The battle for forward positions has been the talk of training camp thus far, and several of New York’s youngsters have made strong cases to be on the opening night roster. Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo and Marek Hrivik have all impressed, while 2011 first-round pick J.T. Miller hasn’t gotten the opportunity due to injuries. With Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan out for the first chunk of the season, one or more of these players will likely be thrust into significant roles come October 3rd.
Chris Kreider has been skating with Brad Richards and Rick Nash for much of camp and it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’ll be locked into a top-six role at the start of the season. But after Kreider, the roster battle is still ongoing.
Lindberg was the breakout star of the Traverse City Tournament, Fast has demonstrated instant chemistry with Lindberg and was buzzing around the ice last night and Kristo was singled out by coach Alain Vigneault for his efforts in Monday’s game. The prospect that continues to fly a bit under the radar is Hrivik.
Hrivik comes with a little less hoopla than the others – he doesn’t have blazing speed, wasn’t drafted and missed much of last season with a concussion. What he does have is professional experience and success, as well as an NHL-ready body and a strong ability to protect the puck.
Fans are understandably anxious to see Lindberg win a spot following his sensational 2012-2013 campaign in the Swedish Elite League, but Lindberg is a natural center, and the Rangers are well stocked at that position. Lindberg is obviously a part of the team’s long-term plans, but does it make sense to leapfrog him over Dominic Moore (who has been tremendous in his own right this preseason) and Brian Boyle? Derek Stepan (yes, he’ll be signed), Derick Brassard and Brad Richards aren’t going anywhere, so where does Lindberg fit? It just doesn’t make any sense to force a 21-year-old into a fourth-line role when the Blueshirts already have other capable options. Lindberg has a bright future, but in the end it’s very likely that he’ll be given some AHL seasoning before a spot is made for him on Broadway.
As for Fast – the speedy Swedish winger has been very impressive, no doubt. But, like Lindberg, Fast is adapting to the smaller North American rink on the fly. That’s not always an easy transition, and even less so for a player that weighs 170 pounds after Thanksgiving dinner. Fast has shown a willingness to battle in the dirty areas, but can he really be expected to hold up when the opposition’s top defenders are treating the game for real? Kristo has the same problem. He’s a little older, but he is also built like a twig.
Given New York’s injuries, Fast or Kristo might indeed get a cameo. But the best, and perhaps most likely solution is Hrivik. He probably won’t wow us with scoring or speed the way New York’s other top prospects might in spurts, but Hrivik boasts a 6’1″, 197 lb. power forward’s frame that is tailor-made for the NHL. Hrivik doesn’t have the same ceiling as his competition, but given the circumstances, he’s probably the best solution to the forward conundrum among the prospects.