The Rangers blue line could look a lot different in the summer of 2012. There’s a chance that next season the Rangers will start six defensemen that have seen the ice this in New York season but don’t expect that six to include Steve Eminger, Anton Stralman and Jeff Woywitka.
All three journeyman pros have expiring contracts and are likely to be let go; at most one may be retained. Also with an expiring deal is Mike Del Zotto but barring something totally unexpected the talented youngster will get a new deal thanks to his rebound season, especially the way he is improving with each game this season.
Complicating what is beginning to look like an audition process for a depth spot on defense is the sudden emergence of Stu Bickel. It may be highly premature to call it an ’emergence’ but Bickel has shown a willingness to scrap, has chipped in offensively, kept it simple and for the most part has stepped up and looked capable at the NHL level. With every additional game Bickel impresses and with the injuries to guys like Eminger it really does make it a four horse race for a contract next summer; and that is if one is kept at all at the NHL level.
With Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Mike Sauer, Ryan McDonagh and Mike Del Zotto all very much part of the Rangers, the sixth defenseman promises to be Tim Erixon. As well as his outstanding potential, in Erixon’s favour (assuming he is full time, NHL ready) is that, with Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer, all three represent cap bargains next season as Sauer is the most expensive in 12/13 at $1.25m. Despite an injury earlier this season Erixon has looked very good in the AHL for the Whale and is close to a point/game player on the farm.
So where is the change coming? In all likelihood the change is likely to be via the aforementioned subtractions rather than substantial additions however there does promise to be further talent challenging for NHL roster spots. Dylan McIlrath and Pavel Valentenko (assuming the club retain him) will look to break the roster while Mikhail Pashnin might be in the mix, coming over from the KHL.
The Rangers have a stack of young established NHL defensemen, a couple of almost NHL ready prospects and a couple of juniors in the pipeline. Whether they add or subtract from the big club this summer, it continues to look good on the back end for the Rangers.