With this summer’s free agent market perhaps the weakest in recent memory, and with the Rangers having multiple holes to fill, nothing would please the organization more than a prospect (or two) stepping up and forcing their way onto the 2013-14 roster. With the Rangers needing more of everything – scoring, depth, size, physical presence, face off ability, special teams upgrades – there are plenty of prospects close to making the jump.
The problem for the Rangers is timing. They already have a slew of bottom six forwards who could be moved, and should they spend cap dollars on forwards in the offseason they are, to an extent, committed to inserting the new recruits into the line up regardless of how the rookies play pre-season. That said, players such as Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg and the usual suspects – Chris Kreider and JT Miller – are surely close to securing roster spots. Let’s consider the merits of the Swedish pair who so many Rangers fans are eagerly awaiting.
As sneak peaks go, the Rangers got the smallest of glimpses into what Fast brings when he played a solitary game in the AHL this past season. After finishing a strong season over in the SEL, Fast came over to the AHL and –prior to injury– played one game, scored a pretty goal, and was named the games’ third star. Fast’s addition would add more skating ability to the Rangers, and would give them added scoring ability. Where Fast starts and how he’s used will depend enormously on the new Rangers coach.
It likely goes against the European rookie’s chances that a new coach will come in and probably be unfamiliar with the prospects in the system. Fast’s position is likely also linked to that of Ryane Clowe’s, Mats Zuccarello’s, and fellow prospects such as Kreider and Miller. If Clowe and Zuccarello are kept (and ideally both will) then Fast will surely start the year in Connecticut.
Lindberg’s chances of an immediate NHL start are better than Fast’s. First of all, Derek Stepan aside, over the past few seasons the Rangers have been underwhelming at center. Brad Richards is a legitimate buy-out candidate, Brian Boyle isn’t certain of his spot in the line-up or position on the ice (wing is an option for the big Boston native), and while the Rangers have Derick brassard causing all sorts of positive vibes, he too is yet to have a training camp with the Rangers. What this all amounts to is that beyond Stepan, the Rangers center position is in an absolute state of flux.
Despite the absence of any North American experience, Lindberg has a reasonable chance at jumping ahead of the likes of JT Miller to start in New York. Coming off a sensational SEL campaign, Lindberg has dominated in a strong international men’s league. The level of competition faced is greater than that of the NCAA or CHL level.
Lindberg helps address the face-off issues, is known as a strong two way player who can help the penalty kill, and he’s proven he can step up (in spectacular style) at playoff time. Lindberg should, unlike the North American prospects, come to training camp sure of himself and with an untainted reputation. Many people will look at Lindberg and assume he’s destined to begin next season in the AHL. He may well do so, but with a strong camp Lindberg may be a surprise starter in New York next season.