Preseason

Can both Tarmo Reunanen and K’Andre Miller break camp?

Left defense on the Rangers is a pretty big question mark. It’s been a beaten to death a bit, but it’s still 2020 and I want to kick the dead horse one more time. Ryan Lindgren is penciled in as the 1LD, likely paired with Jacob Trouba. After that it’s two veterans (Jack Johnson, Brendan Smith) and two rookies (K’Andre Miller, Tarmo Reunanen). We’ve been assuming no more than one rookie breaks camp. But can both break Rangers camp on defense?

The Case For Both

The case for both is pretty simple – Johnson is one of the worst defensemen in the league, and Smith isn’t part of the future. While that doesn’t necessarily mean both Reunanen and Miller will break camp, it’s likely they are both already better than Johnson.

Miller is the star power here and has the potential to be a top pairing defenseman. He is tremendously skilled, albeit a bit raw. David Quinn mentioned he would have played Miller in August if able to. This situation is a bit comparable to Chris Kreider’s in 2012, when the Rangers played him in the playoff run. Kreider did spend half of the following season in Hartford though. It’s a different situation this season, so if the Rangers have the ability to shelter Miller on the third pair, there’s potential for him.

Reunanen is a bit more steady, but less flashy. He’s more of the solid defense, great first pass kind of player that won’t light up the score sheet. Given that the Ranger already have some pretty solid offensive talent, having a guy like Reunanen balances out the blue line.

Having both break camp also means addition by subtraction by simply keeping Johnson out of the lineup. The cap and bonus cushion is a bit tricky, but they can play some games with Smith’s contract on the taxi squad.

The Case Against

It’s all about making sure players are put in a position to succeed. Is putting them into the NHL just because they are better than Johnson and/or Smith the best? Even if they may have fine tuning to do? That’s not necessarily something we can answer.

If this year is more on development, then is no harm in having them spend the shortened year in Hartford. This does assume they will learn and progress in Hartford. The situation is a little different than sending Alexis Lafreniere to the 2021 World Juniors. Lafreniere wouldn’t gain much from playing there. However Miller and/or Reunanen can still probably gain valuable experience in a lower league.

We’ve seen first hand what happens when you rush prospects that aren’t ready. Kaapo Kakko was rushed. Lias Andersson was rushed. Libor Hajek was rushed. Brett Howden was rushed. It is more important to get prospects ready, both physically and mentally, than it is to throw them in the NHL.

The Verdict

There is no verdict right now. Both players will get a long, long look at camp. They are arguably the only two that can realistically challenge for NHL spots. Hajek is a bit of an after thought, however irresponsible that may sound.

Having a pair of rookies break camp on defense seems to be a long shot. In a normal year, I’d write it off as impossible. However this isn’t a normal year, and this isn’t a normal situation. Both Reunanen and Miller could be feasible NHL starters already. Could they both break camp? It’s certainly a possibility.

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  • Reunanen, less flashy, more steady?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!

    Every time I’ve ever seen him play, he’s a reckless floater in the O zone and a panicked liability when pressured in his own end.

  • Could they? Yes. I’m in the camp of letting them play top pairing minutes in Hartford until around the trade deadline. I am eager to see all the prospects, but I am more eager to see them succeed. Hopefully we can move Smith and/or Johnson at the deadline and they can slot in after a little time in the AHL. There will be roster spots open next season and the team will have a better idea of where they see these kids within the organization.

    • At season’s start, I think this is right. And to those of you who do not like Johnson’s style, it will seem like this all year. But Johnson is on the downward curve. IMO, if he really loses it significantly (in DQ’s eyes), he will lose his job. It took a lot for Quinn to bench Staal, but Quinn eventually did and this time will be a lot easier – both because he has already done it and because Johnson is not a long time Ranger hero.

      • Do you remember who are coach is?

