Immediately after July 1, it looked like the Rangers would have several forward spots open to competition at training camp. However, the eventual signings of Matt Lombardi, Lee Stempniak and Kevin Hayes have made it much more difficult for anyone else to earn a spot in the lineup. The likes of J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg still figure to duke it out with some of those depth signings for the final spot or two, but it’s going to be exceedingly difficult for anyone else to enter the fray. With that said, here’s a look at the handful of forwards and defensemen that could conceivably be in the mix with a standout performance at camp.
Ryan Malone – This one is a real long-shot not only because of the legal questions surrounding Malone, but because the Rangers would have to ship out a player to fit Malone under the 50-contract limit. Malone was once an effective power forward and is presumably being invited to training camp on the off chance the Blueshirts catch lightning in a bottle in their search to replace Benoit Pouliot, but unless Malone dominates, it’s highly unlikely he makes the team.
Marek Hrivik – Injuries have slowed Hrivik’s development and several guys have leapfrogged him over the last year, but Hrivik was one of the final cuts last fall and didn’t look out of place against NHL-level competition. Now that several other prospects have grown and the team added veteran depth in free agency, Hrivik will have a much more difficult time standing out. However, he uses his size very well and, like Malone, could be a logical Pouliot replacement.
Anthony Duclair – Ranger fans are drooling over Duclair, and rightfully so. However, Duclair isn’t eligible for the American League, so it’s the NHL or another year in the QMJHL for him. Duclair has nothing left to learn in junior hockey, but a leap straight to the pros might be too much to ask. (Dave edit: The nine-game rule doesn’t apply to Duclair, since his contract already slid. He can be with the big club as long as his play warrants he stays.)
Ryan Bourque – Just a few months ago, it seemed like Bourque’s time with the organization was nearing an end. However, a second-half offensive explosion has altered Bourque’s career trajectory. Bourque already has the wheels and defensive acumen to play in the NHL, but his newfound scoring touch might be the difference between Bourque playing out his career in the AHL and securing a checking line role in the NHL. Bourque has more experience than many of these guys and is also more well-rounded. And though New York does have a ton of bodies competing for bottom-six roles, the team lacks the prototypical defensive-minded forwards that comprised the fourth line a year ago. For those reasons, Bourque might be the best bet on this list.
Danny Kristo – The problem for Kristo is that he’s purely an offensive guy, and the top-six jobs are already locked up. If he really dominates, Kristo could push for attention on the third scoring line. However, defense has been a problem for Kristo, so it’s a little hard to imagine him beating out a guy like Bourque.
Ryan Haggerty – Haggerty was one of the big undrafted college free agent signings the team made in the late spring and is known for having a wicked shot. As with Kristo, he’s a little too one-dimensional right now and almost certainly needs a bit of AHL seasoning.
Chris Mueller – The big thing Mueller has going for him is experience. Unfortunately, that card would have been a much better play before the signings of Lombardi and Stempniak. Mueller figures to be a leader in Hartford and one of the first few call-ups, but you have to think that if he was going to win a full-time NHL job, it would have happened by now.
Mat Bodie – Both Dylan McIlrath and Conor Allen appear to be well ahead of Bodie on the depth chart and the likely candidates for eventual promotion should things go south with John Moore. It’s not ridiculous to think the former Union captain could beat out either of them, but the free agent additions of Matt Hunwick, Steve Kampfer and Mike Kostka have really buried Bodie for this season at least.
Matt Hunwick/Steve Kampfer/Mike Kostka – These guys figure to battle for the Justin Falk role, but again, the Moore situation makes things at least a little interesting. Of the group, Kostka is the most enticing and could force a tough decision.
So which of these guys do you think has the best chance to stick out of training camp?