NY Rangers training camp with new head coach Peter Laviolette opens this week.

NY Rangers training camp is set to get underway this week, with their first preseason game this weekend. It’s amazing how fast this summer went, and we have actual hockey coming at the end of the week. The training camp roster is likely to be released today or tomorrow, which will give us a better look at what to expect at camp. Even though the roster is mostly set, this is still a good time to get a look at some of the kids that may make a difference.

With Rangers training camp about to begin, let’s jump into 5 “bold” predictions for this year’s camp.

1. Alexis Lafreniere will wow people

Rangers training camp is mostly about two things (for fans): Team chemistry and watching some of the kids. However for Rangers training camp, all eyes will be on Alexis Lafreniere and how he looks and plays. He’s said a bunch of the right things this summer, notably mentioning his skating as an area he’s working on. It’s also his fourth season and his third coach, so his time to develop into that #1 overall pick is running out. He knows it.

Skating issues aside, Laf has been one of the Rangers top producers at even strength. He doesn’t have gaudy numbers because he doesn’t get PP1 time, something that I think he will earn this preseason. Perhaps this is just blind hope and optimism, but perhaps knowing it’s his last chance will light that fire in him. He’s a talented kid, just needs to put it all together.

2. Zac Jones and Will Cuylle will be the only prospects to break camp

All due respect to Brennan Othmann, Brett Berard, and Matthew Robertson, but they are headed to Hartford to start the season. There is simply no need to rush the two forwards, and they will all benefit from a full season in Hartford. There are no roster spots for them at the moment, although injuries and stellar play at camp can change that. Still, it’s highly unlikely that happens for Othmann or Berard.

As for Robertson, it’s a numbers game for him. Zac Jones is no longer waiver exempt. Robertson is waiver exempt. Sometimes it is that simple, however Robertson hasn’t done much to turn the corner in his development. Covid and injuries have been a problem, as has the overall state of the Wolf Pack until last Spring. Robertson may also be looking at his final days with the Rangers organization.

3. Filip Chytil will win the 2C spot

Vincent Trocheck is a solid hockey player. He does all the little things right and is a player that, contract aside, presents a great value on the ice. So when I say that Filip Chytil will win the 2C spot, it is less about a “win” and more about roster construction.

For much of the summer, the assumption was that Trocheck and Artemi Panarin would again be paired together, much like Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. That may still hold true, and it’s something we will definitely see in preseason games as Rangers training camp plays out. However once camp ends and the games start counting, it will be Chytil that is centering Panarin and Lafreniere.

Panarin-Chytil-Lafreniere gives the Rangers an extremely talented line that should feast on second pair/line matchups in heavy offensive zone starts. This would free up Trocheck to play with Jimmy Vesey (or Will Cuylle) and Blake Wheeler on a third line that can score but doesn’t need offensive zone starts to mask defensive shortcomings.

4. At least one kid will get cut much sooner than expected

This happens every year at Rangers training camp. One kid gets cut much sooner than many expected. The normal process is kids going back to the CHL (Bryce McConnell-Barker) will get cut first to join their respective camps. Usually kids heading to Europe, like Adam Sykora, will be one of the next rounds of cuts. Somewhere in this timeframe is when the AHL veterans get sent to Hartford as well.

But there is always that one kid that gets returned to Hartford early that we all talk about. Matthew Robertson jumps out as a kid that has been cut from camp earlier than expected. I don’t expect that to happen this year, even if Robertson is destined for the AHL to start the season. The Rangers need to get a look at him and see what he can do.

Perhaps this year it’s someone like Bobby Trivigno who gets cut sooner than expected, even if he appears to be competing with Riley Nash, Jonny Brodzinski, and Jake Leschyshyn as the first injury call up. Perhaps it’s Mac Hollowell, who should beat out Ben Harpur as the first injury call up on defense. Or Ty Emberson, who is hoping to impress enough to be in the conversation.

There will be one unexpected casualty in the first week of cuts. Who remains anyone’s guess.

5. The Rangers will look sloppy and rusty

Optimism is great, but let’s be real for a second. Rangers training camp this year isn’t so much for prospect evaluation as much as it is for lineup decisions and learning a new system. Or in this case, learning a system and having some semblance of structure.

Every single year the Rangers have a new coach, they are slow out of the gate. We all know what happened with Alain Vigneault’s Rangers in the first month, and that team went to a Stanley Cup Final. David Quinn’s Rangers looked slow. Gerard Gallant’s Rangers were sloppy. When a new coach implements his system, there is an adjustment period.

It’s easy to overlook preseason rust, especially since the Rangers are one of the more talented teams on paper in the Eastern Conference. But once they are facing full lineups in the regular season, their lack of precision will be exploited. Learning a system takes time to become second nature, and until then the Blueshirts will be pausing for a split second to remember where they should be or where their teammates should be. A split second matters at the NHL level.

But have no fear, this Rangers team can accomplish great things once the adjustment period is over. How much they accomplish is now up to the players and the coach.


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