Another preseason tilt, another loss. As has been said for the entirety of preseason, it’s not about the wins and losses right now. This team is still learning Peter Laviolette’s system, and judging by last night, they will be learning it well into October/early November. This beckons back to the 2013-2014 team that had eerily similar expectations, and what looks like will also be a similar preseason record after hiring a new head coach.
The good news is though, there are certainly some players who have bought in and look very good thus far. Let’s break down some thoughts on three who I felt have been the best in camp.
He has been a staple in these preseason posts, but I have to continue to give love to Erik Gustafsson. He just solidifies an already good to great defensive corp. For years, that 3LD spot has been a bit of a thorn in the Rangers side. Many failed experiments later, and we finally might have found one of the best fits possible.
Gustafsson is just a very savvy player with a high IQ. With his previous knowledge of Laviolette from his Washington days, I have no doubt that this is why he consistently looks like the best defenseman night in and night out right now. His play now is what we should expect the rest of the defense to be after their growing pains subside. We could be looking at a top 5 defensive corp in all of hockey.
Second is another player who has found his way on the brink of making the team, Will Cuylle. I don’t know how, but he is another great example of a player–and a young player at that–who just gets what Laviolette is trying to accomplish here. Cuylle plays a great hybrid style of hockey too where he can absolutely lay a guy out, but also become a great scoring threat. Potting his second goal in as many preseason games doesn’t hurt his case either.
Another reason why he could be making the team: Tyler Pitlick got injured last night. If it’s a contest between Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle to play in that middle six role, it looks like it has to be Cuylle for me right now. I have no doubts that Othmann will become quite a player himself, but I think he is going to need some AHL experience first playing top line, top PP, etc. in Hartford.
Third for me is Kaapo Kakko. He isn’t lighting up the score sheet per se, but he is continuing to improve in so many of the little areas of the game. He wins more than he loses in 1-on-1 puck battles, he is an excellent forechecker, he definitely improved his skating speed, and he has a really good stick away from the puck.
I do think with enough reps with Mika Zibanejad, he will get more points this coming season. The question will be, will he be playing with Artemi Panarin on the LW or Chris Kreider? These questions are going to be fun to find out in the next week.
The growing pains are real right now, but I expect this group to figure it out and this will be a fantastic hockey team to watch this season.