        When Johnson hits a few people, whether it’s warranted or not, then DQ will be all giddy about it. Regardless of the damage that JJ does, defensively.

          • I have no problem with intimidation either. It’s when they can’t play the game of hockey that I have a problem with.

            By every metric, JJ is one of the worst D men in the league. That’s what makes this signing so confusing. And Bitetto sucks too.

            There were plenty of low cost vet D men out there that could have been signed, who actually know how to play the game.

            Or, better yet, just let the Rangers’ own draft picks fill those spots.

          • Now that Ranger fans got their LRuff wish let’s hope coach Martin brings a little more to the table than a JJohnson.

  • Dave, the way management evaluates defenseman and the way you evaluate them is different. And choices will be made using their judgment and not yours. There is no way they view Johnson as awful and getting him out of the lineup as addition by subtraction. It is highly unlikely that either Reuanen or Miller is as good as Johnson today and the betting line is that one of the two will never be as good as Johnson is today.

    These two players won’t get a long long look as camp is just not long and the team needs to prepare. Reuanen may get no consideration at all except as a view to his future.

    And the fact that you were not impressed by the Bitetto signing does not mean he is out of the picture. He is an NHL defenseman and also better than one of the two kids likely will ever be.

    • Bitetto will be playing just to satisfy expansion draft. Still a better player on his worst day than Reunanen on his best.

  • I would confidently bet that, even if Lindgren actually starts the season paired with Trouba, he’s permanently back with Fox by Game 5. A good team has to be better than the sum of its parts in some ways, and Fox and Lindgren are an ideal pair with a very positive history together in spite of their youth. If Quinn and Co. leave that very good thing alone, the conversation simplifies to who shows promise with Trouba.

  • Honestly, I don’t think either will break camp this year.
    With short season, and bonuses etc I think they will stay in
    Hartford.
    Rangers can’t afford them to learn on the fly..
    I think Johnson and Bitteto will rotate this year.

    On a different note
    “Happy New Year” to everyone!!
    God bless and be safe, 2021 will be a better year!!!

  • If the two of them can earn a spot on the major-league roster then let them do it if we seriously don’t think we have a shot at the playoffs then this could be a great learning year for both Reunenan playing with Fox and Miller on the third pair If they can handle their own what a step forward this would be for the team

  • You start off with a premise I believe to be highly questionable, that Lindgren will be paired with Trouba. Yes, if the metric is to put the best LD with Trouba as the 1st pairing this would be true — but Lindgren has shown himself to be VERY comfortable with Fox … and vice versa. It’s a short training camp and a short season, experimentation may get us a few new looks, but at the end of the day DQ will more than likely go the conservative route —- barring some over the top performance. DQ doesn’t strike me as having an overly adaptive nature, he’ll need to be really pushed to make any changes to the “standard” (either by management or a player himself).

    I think we all have a pretty good feel for what the forward lines will be, as well as the defensive pairings. Kreider, Mika and Buch 1st line, Panarin, Strome and Kakko 2nd line, Lafreniere, Chytil and Gauthier 3rd line … and back on d’, Trouba and Smith (for now), Fox and Lindgren, DeAngelo and JJ. Bitetto on the outside looking in, ready to step up if someone falters on the LD.

    Of course anything can happen. JJ could be even worse than we imagine. Miller could be so solid in camp that he forces himself into the equation — but do you really see a good chance that he would be paired with Trouba going up against the best players in the NHL night after night as a raw rookie? If he squeaks in they might try him with ADA, but even then I see that as risky.

    PS: About Smith … he may end up surprising us, this is his contract year and he’ll be playing for a new contract (probably not for us, unless he comes in next year on the VERY VERY cheap).

    • Fox and Lindgren were just rookies last year. We have limited experience seeing them play with others. What little we saw was not disheartening. Lindgren played well on the PK with Staal. Fox played well with DeAngelo. It may just be that Lindgren-Fox was a good duo for the simple reason that they are both quite good. I think insisting on keeping the pair together is just narrow-minded.

