With New York Rangers training camp set to start in September, the competition for a spot on the 23-man roster will be fierce. While the Rangers have many players returning from last year’s team, the Blueshirts acquired new talent who are set to make an immediate impact. The new-looked Rangers will get to showcase their newest acquisitions on NBC Sports 13 times throughout the season; the fifth most among NHL teams. While the Rangers have a general idea for their opening night roster, many players will look to carve themselves a role for the upcoming season.
Players will be divided into two categories – “guaranteed spot” and “on the brink”.
Guaranteed spot – Any player under “guaranteed spot,” will be on the opening day roster.
On the brink – Any player “on the brink,” has a fair chance to start in New York or in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Offense – Guaranteed Spot
Among those with a guaranteed spot, is the number two overall pick Kaapo Kakko and free agent signing Artemi Panarin. At 18-years-old, Kakko is expected to be a staple for many years to come at right wing. Kakko is considered as one of the most NHL ready prospects and is expected to be a key contributor right out of the gate.
Panarin was the grand prize of free agency and he turned down more money from rival teams to play for the Rangers. Panarin registered 87 points last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and is expected to play the top line with Mika Zibanejad.
Offense – On the brink
With ten forward spots already locked up, the remaining six forwards will fight for the final three or four openings (depending on how many extra forwards they plan to keep). Brett Howden is the most likely to secure his spot in the opening lineup among the players “on the brink”. Howden played the entire season in the NHL last year and will look to continue to showcase his talent at just 21-years-old. Despite some struggles and injuries throughout his rookie campaign, Howden showed flashes of brilliance that the Rangers hope they can see more of.
The 9th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Vitali Kravtsov, is poised to make an impact in the NHL. After having stellar numbers in the KHL, the 19-year-old signed his entry-level contract and will look to make the team out of camp. While Kravtsov is likely to be a key contributor for the foreseeable future, Rangers management may decide he needs more time to develop and could start in the AHL getting top minutes.
Lias Andersson spent time in both the NHL and AHL last season. The Rangers hope he can take on a bigger role this season, but the centerman may struggle to find ice time given his current spot on the depth chart. Like Kravtsov, the Blueshirts may decide he could use the top line minutes in the AHL to continue his development.
Boo Nieves, Vinni Lettieri and Greg McKegg will likely fight for at least one roster spot. Nieves has the most chemistry with teammates out of the three. Lettieri struggled in the NHL last season and was sent down for the majority of the season where the Minnesota native shined. McKegg, who played last season with the Hurricanes, was acquired from free agency. McKegg played in 14 playoff games last season and registered two goals. The 27-year-old is expected to spend time in New York and Hartford this season.
Defense – Guaranteed Spot
The big acquisition on defense comes in the form of Jacob Trouba. Trouba was acquired from Winnipeg in an offseason trade for Neal Pionk and Winnipeg’s first-round pick (NYR had previously acquired Winnipeg’s first-round pick in the Kevin Hayes trade). Trouba signed a seven-year contract with an average salary of eight million a season. The 25-year-old is best friends with Brady Skjei and those two are expected to make up the top defensive pairing to start the season. Trouba finished the 2018-2019 season with 50 points.
Marc Staal will continue to be the veteran of the defense while Anthony DeAngelo will likely be his defensive partner to start the season. With Shattenkirk being bought out, the Rangers only have four locked in defenders.
Defense – On the Brink
The leading two candidates to fill out the defense is Adam Fox and Libor Hajek. Fox was acquired in the offseason from the Hurricanes. Fox is an offensive defenseman who will likely play a vital role on the powerplay. Libor Hajek struggled in over 50 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack last season. But after a call up to the NHL, Hajek was shining and opening up many eyes. Unfortunately, his season came to an abrupt end after suffering a separated shoulder in just his fifth game.
Ryan Lindgren and Yegor Rykov will also challenge for an opening night spot. Lindgren played five games in the NHL last season and will look to make the jump to being a permanent fixture. Yegor Rykov played the entire year in the KHL. Rykov was acquired in February 2018 in the Michael Grabner trade. With Rykov coming to North America, management may opt to start him in Hartford to get him use to the North American style.
Brendan Smith is likely to start in the AHL so the Rangers can be cap compliant. Smith spent all of last season in the NHL, including spending time as a forward. With the Rangers going in a younger direction, it will be tough for Smith to find time in the NHL. However, if the Rangers want to protect a younger player or want leadership, Smith would be the man called upon.
Goalie – Guaranteed Spot
Despite not having his best season, Henrik Lundqvist is still the man in New York. Lundqvist is likely to continue to be preserved by limiting his starts. The 37-year-old played in just 52 games last season and he likely will never play in 60 or more games a season again. Lundqvist will look to get back into form as early as possible
Goalie – On the Brink
Alex Georgiev is likely to be the backup to start the season. Georgiev had a strong season as the Ranger backup putting up very respectable numbers. The 23-year-old had many memorable performances including 55 saves against the Toronto Maple Leafs on his birthday. However, many consider Igor Shesterkin as the goalie of the future. Shesterkin signed his entry-level contract and he will compete with Georgiev for the backup job. Shesterkin is coming from the KHL and management could decide to start him in Hartford to get use to the North American style. But if the Russian has a strong camp, he will leave management with a very tough decision. It is possible the Rangers keep three goalies in the NHL for some duration of the season – similar to when the Islanders used Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and J.F. Berube.
Depending on contract negotiations and how the Blueshirts envision the future, the Rangers have a list of players who could find themselves on their way out of New York before the start of the season or by the trade deadline. The biggest name who could be up for grabs is Chris Kreider. Kreider was drafted by the Rangers in the first round of the 2009 draft and has been a fan favorite. Kreider is out of a contract at the end of the year and he will seek a long-term deal similar to what former teammate Kevin Hayes received from the Philadelphia Flyers. According to Larry Brooks, Kreider’s name was dangled around the league. Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Strome are also two players on the final year of their contracts. If the Rangers decide to be sellers at the trade deadline, these are two pieces who could find themselves swirling in the rumor mill.
While it’s hard to see the Rangers opening night roster, the opening night lineup will answer many questions about the team. Are the Rangers going to continue the course of the rebuild? What are the expectations of the young players? Do they see themselves competing for a playoff spot? Only time will tell.