NEW YORK – The preseason has concluded and the New York Rangers have a good idea of who will be on the team come opening night on Thursday versus the New York Islanders. As of right now the Broadway Blueshirts will have 14 forwards and 8 defensemen. This has been a debate amongst the front office for the last few days of who and what they want to carry. Of course, in a cap world, that made the decisions even more difficult.
Let’s take a look at who has made this team thus far and what is expected of each of the players entering the season.
Rick Nash – He was the hot topic of trade talk all through the summer and many thought he would be the center piece of any deal the Rangers were going to use in order to restock the team along with shredding some cap room. This can be a make or break year for Nash who, hasn’t been living up to expectations within his time here in regular season and postseason. Outside of his 42 goal season in 2014-15, Nash has failed to maintain health and fire power. The key for Nash this year will be the determination to prove not just the fans wrong but the front office that he still has his game. If he explodes this year, its a win for the Rangers who will see his value rise and can still be used as trait bait this upcoming season.
Derek Stepan – With Derek Brassard no longer in the picture Stepan is the go to center for the Rangers, showing him they have confidence in him to help be one of the leaders on this team. Stepan, in his six years with the Rangers has maxed out at 22 goals for a season high. They are hoping there is more production out of him this year and he can finally eclipse the 25 goal mark. He will be interesting to watch as well when it comes to the trading deadline due to the “culture change” happening within the team.
Chris Kreider – Talk about untapped potential. Kreider has been the scapegoat for a lot of the Rangers faithful as they feel he hasn’t put up the numbers that were expected as he came up within the organization. He has never amounted anymore than 21 goals in a season, something he has done in back to back seasons. The problem with Kreider is his streaks come in waves. He’ll have three or four terrific games and then disappear for a good deal of time. This year however, from what has been seen in the preseason is expect a breakout year. You heard it correctly, a breakout year. Mostly in part to his line mates that has been the top line for the Rangers all preseason and in camp. Having him with newly acquired Mika Zibenejad and highly touted prospect Pavel Buchnevich can really bring out the best in Kreider this season. Don’t be shocked to see 30 goals from Christopher.
Mika Zibenejad – Young, fast, talented. That’s all you need to know in what was a really good trade for the Rangers over the summer when they shipped Derek Brassard to Ottawa for Mika. In what general manager Jeff Gorton said that Mika “has yet to scratch the surface” is ready to contribute. Much like Kreider, there is loads of potential for major production and playing on the line with Buch and CK20 this line will be fun to watch this season.
Mats Zuccarello – What can you say that hasn’t been said about the little guy from Norway? He has been a great story of recovery from that scary injury that took place in the playoffs two years ago. His skull was fractured and had to go to therapy just to be able to speak again. Zucc came back in a big way the following year, he put up a career high 26 goals on the season and played in all but one game. Known as the hobbit, he will continue to be a key factor for the Rangers. He played well in the World Cup but it will be interesting to see how his mentality is after admitting he was upset and unappreciative of the Rangers trading away two of his best friends over the last two years.
Kevin Hayes – Talk about a puzzling player, Kevin Hayes falls into “what are you really going to get” category and when is it going to happen. This is now his third year with the Blueshirts and he only score 14 goals last season in 79 games. It certainly will be a make or break year for him having signed a new 2-year contract worth $2.6 million according to generalfanager.com. You’d have to wonder with a reasonable cap hit if things don’t go the right way he too can be an interesting figure come the trading deadline. His line pairing though could make all the difference whether or not production can rise.
Jimmy Vesey – The highly coveted prospect who had every team going after him picked the Rangers due to his belief he’ll be able to plug in right away. Well, he’s looked real good through camp and preseason so much so he won the Lars-Erik Sjoberg award from the beat writers as top rookie in the Rangers camp. He was fortunate to not get injured on a dirty hit by Philadelphia Flyers goon Radko Gudas, he did get the last laugh by scoring a goal in that game. He will be one of the many new faces to watch this season and possibly playing with Hayes and Nash could be beneficial to all on the line.
J.T. Miller – Coming off a career year of 22 goals, 21 assists and 43 points, Miller is ready to build on that production this year. He has been the subject to getting called out by his coaches much of the time with the Rangers and he’s been able to answer the call. He compared to Kreider talent wise has this untapped potential that needs to come to fruition. You can expect a better year from Miller this year despite not really doing much in preseason; partly due to his participation for team North America in the World Cup of Hockey.
Jesper Fast – A bit surprising if you ask me that he has made the team this year given the depth the Rangers brought in. He was able to put up 30 points last season, not bad for a bottom-six forward. He just seems to be the odd man out in my book. He has speed but lacks that overall finishing touch. He could prove myself and many wrong if he can build off of the season he had last year. He could also be the guy that sits in the press box as a healthy scratch most nights.
Michael Grabner – The Rangers on July 1st needed to address the speed the lacked from last year after trading away Carl Hagelin last off-season. They went and got Grabner. Two straight down years, Grabner is looking to reinvent his game and be a vital part to the speed and penalty kill for the Rangers this year. Hopefully he can find his scoring touch again. Just nine goals last season in Toronto and eight the year before in an injury filled campaign with the Islanders. He has score over 30 and 20 in his career and the Rangers are hoping that comes back this season on a bargain contract.
Brandon Pirri – An under the radar player who hasn’t gotten the proper chance was one of the best signings the Rangers made this off-season. He proved it with a very strong camp and preseason. At just 25-years-old, Pirri can be a vital part to the bottom-six, if not the top-six for the Rangers. He does have a 20 goal season on his resume in just a short career thus far and can certainly pick that up this year with the Rangers. He should be fun to watch.
