UPDATE: this post was published prior to seeing Tim Kennedy and Todd White placed on waivers. One or both may clear waivers and stick with the team like Aaron Voros did in the past but this clearly isn’t a good situation for the two forwards. We’ll look at other players who will get opportunities to impress at a later date. If White and Kennedy do leave the roster it means more ice time to go round in the short term. Stay tuned….
Vinny Prospal being injured for a few weeks provides an intriguing opportunity for several Rangers players to begin the season. It firmly places the pressure even more so on the first line, however that should line up. John Tortorella had openly stated his preference was to pair Frolov and Gaborik together and did so to great effect during the pre season. With Prospal out injured the pair and their center will be counted on even more as Prospal’s experience, secondary scoring and enthusiasm will be sorely missed. So what players comes into focus with Prospal (and Drury) out to begin the year?
Much has been written about Dubinsky entering a cross-road like season in his career. He needs to take it to the next level, find consistency and become the player most Rangers fans believe he can be. Quite simply he needs to fulfil the promise he has teased the Rangers faithful with. With leaders such as Drury and Prospal out the offensive depth will be tested even more and Dubinsky has a chance to go out to begin the year and make himself invaluable. At this point of his career Dubinsky is no longer immune to being moved. Should he continue his up-down career form and the Rangers are deadline buyers Dubi will know, he and his expiring contract will be a potential trade chip. Dubi needs to start the year well, for both his own and the teams sake.
Has anyone ever been on a more public audition? White will know his 2.3m salary, age and lack of pre season form puts him firmly in line to be a prime cut candidate when Drury and Prospal come back. He knows he needs a fast start to force his stay on the roster beyond the injury returnees or at worst make sure he’s a viable trade asset and not another NHL veteran banished to the AHL. White has talent and can deliver offensively but hasn’t shown it yet in his brief exhibition time with the Rangers. White could appear on any line so is a real X factor during the first few weeks.
Frolov, if you place any importance on pre season form, has started impressively as a Ranger. Scorer of goals, provider of goals, solid defensive play and displaying instant chemistry on the top line; Frolov has almost done it all. Now, when the games count and given the injuries Frolov goes from low risk free agent to must-succeed acquisition. Everyone knows Gaborik can’t do it all alone and with Prospal out Gabby needs a running mate. Frolov’s offense will be crucial to how the Rangers start the year and a lot of focus will be on the Russian. Will Frolov show the Kings they were wrong to let him go? The reasons stand to benefit massively should Frolov be as motivated as he seems.
Kennedy is another player who should be motivated to prove his former employer wrong but like Todd White is another who is a bit of an X factor. Kennedy can play both center and wing so can potentially be a direct fill-in for either Prospal or Drury on the 2nd or 3rd lines. Kennedy has some offensive upside, is elusive and can skate well and has provided some occasional spark during pre season while never really convincing. While there won’t be the pressure of expectancy on a player who is playing for minimal cap space, Kennedy will still be expected to prove he’s worth his place on the roster given popular roster candidates such as Dale Weise and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen were sent down to accommodate him.
The Rangers have a lot of players facing various types of pressure. How the new recruits, underperforming returnees and ‘core’ players cope with expectation early on may dictate the Rangers season. A hot start can be crucial to a playoff berth, especially given the tight nature of the Eastern conference. It should be interesting to follow the individual fortunes of many Rangers this season.