      Now, if they struggle apart, yes you reunite – absolutely. And of course, if you want to use them as your shutdown pair, that’s an idea too. But the Rangers need to make an honest try at having a good LD on the top pair.

      Why is it conservative to pencil an AHL forward on the second line? Talent is not enough. Kakko may take years to develop. This year, he needs to earn his ice time. And no, I was not impressed in August by a guy who could handle the puck but was obvlivious to his teammates.

      Unlike most here, I think the Rangers can win the Cup without Kakko. Yes, if he blossoms, it will make things easier. But if he is allowed to be a millstone, it’s another story. You need to play with the team you have and not the one you wish you had.

      • Lindgren and Fox played together in the US National Development Program and the WJC in 2017 and 2018. They actually have a fairly substantial history together prior to joining the NHL.

        • The issue is not whether or not Lindgren-Fox is a good pair. The issue is whether or not playing them together is the best use of two of the Rangers’ best players. We don’t know whether Lindgren-Fox is better than the sum of its parts and we can’t learn that by watching them play together.

          If the Rangers go with Lindgren-Trouba, DeAngelo-Fox, they can have their four best defensemen on the ice for maybe 48 minutes a game. With a payoff like that, it is worth a try.
          And there are other combinations with a high payoff.

          By all means, if Lindgren and Fox are not successful apart, put them back together again. But let’s not lock ourselves into rigid thinking right from the start. The Rangers need to stop Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, Bergeron, Marchand and they can’t not try just because they want to keep two guys together.

          • DeAngelo playing with Fox is like throwing an anchor to a solid swimmer. He might be able to stay up a little longer, but he’s still gonna drown.

  • I doubt either will make it it out of camp. They both need more preparation And time in Hartford will be good for them. I do have high hopes for Miller however. I would like to see Lindgren with Trouba because I think it would make the most sense. I am sure that Fox can play with anyone. I would line to see him with Tony was and Smith with Bitello or JJ, but that probably will not happen.

  • Tarmo will have a career as an AHL regular until he decides to go and play in Europe for more money.

    Miller has a shot although I don’t think he makes it at the start. Maybe in March for a look

  • I think JD is fully in control of this organization and will do what he thinks is right…and we should all be thankful of that. The man knows what he is doing.

    If you look around the league…the moves that are being made…are the moves the Rangers always made…now, we have no PTO or moves for guys who lost their step 2 seasons prior.

    I would have taken Chara over Johnson but what is done is done.

    The Rangers are a few moves away for contending for the cup.

    They need a Tom Wilson type.

    They need a mean LHD.

    They need a mean Center.

    Those three moves…they will contend for cup for several years to come.

      • I haven’t read or heard of them bringing in anyone from the outside. Looks like only the players we have signed are going to compete for the remaining spots and taxi squad.

          • Camp roster was announced today, surprises might be Colin Blackwell, Johnny Brodzinski & Anthony Greco.

    • You’re missing one more thing. It’s great to have the talent and the players, but if they do not play “playoff hockey” then it’s irrelevant.

      The classic example is the 2019 TB team vs the 2020 TB team. Same players, actually better in 2019, but the 2019 got punched in the mouth by the CBJs.

      So if the young guys are not willing to go to the net, then their talent in the playoffs is useless.

  • Can’t comment on Tarmo as I have never watched him play. Miller has promise as he has size, skill and a big league skating stride. He is physical but in a composed manner. Still it is a big jump making to the bigs particularly for a defenseman.

    Skinny Smith and JJ will likely be in the starting lineup when the puck is dropped to start the 2021 season at Madison Square. But hopefully Miller gets a shot as the season wears on.

    • Maybe so Tomber. Time will tell. What I do hope is that the big club puts an end too rushing prospects into the lineup too soon. Let them succeed at one level before they are brought up into the next.

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