What we’ve learned from training camp so far

When was the last time you saw a Ranger D-man make a move like this? (Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

Jeff Gorton is not blind to the hole at center
Gorton was very careful with his wording in response to reporters’ questions about attempted deals for help at center over the course of the summer. Though nothing materialized, it’s clear that Gorton has been active in conversations. But he’s also willing to be patient. When camp opened Alain Vigneault said he wants to see J.T. Miller at center because he’ll be needed there “at some point.” AV also indicated that both Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil have a real chance at making the team. It’s up to all three of those players to prove their merit and take the pressure off Gorton. But for the time being, it seems that Gorton is willing to let things play out.

Trading for Matt Duchene makes all kinds of sense for the Rangers, but not so much for the Avs
Josh wondered aloud the other day about the absence of trade rumors between Colorado and New York given the Blueshirts’ glaring need and the availability of such an obvious solution in Duchene. Gorton has surely conversed with Colorado GM Joe Sakic, but there still doesn’t appear to be a trade match between the two clubs. It’s widely known the Avs are seeking a blue chip young defender and the likes of Ryan Murray, Cody Ceci, Thomas Chabot, Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin have circulated through the rumor mill as potential building blocks from known interested parties.

New York has one young defender of that caliber – Brady Skjei – and he’s about as untouchable as it gets. And without his inclusion, it’s difficult to see how the Blueshirts could cobble together an offer that rivals what’s already on the table – even if Sakic is starting to feel the heat of opening night and must lower his demands slightly to complete a swap. Tony DeAngelo would be the one other player that carries similar potential, but it’s tough to envision New York moving him again during the same offseason he was acquired – or Colorado being interested in gambling on DeAngelo when the Avs so desperately need a clear win to rejuvenate their franchise. And despite a strong showing thus far, Neal Pionk doesn’t carry that type of value and it would set a poor precedent for the Rangers to beat out other clubs for a coveted college free agent only to ship him out of town a few months later. Certainly pairing Kevin Hayes with DeAngelo, Pionk, or Sean Day might make things interesting from Colorado’s perspective, but moving Hayes would leave the Blueshirts still in need of another center, in addition to the aforementioned issues. Landing Duchene would be swell, but it’s still a real long shot.

The Rangers have D-men that can skate AND move the puck!
And we haven’t even seen Kevin Shattenkirk in action yet! Seriously, it suddenly feels that the Blueshirts went from having one of the least mobile defenses in the league to having an embarrassment of riches. Skjei and Ryan McDonagh were the lone weapons a year ago, but now they’re joined by Shattenkirk – who’s among the league’s elite puck movers and power play quarterbacks, PLUS young guns DeAngelo and Pionk that both shined in their preseason debuts. DeAngelo showed no hesitation to join the rush on Monday – nearly finishing a nice deke in tight – in addition to directing traffic atop the power play. And Pionk delivered a highlight reel spin-o-rama game winner after consistently pushing the pace during regulation. Pionk’s path may be blocked in the short term, but it may not be a bad thing to give him a year – or part of a year – to adjust to the physicality of the pro game. Regardless, the Blueshirts are suddenly rife with blueliners that can both skate the puck to safety themselves and efficiently move it up ice to the forwards.

Alain Vigneault is turning the page
OK – this might be premature after a single exhibition game. But Vigneault didn’t mince words when evaluating Marc Staal’s standing on the team and set high expectations for youngsters across the board to embrace bigger roles. Sure, plenty of that is coach-speak – it’s not like Staal is actually going anywhere – but the bench boss sure seems like he’s taken the summer to consider where the Blueshirts have been and where they’re going and realizes it’s time to commit to the next wave of Rangers. Vigneault doesn’t have a ton of choice in the matter, so he’s wise to get out ahead of the brewing narrative and lead the new direction of the team.

Rick Nash is ready to rock
For my money the 2016-2017 season was Nash’s best as a Ranger. He was a bulldog on a nightly basis, consistently driving the net and creating offense in addition to his usual top-notch defensive work. And if anything, Nash seems to have found even more motivation in a contract year. This is a very proud player that has always taken it personally when he doesn’t put the puck in the net and Nash seems equally driven to prove that he has plenty left in the tank as he looks ahead to the next chapter of his career.

Gabriel Fontaine and Ryan Gropp stocks are trending up
It’s probably not a coincidence that after Fontaine impressed at Traverse City and the Blueshirts decided to put Miller at center, Fontaine got an early look in the preseason. There’s suddenly a spot or two to be won among the bottom-six wingers and Fontaine brings a responsibleĀ pro-style game to the table. He has an uphill battle ahead of him, but Fontaine might be this year’s dark horse to make the roster.