Josh Jooris – The 26-year-old has just two years under his belt in the league both of which was played with the Calgary Flames. He brings size and can be an important fourth line player. He has topped out at 12 goals, so don’t expect too much from him.
Oscar Lindberg – He won’t be in the lineup to start and will begin on injured reserve due to off-season surgery. He’s been skating and doing light drills in a non-contact jersey. He contributed with 13 goals last year. Depending on what he does when he comes back from injury, he may have to impress quickly or he too will be in the press box.
Pavel Buchnevich – There was a possibility of having him over in the states last season but he wanted to stay and continue to work on his game. He finally was ready and come over this year. He dines’t speak any english and has to use an interpreter but says he will have to adjust. He had a strong camp and has look real well with Kreider and Zibenejad. He can easily be an impact player from the start. Just have to keep an eye on his getting comfortable to an NHL sized rink.
Dan Girardi – Once known as iron man for this blue line has been the subject of unfair scrutiny by the fans. From the 2007-08 season to 2014-15 season he played in almost every game, missing just three (3) total games in that span. Not to mention the amount of playoff games he played as well. Yet, he was pegged as a bad defensemen because of one down year and missing 8 games this past season. We found out he was human after all. One bad year made him the most hated man on this team and unfairly so. Not a lot of defensemen put up big numbers. For Girardi, it was more of being a work horse and defending his zone. He did it well, so taking him out for one bad year shouldn’t take away from the years prior. His contract may have not been the best but that was on then general manager Glen Sather. Expect a bounce back year from a finally well-rested Dan Girardi.
Marc Staal – Along with Girardi, Staal also became the bad guy after the same down year as his fellow teammate. Following a devastating eye injury in 2011-12, Staal hasn’t been the same but has been an important part to this Rangers core. Another contract that at the time was worth it hasn’t fulfilled expectations. Staal has also played a lot of hockey and the extended off-season could prove to be beneficial to him as well. Also expect a bounce back year from Staal.
Kevin Klein – To this day, Rangers fans will tell you he was the best deal Sather made giving up Michael Del Zotto for Klein. He has been one of the warriors for the Rangers, playing through injuries. He has been one of the more consistent defensemen for the Rangers and expect much of the same for this season. He also holds a reasonable $2.9 million cap hit that could be something to watch as well if the Rangers want to get younger on the blue line.
Ryan McDonagh – The captain, who year in and year out is one of the best in the game at his position. Over 30 points the last three seasons he is someone you can always rely on in big moments and playing a lot of minutes. He is going to be counted on even more this season with some younger guys making their way up and with Keith Yandle no longer with the team. If used the right way, and with a shot-more mentality I don’t see why 10 goals wouldn’t be out of the question.
Dylan McIlrath – You’ve heard about him for what it seems years and yet this is going to be his second “full” season with the team. He played in 34 games last year due in part to Alain Vigneault not giving him the chance to see what he has. The difference is the Rangers now have Jeff Beukeboom behind the bench with the departure of Ulf Sammuelsson. Beukeboom, was a coach for the Hartford Wolfpack, the Rangers minor league team and helped develop McIlrath which is something that can play a role in having Dylan possibly get more time and what he can do. He may be fighting for that last spot in the line up but he can be counted on when physicality comes into play.
Brady Skjei – Although he hasn’t had the best camps, he is still here mainly in part to his play last year when brought up late in the year. He played in just 7 games with the big club last year but turned heads and will look to do so this upcoming year. At just 22-years of age, the six-foot-two 211 pound defensemen will be an interesting watch this year with the new look Rangers.
Adam Clendening – It is his 5th year in the league and he’s 23 years old, goes to show he too hasn’t been given the chance and the Rangers went out and signed him. This is going to be his 5th team in 5 years but there is loads of potential here and he showed it in preseason, giving him a chance at this years team. He is puck moving defensemen who can shoot. He will be one of the guys on the last pair of defensemen if he continues to show his potential.
Nick Holden – He cost a 4th round pick and could also be a vital part to the new look defense the Rangers have this upcoming season. He played his last three seasons in Colorado and put up 25, 14, 22 points in those seasons respectively. He is quick and move the puck well and we should see him in the middle pair of the defense lines.
Henrik Lundqvist – Boy does he deserve a Stanley Cup. The years he consistently puts in that goes cup-less is a sin. He will be 35 in March and many say the window is closing for one of the best goalies in the world. He has a gold medal to show for his accomplishments along with a Vezina trophy, now he wants a cup. We have seen just a handful of goalies get better with age, hopefully with a longer off-season and a modified schedule this year, the King can finally get his crown soon.
Antti Raanta – One of the better back ups to Lundqvist, he will take on a heavier work load this season in order to preserve Lundqvist for a deep playoff run. The is the way it seems the Rangers want to go given the age of Lundqvist and looking at teams who have won the cup with top goaltenders. We expect Raanta to answer the call.
So there you have it, the New York Rangers roster going into the season. There could be one more guy moved at some point with the return of Lindberg within a month. It will be interesting to see who it will be given the fact a lot of the forwards made decisions hard for the coaching staff with all the good play in camp and in preseason games.
The plus side for the Rangers going into this season is they got faster and younger, they will open the season with this current roster of forwards with the average age of 25.29 years of age, something no NHL team had with a group of forwards last season.