Playing out the NY Rangers left defense battles in training camp
Aside from the bottom six, the most interesting battle in NY Rangers training camp is going to be at left defense. There is only one guarantee, and that is Ryan Lindgren. Everything else is up in the air. There are two roster spots open, a 7D spot, and at least one taxi squad spot.
For all intents and purposes, the competition for those spots will be between Brendan Smith, Jack Johnson, Tarmo Reunanen, K’Andre Miller, Anthony Bitetto, and Libor Hajek. Of those likely coming to camp, these are the guys that will be competing for those roles. No disrespect to Brandon Crawley and Darren Raddysh, but I don’t see them leapfrogging everyone else on this depth chart.
Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario is both Reunanen and Miller make the team out of camp. And I don’t mean barely breaking camp, I mean far and away outperform everyone else. This is highly unlikely, but certainly possible. That would ensure the Rangers get significant playing time and evaluation time for all three. The one caveat here is the bonuses and how that impacts the cap. I’m not going to pretend like I understand how that works, but it needed to be mentioned.
In this scenario, Jack Johnson is likely the 7D. He was signed for a reason, he will be on the team. Let’s just move forward with that assumption now so we aren’t surprised and/or disappointed.
The taxi squad would be a competition between Smith, Bitetto, and Hajek. In this case, I can see Hajek getting a full season in Hartford. It’s more important he gets game experience.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case is the exact opposite – neither Miller nor Reunanen impress in camp. The Rangers won’t keep them on the taxi squad, so they’d go straight to Hartford. That means the roster spots would likely go to Johnson, and whomever plays the best from Hajek and Smith.
Imagine, for a second, both Johnson and Hajek in the lineup on the left side. Unless Hajek made significant improvements, that is a rough left side of the blue line. Smith stabilizes things, but he’s a bottom-four at best.
Most Likely Scenario
Both of the above scenarios are the extremes. The most likely scenario is one of Reunanen or Miller breaks camp, with Johnson serving as the 3LD. I’ve been picking Reunanen to break camp, but it’s basically a toss up.
The Rangers may be able to play some cap games with Smith if this happens. By placing him on the taxi squad, the Rangers are waiving him and he’s essentially in the AHL. But since he’s on a one-way deal, he still gets his full NHL salary. The Rangers clear $1 million in cap space, which should be enough to manage the bonuses for either Reunanen or Miller.
In this situation, it’s really just throwing darts at the wall and seeing what sticks. Bitetto, Hajek, Johnson, and to a lesser extent Smith are all virtually the same player. None move the needle enough, and would be stopgaps until both Reunanen and Miller are ready. The left defense for the NY Rangers this year is a mess, and training camp likely won’t give us any clarity.