‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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There will be some difficult decisions for the Rangers to make in the coming days as their October 3 regular-season opener in Phoenix draws closer.
A slew of prospects have impressed throughout the preseason, making it all the more difficult to predict who will survive roster cuts — and which players will be sent down to the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. The next round of roster cuts could come as early as Wednesday.
Following Tuesday’s preseason defeat in Edmonton, head coach Alain Vigneault stated that he would like his best team to play together in the Rangers’ final two preseason games. The Rangers will have their highly-anticipated reunion with former head coach John Tortorella in Vancouver on Thursday, ahead of their Friday preseason finale against the Los Angeles Kings in Las Vegas.
CALLAHAN AND HAGELIN UNLIKELY TO BE READY FOR PHOENIX OPENER
How will the Rangers whittle down 39 players to a 23-man opening-night roster? First off, don’t expect captain Ryan Callahan or speedster Carl Hagelin to recover in time for Phoenix. Both are recovering from postseason shoulder surgery. Neither winger has been cleared to participate in contact drills.
STEPAN SITUATION DRAGS ON
General manager Glen Sather recently branded restricted free-agent center Derek Stepan as “foolish” for holding out. Sather and Stepan’s agent, Matthew Oates, are fighting over roughly $1 million as the sides have labored through contentious negotiations.
Sather’s recent barbed comments directed toward Stepan and Oates on the MSG Network can only prolong the NHL’s most significant contract saga. It’s unlikely that a resolution will come in time for Stepan to join up with the rest of the Rangers during the remainder of their preseason road trip.
The clock is ticking closer and closer to the Rangers’ October 3 regular-season opener in Phoenix. It’s entirely possible that Stepan’s holdout drags into the regular season. Stepan will be ineligible to play in the NHL this season in the event that he doesn’t agree to contractual terms before December 1.
The following roster projection assumes that Callahan and Hagelin will not make a miraculous recovery, and Stepan doesn’t cave in negotiations. Should Callahan and Hagelin be placed on the long-term injured reserve (LTIR), they would miss the first 10 games or first 24 days of the 2013-14 NHL season.
WHAT THE RANGERS’ OPENING-NIGHT ROSTER MIGHT LOOK LIKE:
Forwards (13): Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, Marek Hrivik, Danny Kristo, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Darroll Powe, Benoit Pouliot, Brad Richards, Mats Zuccarello.
Defensemen (8): Connor Allen, Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman.
Goaltenders: (2): Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Biron.
Dylan McIlrath — This towering 6-foot-5 defenseman appears ready to make the jump to the Rangers. Barring the Rangers trading away a top-six defenseman or significant injury, McIlrath’s path into the NHL appears road-blocked. At 21, it’s important that McIlrath continues to get regular minutes, and he should start the season in Hartford.
Taylor Pyatt — Despite having experience playing under Vigneault in Vancouver, I expect the lumbering Pyatt to miss out on the Rangers’ opening-night roster. Even though Asham and Powe were placed on waivers earlier this summer, they have shown greater consistency than Pyatt. Pyatt hasn’t shown enough physicality throughout the preseason, and is a prime candidate to be traded should Stepan’s situation suddenly change.
Chris Kreider — Kreider has not impressed throughout the preseason. He’s made a habit of taking undisciplined penalties and has largely gone missing from games. We all know that the talent is there, but Kreider has to figure out a way to put it all together.
Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg — Fast and Lindberg immediately impressed during camp. They are two exciting talents for the future, but their lack of North American experience certainly hurts them compared to Hrivik, Kristo and Miller.
Cam Talbot — Vigneault gave Talbot a chance to enter the backup-goalie competition, but Biron has done enough to prove that he’s still capable of serving as an experienced stand-in when Lundqvist requires rest in an Olympic year. Talbot might be ready to land the backup gig in 2014-15.
PLAYER TO WATCH — MAREK HRIVIK
Hrivik has captured Vigneault’s attention throughout the preseason due to his unique combination of quick skating and physical strength. These tools have allowed Hrivik to stand out in comparison to a number of Rangers prospects aiming to make the jump to the NHL.
The Slovakian winger scored seven goals and registered 19 assists in 40 games for the Connecticut Whale last season.
Hrivik has an NHL-ready body and has shown that he can protect the puck in tight areas. Casual fans may not know much about Hrivik now, but he will gain the attention of Rangers fans throughout the season.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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