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Category: State of the Rangers

Rangers’ offense figures to be much improved, but what about the defense?

Dan Boyle will provide more offense, but he’s a downgrade from Anton Stralman in the defensive zone

Just over a year into Alain Vigneault’s tenure as coach of the Rangers, the team’s roster already looks dramatically different than the one he inherited last June. Granted, roster turnover is nothing new for New York, but the moves made over the last 15 months have Vigneault’s fingerprints all over them.

Black and Blueshirts like Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan are gone and in their place are players with much more skill, like Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis. Vigneault arrived with a reputation for being a proponent of analytics and a master of matchups, but his actual top priority since arriving in Manhattan has been far simpler: get the team to score more goals.

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Injuries hampering veteran chances

Penalty box, press box with injury, close enough.

Penalty box, press box with injury, close enough.

The Rangers went on a low-risk spending spree this summer, bringing in veterans Matt Lombardi, Lee Stempniak, and Ryan Malone. Some questioned this initially –Stempniak not so much– as the Rangers have a lot of kids ready to take spots in the lineup. However, more competition is good. Competition breeds improvement.

But now, two of those veterans have seen injuries cut into training camp and preaseason games. First Malone went down last week with a hip flexor injury after a strong-ish (he fatigued at the end) performance in the preseason opener against the Devils. He missed out on practices, didn’t play Friday and won’t play today. Meanwhile, Lombardi just went down with a groin injury after an unimpressive game on Monday. He was slated to go tonight, but he’s been scratched last-minute.

Less than a week into the preseason, and two vets brought in on low-risk deals are on the shelf. What will that say about their long-term durability?

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Keep an eye on Cedrick Desjardins

While we all know that the Rangers success lives and dies with Henrik Lundqvist’s health and performance (as it should), there has always been an undercurrent of concern from the Rangers fan base about a lack of overall goaltending depth in the system. With Martin Biron retiring and Cam Talbot graduating to the NHL, the problem has become more pronounced, especially with Talbot likely to depart after this season in pursuit of more playing time.

Slats & Co. addressed this issue to an extent by drafting Brandon Halverson and Igor Shestyorkin this past June. As exciting as those two prospects are, Halverson will continue to ply his trade in the CHL for the foreseeable future while Shestyorkin will be firmly planted in the KHL. This creates a serious gap in viable options in Hartford in the event of injury. Read more »

Rise of Duclair and Buchnevich clouds the future of other forward prospects

Speedster Anthony Duclair put up 99 points for the Quebec Remparts last year

Entering training camp last fall, there was an intense battle for the final forward spots between youngsters Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo. Fast actually won the job out of camp, but an early injury combined with Kreider’s emergence put an end to the competition.

Miller, Fast, Lindberg and Kristo are all clearly on the fringe, and with a strong second-half, Ryan Bourque joined the fray. Free agent signings Kevin Hayes and Ryan Haggerty are also in the mix for NHL jobs in the near future.

Miller looks all but assured of a spot out of camp this year, but that means there are still as many as five more near-NHL ready forwards knocking on the door. Read more »

Preseason games begin with spots to be earned

Why is no one talking about Fast? (Photo: Blueshirts United)

The Rangers kick off their preseason schedule tonight against the Devils, and seven of the forwards in the lineup tonight are slated to be competing for roster spots. There are, by my count, four open roster spots (3C, 3RW, 4LW, 4RW) in addition to the 13F and 7D spots. In total, that’s six roster spots up for grabs for forwards.

Alain Vigneault is on record saying most of the kids headed to Juniors will be cut on Wednesday –with a select few (Duclair) sticking around, of course– so the natural feeling is that Groups A and B will comprise the NHL roster and most of the guys competing for the open spots.

Let’s look at the front-runners for each spot:

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A quick look at potential defense pairings

Future captain? (Elsa/Getty Images)

With training camp in full swing, we had a bit of a preview into how Alain Vignault will deploy his defense pairings. Group A had Dan Boyle and Marc Staal together, essentially Boyle subbing in for the now departed Anton Stralman. John Moore was also in Group A. Group B had Dan Girardi paired with Ryan McDonagh, as per usual, and also had Kevin Klein. Both groups had kids vying for an NHL roster spot.