Similarly, Gropp’s development has been bumpy to this point and he’d become something of a forgotten man, but he seems to have made significant strides over the offseason. Gropp will be in the spotlight tonight playing alongside Andersson and Chris Kreider and has a real opportunity to impress the staff.

On the flip side, Robin Kovacs was one of the eye-openers at camp last year, but he was among the first cuts this time around. After a miserable season in Hartford, Kovacs doesn’t seem likely to have a future with the organization. Likewise, Boo Nieves has done little to set himself apart from the pack and may have already seen his chance come and go.

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  • Agree on Nash, I just hope he stays healthy this year. He had a good year but I worry a little about his declining shot attempts the last 2 seasons. Can’t remember when I’ve ever felt so optimistic about a Rangers defensive corps.

  • Hayes wouldn’t be getting traded anytime soon, in matter of fact he’s playing to earn a juicy contract, maybe one that could see longer term and more money than what Mika got. I’ve always had the idea of him replacing Stepan but when I read that both the head coach and GM we’re all in on it then I knew Hayes would get his chance. This Duch trade speculation shouldn’t be brought up until December if the team has issues down the middle or unless someone has real news about it.

    It almost sounds like Andersson and Filip will both have chances to make the opening night roster and from there a extended look to see where they would fill out until Fast gets back. Boo would be falling out of favor but it looks like AV isn’t playing lol. He’s using all his recourses to give him a edge to earn a extension and a lethal 4 line attack team with pure speed and skill.

    DD gets screwed over and obviously has to play with a PTO that Sather picked out.

  • I think there are legitimately a two spots open (on the offensive side), and AV & Gorton are doing what they can to provide opportunity to all, but focusing on the few they want to make the club.

    On the defensive side, there are a host of youths trying to prove they belong. The challenge is the contract of Staal and the experience/adulation of Holden by AV. We also do not want $4.5M sitting in the press box or to just cut Holden. I assume Gorton is working the phones.

    Rumors of Duchene are circulating again, with Ottawa the main landing spot.

    Also, can I take this opportunity to with Brian Boyle a speedy recovery and a healthy return to the NHL. I think he is one of the good guys.

  • Still talking about Duschene…… no sense at all, Duschene is a looser, Rangers don’t need him particularly with need to loose some of the players, let Avs to keep him. until they draft something like McDavid šŸ™‚

    Nasher looked too heavy during the game with Isles, not positive at all about him

    • Lets think about this, if “Nasher” plays well this season he can expect how many more millions? a few I’m sure. With that said, do you honestly think he came into camp heavy, really?

      Noooo Way MON. Nash is going for Gold, WigWam, Shells, GreenBacks, the good stuff.

      Theres no way he doesn’t give more then he can to get those extra Shillings my Mon.

      Who would? None of us.

      Nash is gonna play hard, he has never not, plus he is gonna do everything, including putting down the fork this season…

      He knows this too.

      its just the way it is, its good for us its his last year on contract…

      heavy? Bahahaha

  • As much as I’d like to see filip make the team if he’s not playing top nine minutes send him back home and let him develop

  • Trade a 26 year old 55 point center to promote a 50 point center to the 1C duties so you can trade a stud defenseman for a 26 year old 41 point center.

    Makes complete sense

    • Don’t sweat it, Duchene will be Ottawa’s folly from what it sounds like. I’m very much in agreement with you–Duchene is an overpaid 8-year vet who’s starting his decline early. Wouldn’t trade anything of real value for him.

        • Sakic has shown that he is not a good GM, and is asking way too much for Duchene. While I would never consider Skjei or Pionk, you have to be open minded about Duchene.

          He played on a horrific team, but has always had good numbers. He could slot in at 3C, and we would be great to have him there. It also puts JT back at the wing where he belongs, solving the wing problem on the top 9.

          Sean Day & Gropp for Duchene?

          • Yes, I would go for it, getting the Duke and giving them up would make us better now, we only have 2-3 left with our beloved #30.

          • “Sean Day & Gropp for Duchene?”

            Per what I’ve heard, that won’t even get him to return Gorton’s call.

            TSN & others have reported Sakic, earlier this summer, turned down an offer of Hamonic, a 1st, and a top prospect…

            Supposedly, he demanded Skjei & a 1st as a starting point for any trade.

            He’s nuts.

          • Salic would laugh at that offer. And how are they fitting Duchenes 6 million dollar cap hit?

    • Even though the Rangers sent scouts to the Avs-LV game, I would seriously doubt that this happens.

      It helps that Sakic is asking for the moon. Which is laughable because he’s trading Duchene because he’s not that good any more. But go ahead, look for a trade like you’re trading McDavid.

  • Thanks for the write up Kevin.

    I know it’s only one game, and it was against a rookie heavy ladened Islander squad, but even with that in mind……………..

