Rejoice, Blueshirts faithful. Hockey is back (and so is the blog)!
The Rangers opened training camp on Thursday with off-ice testing, and strapped on skates for the first time last Friday. A total of 56 players were invited to participate, vying for a total of 22 or 23 roster spots.
As training camp progresses, we’ll be tracking the progress of the team and updating our Opening Night roster projection. The front office and Head Coach David Quinn will have to take a lot of factors into consideration as they begin to pencil in the skaters and goaltenders that will face Winnipeg at the Garden on October 3. Among them:
- Cap space: The roster must be salary cap compliant on opening night. I am no cap expert, but the upper limit is $81,500,000 and the Rangers find themselves right up against that number, even without Tony DeAngelo signed to a contract.
- Development: Which young players deserve an NHL roster spot? Which ones can handle significant ice time against top tier competition? Does throwing Adam Fox or Kaapo Kakko to the wolves right away help or hinder their development?
- The role of veterans: Henrik Lundqvist is still the face of the franchise. Marc Staal, for better or worse, will play. Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider will be key mentors for the rookies and second year players.
The number one goal of preseason is to get to game 1 healthy. If the Rangers do that, here’s what the roster may look like.
Goaltenders (2): Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev
No surprises here. Lundqvist, the consummate professional, has reportedly arrived at camp in fantastic shape, and with a renewed energy. However, all signs point to a pretty even timeshare between the King and Georgie. It’s safe to assume Lundqvist will be between the pipes on opening night.
If DeAngelo signs a contract in the neighborhood of $900,000, the roster will be cap compliant and he’ll be on the roster. However, as Dave will go into for a future post (teaser alert!), his long-term prospects with the Rangers are certainly in doubt given the influx of talent at RD expected to arrive within the next year or two, not to mention the overlap in style between DeAngelo and Fox. The race for the 6D and 7D spots is one to watch in training camp. After a rough start in Hartford last winter, Libor Hajek showed some promise in a 5 game stretch with the big club before he was injured. He has the inside track for the final spot over Ryan Lindgren and Sean Day.
Forwards (13): Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, Chris Kreider, Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Ryan Strome, Lias Andersson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jesper Fast, Brett Howden, Vitali Kravtsov, Brendan Lemieux
David Quinn has already committed to starting the season with a top line of Mika Zibanejad centering Artemi Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich. That combination of skill and ingenuity has many Ranger fans salivating. The remaining 9 spots are firmly up for grabs, and are highlighted by a lack of experience in the middle. As of now, it seems that Chytil is penciled into the 2nd line center role, and will be flanked by Chris Kreider and, potentially, Kaapo Kakko.
That leaves third line minutes for the likes of Ryan Strome, Vitali Kravtsov and either Lias Andersson or Brett Howden, with one of them falling to the fourth line with Brendan Lemieux and Jesper Fast. Vlad Namestnikov would be the 13th forward in this scenario, with Boo Nieves and Greg McKegg firmly on the outside looking in. I could certainly see the Rangers opting to be conservative with a player like Kravtsov, and err on the side of caution by having him start the season in Hartford. As of this writing however, Kravtsov projects to make the Opening Night roster.
Total Roster Cap Hit (approximate): $80,739,799, including buried and bought out contracts.
Injuries, standout individual performances and chemistry between defense pairs and line-mates will all influence the final roster, not to mention salary cap considerations. The Rangers may even opt to go with a smaller roster (12 forwards instead of 13) in order to keep more cap space available due to a very light schedule (just 3 games in the first two weeks). In any event, it will be an interesting few weeks in Rangerstown, and we’ll all be watching closely.