Leaving the kids out of this for a moment, as it is unlikely one of the kids will break camp with the big club unless there is an injury, all signs point to AV keeping McDonagh-Girardi as his top pair and Moore-Klein as his third pair. That of course leaves Staal and Boyle as the second pair. It’s what makes logical sense given the departure of Stralman, and keeps the lineup relatively balanced.

But some, including myself, have wondered how McDonagh would fair without Girardi. It’s no secret that Girardi draws mixed reviews among fans. His playoff performance against the Kings was woeful, as his footspeed was exploited on numerous occasions. But, he’s the longest tenured Ranger, rarely misses a game, and has that “warrior” factor in the sense that he’s probably made of robot parts. The fact that he’s never had a serious injury with the number of blocked shots is astounding.

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The on-ice style evolution of Henrik Lundqvist

The 2014-2015 season marks Henrik Lundqvist’s tenth NHL season. He broke in during the first post-lockout campaign in 2005-2006, and has commanded the Rangers crease ever since. While Lundqvist has been a noted style icon off the ice, his aesthetic choices on it have been far more divisive.

From 2005-2009 Hank was the poster boy for TPS Hockey (formerly Louisville). After an ill-fated merger with Sherwood, the King was scooped up by Bauer Hockey to be the face of their new One100 line, and he has been decked out in the company’s gear ever since.

While training camp has started and we will soon be awash with interesting hockey news and happenings, let’s indulge one more silly off-season post with a brief history of Henrik Lundqvist’s pad choices.

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A second Staal in New York?

Will Marc Staal return to his dominant best?

Could they both be wearing Ranger blue ?

Marc Staal has brothers, this is not new to you by now. Most of them as you will surely know are in Carolina and the longer Rangers defenseman Marc Staal goes without a new contract there will be the same old assumptions that he will end up in Carolina with his brethren. Recently, media reports have reported that Staal has begun to discuss a new contract with the Rangers – perhaps a new deal could come during training camp, which kicks off today. What hasn’t been discussed is the potential for Eric Staal to join Marc in New York.

Think about it for a second. The Rangers have a need for a top line center (unless Derek Stepan has a season we would all die for). They need size and skill down the middle to compete with the Kings and Bruins of the world and they have their own Staal brother to entice Eric to New York. With a cap ceiling that continues to grow, a move for the high priced Hurricanes captain is a legitimate possibility. Most assumptions are that Marc would join Eric but perhaps the smarter money would be on Eric changing zip codes and heading to NYC.

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Wing depth a strength for the Rangers

Bourque

Bourque

Yesterday I posted on how center depth could be a concern for the Rangers heading into this season. It’s not to say that the Rangers are flawed, that’s just one hole that could pose a problem. On the flip side, wing depth appears to be a strength for the Rangers. Most of their wingers from last year are returning, with some shrewd signings and some kids on the cusp fill in the rest of the holes.

The top six wingers will likely be some combination of Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, and Marty St. Louis. This –finally– bumps Carl Hagelin down to the third line, as he was miscast as a top-six winger in previous seasons. It’s expected that Lee Stempniak will quietly slide into Benoit Pouliot’s spot as the 3RW, meaning there isn’t much turnover from last year’s wingers.

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Center depth could be a concern for the Rangers

Is Miller ready for a big role?

While the baby Rangers are playing in Traverse City, the big club is preparing to defend their Eastern Conference crown. They do so after buying out Brad Richards, their second line center, and letting Brian Boyle, their fourth line center/wing, walk via free agency. There were no free agents signed to replace these departed players, unless you count re-signing Dominic Moore.

As it stands today, the Rangers are slated to have Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard as their top two centers. The third line center position is up for grabs, and the fourth line center position (probably Moore) will be determined by who wins the 3C job. It’s not exactly the best situation to be in, considering center depth has been a common ingredient in recent Stanley Cup winners.

Whether or not you like it, Stepan will be the 1C this year. He’s not going to be a Sidney Crosby, a Claude Giroux, or an Anze Kopitar, but he will put up close to 60 points while playing solid two-way hockey. An improved powerplay should theoretically increase his offensive output, but I get the feeling that will be limited because his decision making abilities are a bit slow. That said, he will likely get the majority of his PP time on the off-wing –likely with the top unit– because he’s one of the few right-handed shots. He’s not the best 1C in the world, but he will get the job done.

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