    I liked what I saw from Andersson. He’s got some North American hockey adjustments to make (although Bettman is trying his best to make our Game European). He, Anderson not Bettman, certainly understands how to play his position. It was nice to see him not back down from the Islander D-man. Good stuff.

    Pionk and DeAngelo showed some nice positioning. Even though DeA was caught out of position a couple of times, his speed mitigated those errors. They both sure can skate! I liked DeA going right back a Bernier.

  • I just wouldn’t read very much into a coach talking up his young players in preseason. It happens all the time. Obviously the Rangers have only nine locks at the forward position (with Fast out) – or ten if you count Desharnais. So AV certainly has to look at Puempel, Desjardins, Andersson, a few others and also maybe tell Gorton he needs help if he doesn’t like what he sees. In any case, if the Rangers must trade, it doesn’t pay to advertise the fact.

    As for the defense, puck-moving defensemen are dime a dozen. What is harder to find is puck-moving defensemen who are responsible in their own end. So what you are saying about DeAngelo and Pionk is just what we already knew. I expect Pionk will start at Hartford, not because he is blocked, but because he is not yet an NHL defenseman.

    There is no logjam on defense. The Rangers appear to have an excellent top four. On the other hand, there is not one candidate for the third pair that doesn’t scare somebody in the Ranger organization. All twelve candidates in camp are good defensemen (Players in the ECHL are good hockey players frankly.) None or so good that we should be comfortable seeing them in a top four role, though Staal certainly was one once and DeAngelo and Day at least have the talent to make it someday.

    IMO, Pionk is more exciting to watch than Kampfer, but Kampfer is steadier. I think the Ranger brass feels the same way. If it is one or the other, Kampfer makes the team. And if you can’t beat out Kampfer, your problem is not that you are blocked – you are just not there yet.

    And if Kampfer is in the conversation, there is no logjam. And the numbers of OZ starts Kampfer go last year indicates that AV doesn’t really trust him – he just inspires less fear than others.

    Unlike most others, I don’t think the defense is that complicated. First and foremost, AV will decide whether he can’t trust DeAngelo on defense. If he can, it’s third pair, if he can’t, it’s Hartford. Staal is probably third pair, but it isn’t there, he takes the #7 slot. If the Rangers go with DeAngelo-Staal, they trade Holden; otherwise Holden is third pair. The #7 slot likely goes to either Staal or Kampfer.
    The rest of the field consists of long shots and no-shots. Graves, Bereglazov, Pionk, Day might change the Rangers’ thinking, but right now they are more on the outside than Nieves and Catenacci (who at least have openings in front of them).

    • Ray,

      I agree with most of what you are saying about the defense. However, for Pionk to make the team he has to beat out DeAngelo and Holden. Kampfer’s is the 7th dman, if Holden isnt shipped out. Pionk 22 /DeAngelo 21 either make the 3rd pairing or go to Hartford. Its much better for player development to have them playing 20 minutes a night at their age then sitting in the press conference. Holden 30 and Kampfer 28, can sit in the press box, the only young player that could sit in the Bereglazov due to the KHL out in his contract if sent to Hartford.

    • “puck-moving defensemen are dime a dozen”

      Then how come we had hardly any last year?

      Raymond, if they are a dime am dozen then how come when they reach FA then they get overpaid with a ridiculously high contract?

      The best defensive strategy you can have? Possess the puck.

      • Agree 100%. The defense is going to be a tough matchup this year, if DeAngelo is top
        6 that gives NYR 3 dmen with elite skating ability (Skjei & McD being the other two). Shatty is a good skater, as is Smith–they could almost do enough to carry Staal.

        For all the whining about DeAngelo’s lack of D-zone awareness, his Corsi relative was pretty decent even though his possession numbers weren’t great. Could’ve been made to look worse by a bad Coyotes team.

        • Very simple, if you have the puck then you don’t have to defend. That’s been the Rangers’ problem the last few years. The D was always pinned in their own zone so the forwards did not have the puck, they had to chase it.


          Yeah that 3rd pair is potentially a defensive nightmare, but Staal-Holden isn’t? At least this 3rd pair can skate and RECOVER. How fast would the Rangers be with this D corps? lol

          • No matter how good you are, the other team gets the puck. In theory, it is better if they have the puck for 20 minutes instead of 35, but it is also about what happens in those minutes. The Rangers have done just fine in recent years without controlling the puck because they are good at counter-punching. And the Devils won some Cups that way. Yes, guys like Yandle can recover IF the other team doesn’t score on the rush — but of course that happens all the time. Which is why Dan Girardi is still better than Keith Yandle.

