The Rangers have secured victories in their first two pre-season games, and the forward group has shown a lot to be excited about. There was significant turnover in the roster for the first two games, and a lot to digest and analyze as the front office and coaching staff try to mold a group of twenty-three out of a very packed field. As you can imagine, I have some thoughts…
- In watching the first two games of the pre-season, offensive zone puck movement has jumped out at me the most. They are finding lanes, showing patience and creating a net front presence we haven’t seen over the past few seasons. Kevin Hayes continued to show elite vision, even if I wish he would pull the trigger a little more often. I suppose that’s what we now have Brandon Pirri and Mika Zibenejad for.
- Speaking of Pirri, he has obviously been very good so far. His skill set, while limited, is rare in the current NHL. He is a pure goal scorer. A sheltered third line role, with significant power play time could turn Pirri into something of a secret weapon and provide for reliable scoring depth beyond the usual suspects.
- Jimmy Vesey was also very impressive last night. His first step quickness and vision were on full display, clicking well with Rick Nash and Kevin Hayes. He has a tendency (from an admittedly small sample size and lesser competition) of finding the soft areas of the ice and putting himself in a position for quality chances, whether on the rush or in-zone.
- I think John Gilmour will be interesting to watch in Hartford this season. He clearly has a big shot and can skate. The question will be can he succeed with his transition game at the speed of the pro-level. He could be a quality depth find, even as a bottom pair, power play guy.
- Dylan McIlrath seems to be trying to hybridize his game a bit, which is a good thing. He is still laying big hits and applying his signature physicality, but his skating in much improved and his short, direct transition passes make him much more effective in today’s NHL. I think he has looked better than Nick Holden, so far, so I hope he gets a fair look on the bottom pairing.
- Staying on the blue line for a moment, I agree with Dave’s assessment that it has been a little bit of an adventure back there so far in the pre-season. Depending on the required price, looking at Jacob Trouba should be seriously considered. He would immediately pair with Ryan McDonagh and hopefully push Staal and Girardi into, at best, second and third pairing roles. This would also force the Rangers to buy-out Girardi before the expansion draft.
- I’ll be curious if AV tries to simplify his defensive scheme to put the current personnel in a better position to succeed. Missed coverages were a huge problem last season, and giving more of a zone-oriented system might keep the gaffes to a minimum. It would likely have an adverse effect on possession, but the trade off is probably worth exploring, especially with the talent up front.
- I think Mackenzie Skapski has passed Magnus Hellberg on the depth chart, or should have. Hellberg is really nice minor league depth, who I believe can handle the AHL workload, should the need arise, but I don’t think his game is well suited for the NHL. With Raanta firmly entrenched for the next two seasons behind Hank, I’d like to see Skapski continue his development with increased playing time in the AHL this season.
- As Dave mentioned in his recap, the special teams have been impressive so far. Last season, the Rangers were fine 5-on-5, but the special teams were killing them. The puck movement on the power play and the positioning on the PK have been much better this pre-season.
- I’m too lazy to check their waiver statuses, but if Marek Hrivik and Nicklas Jensen can start the year in Hartford, they will be high quality forward depth in the event of injury. I think they are both on the outside looking in right now, but I think they would be fine if they had to be plugged into the lineup for an extended spell.
- Just a standard disclaimer, Tanner Glass and Maxime Lapierre have no business anywhere near this team for the regular season.
That about empties the tank for me this week. With the busy slate coming up, we will start to see more of the regulars and see how the coaching staff is favoring the new comers. Sound off with any your own observations in the comments. Have a great weekend, everyone!"Thoughts following the first two pre-season games",