but he is one of the best blocker shot D and tough guy and agitator, Pronger like type of D. Can’t say any good or bad re Erixon simply b/c didn’t see him just read reports that sometimes aren’t accurate. I didn’t see Kondratek also( he was injured during last summer camp). With given depth no needed rush McIlrath development. I gave him at least 1-2 years to do that. All fans see MDZ potential and what he can bring, but rushing him from junior to main club hurt a lot his development and last season was totally proved that. I think even with good pre-season, he has to start in CT. Don’t forget, he wasn’t great there after demotion and in the beginning he was injured and… I don’t expect him be with us at least to start the season.

    • Walt says:

      I would have to agree with your posting, and with the Erixon all but assured a spot, why have two more offensive guys skate together. The other two pairs of d-men work well together, so Tim and V-Tank would complement each others skill set better than would MDZ. I also hate saying this but, Mike is soft, and with the tank we add a bit of grit as well.

      • The Suit says:

        MDZ needs a lot of work, but “soft” isn’t an adjective I’d use to describe him. That’s just a flat out wrong assessment.

        MDZ hits, MDZ goes hard for loose pucks, negates icings, etc, those aren’t qualities soft defensemen have.

        • voidoid says:

          Agree – he’s not soft, he simply isn’t physically matured yet at age 21. He’s not strong enough to impose his will yet. By age 24 he should be much more intimidating…

    • Dave says:

      If Tenk cannot skate with NHL players, then he will not be able to play his game. He needs to show he can keep up. It was very obvious from watching him last year that he was way too raw in that department. Not a slight against Tenk, he just needs more time.

      • ArtyFan says:

        Whoever Dave, but watching MDZ 1st season I closed my eyes on many things due to his rookie season, 2nd season was disaster and I don’t want him back till he is developed to full degree. I agree on Vtank skating, but we will see this September. All reports saying he is improved very well. BTW I wouldn’t say Sauer is good skater too, but guy playing well

  3. The Suit says:

    I think Erixon and MDZ are your bottom pairing with Eminger as a healthy scratch. I’m not concerned with two left shooting defensemen as Erixon plays the right side. Maybe MDZ starts in Hartford, but I don’t see him there for long…

  4. Zen says:

    This is definitely the toughest competition to call. Who knows if some random Connecticut bound D comes out of nowhere to earn a spot. Not many people expected Sauer to do what he did last year.

    I want to believe in MDZ, but for some reason I find it hard seeing him completely eradicate the turnovers. And… he won’t be playing unless he can do that. Erixon is a lock, because he is known for not making mistakes. All I want is for Eminger not to be the 6th. I would much rather have some kid learn on the fly in that spot.

    • ArtyFan says:

      I know, I also want to see kid over underachievers, but last year Emmy played good till Torts started to switch MDZ and Gily. I’m saying that TC will be the good indicator who should be 5-6 D. If some of them will not perform well, rotation will be helpful with 7th D. MDZ MUST play full season in AHL, to me it’s not a question.

  5. John says:

    Dave, Mr. Suit, thanks for not mindlessly hating on a 21 year old defenseman and writing him off as a first round reject. Everyone who does that, should turn in their fan cards.

    That is all.

    • Dave says:

      No problem. We are pro-patience here.

      Also, change your email address so it doesn’t get marked as spam. Generally speaking, **** doesn’t really pass the anti-spam test.

      • Matt J says:

        Hahahhaaha sin nomination right there Dave. Definite winner hands down. Dave gets best comment while John gets worst.

        • Matt J says:

          Actually scratch that I thought John said mindlessly hating on a 21 year old defenseman as opposed to not hating on him. Dave’s comment was still funny nonetheless.

  6. voidoid says:

    Not sure this is meaningful in any way, but CapGeek recently updated the Rangers’ roster to show MDZ and his cap hit in New York and MZA in Connecticut.

  7. Jeff says:

    nice read, I would love to see Tank make the team this year, but he would have to stay with the big club or pass thru waivers if demoted…and you know he will be snatched up quick if he was placed.