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Hartnett: Vigneault Labels Nash As Elite, Excited To Be Working With Talented Rangers

A.V. On Nash: 'He's One Of The Elite Players In The NHL'
Alain Vigneault (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Alain Vigneault (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Alain Vigneault took the ice at MSG Training Center on Friday to conduct his first on-ice session since being named head coach of the Rangers in late June.

After putting his team through the paces, Vigneault spoke of his excitement to be to working with two wingers blessed with high-end tools in Rick Nash and Chris Kreider. He also has high expectations for confident, play-making center Derick Brassard.

VIGNEAULT ON NASH: ‘HE’S ONE OF THE ELITE PLAYERS IN THE NHL’

The new head coach of the New York Rangers remembers Nash giving him headaches throughout his seven-year stay as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks. He described Nash as difficult to contain, even in situations when he was outnumbered.

“I can’t comment to what he’s done here,” Vigneault said. “I can comment to what he did in Columbus when he played against Vancouver. That was a guy who one-on-one was so hard to contain. If he ever got a half a step on you and you weren’t in a situation where you could outnumber him defensively he could take that puck right to the net.”

Vigneault appreciates that Nash goes to the net with gusto. He went on to describe Nash as “elite.”

“With his hands a lot of times they were grade A scoring chances — and a lot of times they were in the back of the net. There is a guy who has size, skill and the willingness to go to the hard areas and play. I can’t comment on what he did before here, but I do know he’s one of the elite players in the NHL. He wants to help this team win, and he’s going to do everything I tell him to help this team win.”

A.V. IS EXCITED BY KREIDER’S POTENTIAL

Vigneault was keeping a close eye on talented winger Chris Kreider. Previous head coach John Tortorella spent much of the 2012-13 season yo-yoing Kreider back and forth between minor league Connecticut and Madison Square Garden.

“Today was the first time I really got a firsthand look at him on the ice,” Vigneault said. “I’ve seen bits and pieces on video. I’m going to get to know him, I’m going to get a feel on him as a player and evaluate him.”

Vigneault has been hearing plenty of good reports from his staff about Kreider. He sees a vast amount of potential in Kreider’s game.

“There’s a lot of positive about this young man,” Vigneault said. “Everybody feels that he has a lot of talent and a lot of potential. It’s up to us to work together to get it out of him.”

BRASSARD COMFORTABLE HEADING INTO FIRST FULL SEASON IN NEW YORK

Vigneault admires the ability of 25-year-old center Derick Brassard. He remembers following the fellow Quebec native closely throughout his development.

“I remember Derick as a young player coming up and when you talked about Derick Brassard you talked about a highly skilled player that could see the ice so well and when he had the puck he made plays. Sometimes there was nothing there and he made things out of it.”

Vigneault was impressed by the quick transition made by Brassard when he arrived in New York following a blockbuster trade deadline deal struck with Columbus.

“Obviously for him it was a real confidence builder to be able to come last year in a new environment, a new organization, step in, contribute and play. Basically one of the things when we met I just said that was the start for you and now you’ve gotta follow it up and keep going. That’s the attitude he’s coming with. He likes it here. He wants to contribute and he wants to play.”

Brassard feels more comfortable after getting used to the city of New York and gaining familiarity with teammates.

“I know all the guys, I know my way around the city and the practice facility. It actually helps me a lot,” Brassard said.

BIRON AND HEDBERG IN COMPETITION FOR BACKUP GIG

One of the biggest revelations from day three of Rangers training camp Vigneault’s revelation that Martin Biron and ex-New Jersey Devils backup Johan Hedberg are in the midst of a competition for the right to back up Henrik Lundqvist. 40-year-old Hedberg is currently on a professional tryout with the Rangers

Biron returned to camp after missing the first two days of camp due to “personal reasons.”

“I’m not going to get into details,” Biron said. “It’s just how life is sometimes and you’ve got to roll with it. I was fortunate I was able to get home and now be back.”

The 36-year-old says his focus in 100 percent and the issue is behind him.

“I’m here 100 percent, Biron said. “I’m where I need to be. I’m focused and I’m really where I wanted to be this morning.”

Vigneault underlined the significance of having a backup netminder who can keep Lundqvist fresh during the 2013-14 NHL that includes an Olympic break.

“In an Olympic year I need a backup goaltender that can play games for us,” Vigneault said. “Whether that number is 15 to maybe 20, a backup goaltender in an Olympic year with the number of four games in six nights that we have to play and the number of three games in four nights, we need a backup goaltender that can play and win us some games.”

Vigneault stressed the importance of Lundqvist being fresh when the playoffs get underway. He confirmed that Hedberg will be given a fair chance to compete for the shot to be Lundqvist’s caddy.

“That’s part of the equation to get into the playoffs and to be able to have a goaltender come playoff time has got some energy and jump in his legs. Martin is aware of that. I had that discussion when he first got here. If we brought in Hedberg it was obviously to give him a chance.”

MILLER APPEARS TO RE-AGGRAVATE HAMSTRING

20-year-old forward J.T. Miller appeared to re-aggravate a hamstring injury on Friday. He originally sustained the injury on Thursday during conditioning drills.

Toward the end of Friday’s practice, Miller went to the bench, before heading into the locker room. He did not return for the end of practice with the rest of his teammates.

NO SETBACKS FOR CALLAHAN, WHO CANNOT PINPOINT DATE TO BEGIN CONTACT DRILLS

“Everything felt fine,” Callahan said after taking part in on-ice drills with Group C.

Callahan isn’t sure when he will begin contact drills. The Rangers’ captain underwent torn labrum surgery in May, and is expected to miss the start of the 2013-14 season.

“To put a date or a time frame on it, it would be a guess,” Callahan said. “As to this point, there’s no setbacks everything is progressing the way it should.”

The captain of the Rangers notices a fresh optimism under Vigneault. Rangers players have been walking around the training complex wearing t-shirts reading: “Clean Slate.”

“He’s not coming in with any thoughts, or any baggage with any of the guys,” Callahan said. “You make your own impression, you build your own path — it’s a good thing. A lot guys in here are excited about that, myself included. It’s a fresh start, it’s a clean slate like it says on the shirt.”

Callahan notices the atmosphere has changed significantly under Vigneault.

“You can tell in the room, it’s a different feeling this year and we’re excited,” Callahan said.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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