It’s the most wonderful time of the year – hockey training camps have opened. The beach towels have been put away and pumpkin spice everything has made it’s way back. The New York Rangers have opened camp today with a new look, some faces gone and new faces welcomed. Entering his second full year as general manager Jeff Gorton has reshaped his team’s look by moving cap space and signing a big time defensemen. In all honesty, this is the first year we will have to actually see what this team really is. In one’s mind, some major pieces are missing while in another mind it’s a step in the right direction.
During the offseason, the Rangers cut ties with iron man defensemen Dan Girardi (sorry to those who still feel the sting from it) as they bought him out. They traded their “number 1” center Derek Stepan and vital backup Antti Raanta to Arizona for young defensemen Tony DeAngelo and the number six overall pick in the draft. It was certainly a shell shock offseason for some fans as well as some players including franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who was saddened by the moves but also understood it was business and part of the game. Their big free agent splash which was months of speculation came to fruition as they were able to land local boy Kevin Shattenkirk who, by all accounts left money and years on the table to sign with his childhood team. It regained the Rangers blue line along with a power play quarterback.
So now we look to training camp. Outside of the trade, the buyout and the free agent signing the Rangers still certainly have questions such as who is now the number one center with Stepan no longer here? Many feel this will be a breakout year for Mika Zibanejad who, at times looked really good and at times we didn’t see much of. Another possibility is moving either Kevin Hayes into that position or even J.T. Miller both of whom are coming off of decent season; Miller better than Hayes. There is no question that leading up to the start of the regular season the Rangers may be looking at the trading market as they have all summer to acquire another center and Matt Duchene is certainly an appealing name but easy to say you do not want to five up the farm for him.
The Blueshirts may even look at their pair of first round picks they drafted in this years draft – Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil. Andersson had a very good Traverse City tournament while Chytil did not play due to a groin injury but is expected to be ready to go during camp. Only in rare occasions do we see rookies right out of the draft make the team because many feel they would not be ready for an NHL season so quickly. You better believe if both, or even one (banking on Andersson) really impress don’t be so shocked to see him on October 5th at Madison Square Garden when the Rangers open the regular season against the Colorado Avalanche.
Some other names to watch in training camp will be big man Ryan Gropp who registered 35 goals in 66 games in the WHL in 2016-2017. He possesses size and tremendous skill. He recorded 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) and posted a plus-seven rating in 16 playoff games while helping the Thunderbirds win the WHL Championship. Another name to watch is Vinni Lettieri. He represented the Rangers at the 2017 Traverse City Tournament, skated in 149 career collegiate games over four seasons with the University of Minnesota (2013-14 – 2016-17), registering 37 goals and 46 assists for 83 points, along with a plus-14 rating and 76 penalty minutes. He helped the Gophers win the Big Ten Regular Season Championship in each of his four seasons.
It will be very interesting to see how some of the young kids push the guys who have been here to try and grab a spot. There are some names from the current roster or the roster we have seen from last year such as Pavel Buchnevich. He was an interesting case and some called head coach Alain Vigneault out on his handling the rookie however he was looking for more out of him given the talent we had heard so much about. We should see a solid bounce back year now that he has NHL experience under his belt. Jimmy Vesey has been working tremendously hard this summer to build his body and stamina for another NHL grind. He too was thrown into the fire and for the most part handled himself well. He tallied 16 goals in his first campaign but fell off a bit near the end simply because that grind we always talk about in an NHL season. He says he feels good heading into year number two and we should expect more of a breakout. The player who impressed the most from last year was Brady Skjei; he tallied five goals and notched 34 assists and was a good as you can get on the blue line. He was one of the players who many felt misused by Vigneault especially in critical playoff situations, however whenever he was called upon he shined and he played his best when paired with Brendan Smith. Smith, who, by the way is back as well and was a key re-signing as he was spectacular when he was traded over to the Rangers from Detroit at the deadline.
We can only talk from what we know so far but this camp with its new look will be interesting to watch and don’t be surprised if some of the younger kids make a spot on the roster and push some of the usuals on their toes. Preseason gets underway next week and the season is right around the corner. Keep it here for all New York Rangers news.