The roster picture is getting clearer as cuts have been made, but there are still games to be played and positions to be won. The Devils are dressing what could be five of their top six defensemen and what could be their top line tonight. The Rangers haven’t released lines yet, but both Marc Staal and Dan Girardi will be making their preseason debuts after being held out for the first few games. Oscar Lindberg is in the lineup tonight, playing in his fourth straight preseason game. He’s played all three forwards positions so far, so expect him to play some defense tonight. Maybe some goalie. Who knows.
What have they done lately?
The Devils are not expected to be good this year, and are likely going to be cellar dwellers this year. But they do have talent, a solid netminder, and a new coach.
Four questions this week as the training camp battles heat up. As always, you can use the widget on the right to send all your questions to me, and I will answer them in a weekly mailbag post.
anon asks: Why do you think Kevin Hayes should stick to center? He can’t win a faceoff to save his life.
I’ve addressed this on Twitter a bunch of times, but I may as well address it here too. While faceoffs on special teams are important, even strength faceoffs don’t do much in terms of controlling the play. It’s what is done after the faceoff that matters. The Derek Stepan winner against Washington showed us that much, as Stepan didn’t win that draw. It was Jesper Fast that came in and poked the puck to Keith Yandle that set the whole play up. But I digress.
The point with Hayes is that of his 45 points last year, I believe 40 of them were either goals or primary assists. That’s 90% primary points for him. That’s what you want your centers to do. You want them to create offense, you don’t want them to be passengers. Hayes is very smart as well, as he consistently drives to the net, and he gets himself open to shoot. He’s a beast with the puck, and he’s pretty solid defensively too. Faceoffs are skill that can be improved upon. You can’t teach hockey IQ, and Hayes has that in droves.
The Rangers have announced the lineup for tomorrow’s game against the Devils:
Apparently Lindberg is going to play every single game in the preseason, probably at all six positions too. Guessing he plays goalie at some point.
When Henrik Lundqvist went down with a fluke vascular injury last season, all eyes turned to Cam Talbot. A very short time after inking a very reasonable one year, $1.45 million extension, Talbot was thrust into starting duty. After his impressive rookie season as backup to the King, this was his first big test. Long story short, Talbot delivered and the focus began to shift to the ultimate offseason return for the former University of Alabama-Huntsville keeper. Whatever we may think of the value he brought in hindsight, his departure to Edmonton left the Rangers without a reliable backup in the system. Especially in light of Mackenzie Skapski’s injury.
On the very same day Talbot was shipped out to western Canada, the front office turned Ryan Haggerty into Antti Raanta. While a somewhat under-the-radar move, I think everyone assumed the Rangers had found their backup. Raanta had a very short NHL track record (39 career games), but had put up excellent number this past season. At 26 years-old, he was an ideal backup with some upside.
The Ranger have announced more cuts, trimming five more from the roster. Brett Bellemore, Marek Hrivik, Adam Tambellini, Jeff Malcolm, and Tommy Hughes will report to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL.
Bellemore was the only semi-surprising cut for two reasons. The first is that I thought he was playing somewhat well, but I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the coaching staff likes Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei more. The second is that he was on a PTO. I guess he is going on an AHL tryout? Who knows.
The baby Rangers, the kids competing for roster spots, shined last night, but the team blew a two goal lead in the third period en route to a shootout loss to the Bruins. It’s the preseason, so there’s no need to complain, panic, or worry. The kids played well, and although they lost, you can see that the Rangers will have new blood in the lineup in October, with more knocking on the door as injury call ups.
- Brady Skjei is making it very difficult to cut him. He was solid again last night. He looked at home on the powerplay, drawing a defender out of position at the point and opening up the ice for Kevin Hayes for his goal. He will likely spend time in the AHL, just like Ryan McDonagh did to start his career. But the kid is the real deal.
- Brett Bellemore –fighting skill aside, he got crushed in that fight– is also making it hard to cut him. He’s been quietly solid.
- Oscar Lindberg had another strong game, this time at RW. He played LW and C in the other two games. Kid offers versatility all over the ice. He’s making this team. He and Jarret Stoll really clicked. Stoll is another one with a strong game.
- Ryan Bourque wasn’t flashy, but he was overall solid. He finished checks, was in on the forecheck, and was rarely out of position. If it wasn’t for Brian Gibbons, he’d be a dark horse to make the club. He also ensured the game got to a shootout.
The Rangers have made their second round of cuts, trimming the roster by four players. Richard Nejezchleb and Travis Oleksuk will be sent to the Hartford Wolf Pack. Kirill Kabanov and Jayden Hart have been released from their tryouts. This leaves the Rangers with 21 forwards, 14 defensemen, and 4 goalies.
More cuts are expected after tonight’s game, as Alain Vigneault has indicated he wants to get to 18 forwards and 10 or 11 defensemen. A goalie may be cut as well.
The Rangers are in Boston tonight to take on the Bruins in their third preseason game of the season. The Rangers have also announced that cuts will come after this game, and the roster will be trimmed to 18 forwards and 10 or 11 defensemen. Just because a player is in the lineup tonight doesn’t mean he is safe from the cuts. There are at least three players that will likely get the ax tonight.
But before that happens, there is a game to play. The Bruins had a weird offseason. I really don’t know how else to summarize it. Don Sweeney is either a genius or a fool, and there’s really no middle ground here.
What have they done lately?
While the preseason is all about getting into game shape, finding line combinations and putting a competitive roster together it’s also about asset management. The Rangers have several selection dilemmas coming up and it will be another test for new general manager, Jeff Gorton.
Several Ranger prospects are in danger of being waiver claims and as a club with a relatively shallow prospect pool (thanks to graduations, a strong, young roster and asset stripping trades) the Rangers cannot afford to lose players for nothing. There isn’t the organisational depth to accommodate several losses.
A player such as Oscar Lindberg looks increasingly assured of a roster spot so ‘managing’ Lindberg will be more about putting him in a position to succeed. Lindberg has made a good start to the preseason and with several teams around the league reportedly interested in him (according to the always well informed Elliotte Friedman) the Rangers need him to make the team.