            Ideally of course, you want guys like Bobby Orr – or Ryan McDonagh for that matter – who are first rate in their own end and can move the puck. Unfortunately, those players are in short supply. The reason you see so few puck movers is because organizations know that if you have to choose between a good stay-at-home guy or a good puck mover, you choose the former. Yes, someone will always find a place for an exceptional puck mover like Yandle, but most won’t make the grade except to thrill people in the AHL.

            Pionk is not NHL-ready. As for DeAngelo, if he understood that he is not as good as Girardi at present and understood why and strove to correct his problems while also preserving his strengths, it seems nearly certain that his talent would lead him far past Girardi in his prime, who knows, maybe even Leetch. However, with his attitude and the adulation of you and many others, that is a very unlikely outcome.

          • Dan Girardi is not better than a dead Keith Yandle, let alone a living Keith Yandle. Girardi has been one of the worst players in the entire NHL for 3 years running. Bottom 10 in possession stats, can’t suppress a shot worth a damn, can’t skate/pass/handle the puck. He’ll be proving his lack of worth shortly in Tampa, and I hope this time he drags his arrogant, whining coach Jon Cooper out of the NHL with him. Make sure you pay close attention as Girardi costs Tampa between 10-20 points in the standings this year.

          • Raymond, you cannot cite the Devs as a formula for success. Different era. Try playing the 2011-12 Rangers’ style of play this season and see how that works out. The pace is too fast to try and suffocate teams defensively. It won’t work.

            The Pens are the champs, twice, for a reason. Their forwards are possession beasts and shelter the back end including the goalie. They have the puck all the time. The Rangers are not close to that. Maybe they close the gap with a mobile D corps.

            I loved Girardi but come on, he wasn’t an NHL D man the last couple of years. we had this discussion already. He did not register a stat in shot suppression. He’s supposed to be a defender and limit shots correct? He did not register a stat in that category. Enough said.

            I disagree on Pionk and DeAngelo. If the Rangers had any balls then they would put them out there to start the season and let them feel their way through.

            The Rangers have a good regular season record the last 6 years or so. No Cups. 2 Cups in 77 years for a franchise that has all the resources it wants at its disposal. “Success” is a relative term depending on what you’re talking about. Making the playoffs plays really well in Carolina, but not in NY.

  • RE: AV’s commentary – he’s said a lot of stuff in the past that he turned around and did not do/did the opposite of. Many coaches in many sports do this, frankly. He’s also said a lot of stuff in the past he did do. So, I pretty much don’t follow his commentary anymore. I’ll believe he is going to be committed to putting the most talented roster on the ice – with no strings attached – when he starts doing that regularly. Speak of the devil – Staal is a great test of this concept. If injury doesn’t force him onto the ice, he shouldn’t be on it. Something tells me we’re gonna see a lot more of Staal than we wish this season, even when everyone else is healthy. I hope I’m wrong.

    RE: Nash – I noticed on Monday night that he seemed pretty juiced up for a preseason game, Islanders or not. I believe it was Boychuk and him, they locked up for a bit helmet to helmet, and I don’t think they were exchanging cordial greetings. If that is any indication, he very well may be fired up and primed for a nice year.

    RE: Duchene – Rumor has it that, in general, Sakic is asking for limbs, kitchen sinks, first-born children, etc., in most trade proposals for his quality young players. That’s his prerogative, of course, but I am not shocked that Gorton hasn’t been able to acquire either of their young centers given that speculation…if he is even trying as much as many seem to assume he is. (Related: the HERO chart says Kevin Hayes is just as good at scoring goals as Duchene is, significantly better at providing first assists, a little worse at generating shots, and a little better at suppressing shots. *shrug*)

    • Reality = Duchene is an overpaid player trending downward, hence he’s trade bait.

      Sakic = Knows this but tries to “fool” every GM that he’s trading “McDavid.”

  • Hockey gods , please hear my plea.

    Do not let chytil and Andersson become trade bait for the Duschene train wreck.

    Stay the course , there are enough prospects of legit status existing in he organization to eventually fill the holes. We need to be patient.

  • Gorton: I’m glad we have him.

    Duchene: No thanks. High trade cost and high cap hit. We would hate that trade 2 months after it happened.

    Rangers’ D men: Yep, the Rangers will be fast as hell.

    AV: As I said the other day, Gorton made AV “see the light.”

    Nash: Everyone hates his cap hit but he’s consistently the best Ranger forward on a game to game basis.

    Gropp: Very important season for him. Kovacs had a rough summer and needs to clear his head.

    • Also on Duchene…we need to clear a good chunk to acquire him and unless COL is willing to take Staal (and Staal is willing to move him NMC), it means we move a valuable FWD in addition to young D…No Thank You

      • Sakic is asking for a trade haul that would suggest that he actually keep Duchene, if Sakic thinks he’s that good,

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