By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers open their preseason schedule on Monday night at Madison Square Garden against the rival New Jersey Devils, then travel to Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Friday night. Two former Penguins forwards looking to impress their new set of fans are veteran forwards Tanner Glass and Lee Stempniak.READ MORE: Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo Charged With Misdemeanor Forcible Touching
The duo’s last competitive action was being on the wrong end of a frustrating Game 7 Conference Semifinals defeat. Stempniak and Glass saw their playoff dreams go up in smoke and watched the Rangers celebrate wildly on the Consol Energy Center ice. The pair of former Dartmouth College pals will now have the opportunity to remain teammates in the blue, red and white Original Six sweater of the Rangers.
Stempniak believes that he and Glass are fortunate to have joined a team that is primed for another deep playoff run.
“We’re really good friends off the ice and played together in college,” Stempniak said. “It wasn’t planned or anything. It just worked out that way. It was the right situation for him, and the right situation for me. We’ve talked and we’re both really pleased to be joining a team that’s poised for another long run. It’s exciting to come to a team that has a lot of really good players. Having Henrik (Lundqvist) in net gives you a chance to win every game. It’s exciting times.”
Glass said that he’s finding it easy to fit in with the Rangers. He likes the makeup of this amiable, high-character group of teammates.
“There’s a lot of new relationships, but it’s been easy to be honest,” Glass said. “A lot of great guys in this locker room, not a lot of egos. It should be a great group to get along with.”
A more difficult task for Glass is appealing to his new fan base. A significant number of Rangers fans expressed their disbelief via social media when the Rangers signed Glass to an eyebrow-raising three-year, $4.35 million contract this summer.
Concerned fans have questioned the logic of signing Glass to a three-year pact given his limited offensive abilities, poor possession numbers and tendency to take undisciplined penalties.
Glass isn’t going to start changing who he is. The 30-year-old winger likes to stay within the confines of his own game. His concentration is on being a team-first player, throwing heavy hits, dropping the gloves to stick up for teammates and being an overall agitating and disruptive force on the ice.
“My role hasn’t changed in seven years as a pro,” Glass said. “It’s to be physical and be tough to play against up and down the wall, and to be a good teammate. When I start deviating from my game, (that’s) when I get in trouble. Playing within myself and within my game is what I’m good at. My role isn’t a tough one to figure out. It’s to be good at the little things.”
AV ON GLASS: ‘HE WORKS HARD, UNDERSTANDS HIS ROLE’
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is a big admirer of Glass, having worked with the winger for two years in Vancouver. Vigneault and his staff did not expect Glass to make the Canucks’ roster. Glass overachieved to earn a roster spot through sheer hard work and competitiveness.
“When he came to us in Vancouver, he wasn’t on anybody’s chart,” Vigneault said. “He’s a guy that we had signed as a depth player on a two-way contract. He came to camp, and through him being who he is as a hard worker, battled every practice; he just made his way, caught everybody’s attention and made our team.”
Vigneault and the Canucks tried to re-sign Glass as a free agent during the 2012 offseason. Glass instead agreed to a two-year deal with the Penguins. Now, Vigneault has his man. He’s delighted to have Glass joining him in New York.
“He’s a great kid,” Vigneault said. “Works hard, understands his role. When he became available the year before he went to Pitt, we tried to bring him back. He thought he had a better opportunity in Pitt. This year, we talked to him again and he decided to come back to his first coach.”
Glass understands exactly what Vigneault and the coaching staff will ask of him, having worked with both Vigneault and new Rangers assistant coach Darryl Williams in Vancouver.READ MORE: Inside Look At 9 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn's First 'Supertall' Skyscraper
“It’s nice having that familiarity going into training camp,” Glass said. “I know what the coaching staff expects of me, and I know what to expect with the coaching staff. Familiarity is nice, but it’s just a start. It’s just something small in the beginning. There is a lot to be learned and accomplished.”
Rangers fans should keep an open mind and not be too quick to rush to judgment when it comes to Glass. Vigneault is clearly a keen admirer and speaks highly about Glass’ character and work ethic.
GLASS ON STEMPNIAK: ‘HE’S GOING TO BE A GREAT FIT’
Having played with Stempniak at Dartmouth and in Pittsburgh, Glass recognizes Stempniak as an intelligent player in all areas of the ice. Glass also pointed out that Stempniak has an overlooked ability to keep hold of the puck in the tough areas along the boards and in the corners.
“He fits in well with any team,” Glass said. “He’s such a strong skater, strong on the puck. He understands both sides of the game – both offense and defense really well. I think he catches guys by surprise sometimes. I think he’s pretty underrated as far as how strong he is on the puck in the corners and his offensive instincts. I think he’s going to be a great fit for the team.”
Last season, Stempniak scored 12 goals and recorded 22 assists in 73 regular-season games in combined duty with the Penguins and Calgary Flames.
Stempniak has scored over 20 goals twice in his career and registered over 25 assists in three seasons. He is confident that his speedy game will mesh nicely with Vigneault’s uptempo offense.
“One of the things that made coming here attractive is the way they play,” Stempniak said. “They expect contributions from everyone. For me, a lot of my success starts with skating and using speed to create offense off the rush or the forecheck. I feel that I’m able to score goals and contribute offensively when I get the opportunities.
“We had a brief meeting at the start of camp. He said what I expected. There’s new faces here, there’s some open spots. There’s going to be some trying out to see where the chemistry is and how the lines shake out. For me, it’s about just trying to play well. I know I can contribute. I feel that I can be a great contributor for the team. I’m just trying to get off to a good start and go from there.”
Stempniak isn’t clear on what his exact role will be for the Rangers. He’s eager to show Vigneault and the Rangers’ coaching staff that he can be an all-around player and fit into a number of roles, including the penalty kill and power play.
“I take a lot of pride in killing penalties,” Stempniak said. “It’s something I’ve worked at a lot over the past couple of years. In Calgary, I watched a lot of videos with coaches and worked on the finer details. I want to be a player that can be counted on in all situations. I want to have the trust of coaches and teammates where I can go out and kill penalties, play on the power play, protect the lead and be an all-around solid player.”
The Rangers are in the process of plugging forward holes after buying out former alternate captain Brad Richards and losing penalty-killing ace Brian Boyle and scoring winger Benoit Pouliot to free agency. They also traded agitating winger Derek Dorsett and opted not to re-sign wrecking-ball winger Dan Carcillo.
Glass and Stempniak are the kind of team-first characters that will earn the respect of their new teammates. These Dartmouth grads will play a part in solving the equation of replacing what the Rangers lost both on the ice and in the dressing room this offseason.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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