3 big takeaways from Peter Laviolette’s Rangers camp presser
Peter Laviolette didn’t provide bold takes nor earth-shattering news on the eve of his first training camp as New York Rangers coach. Not a surprise. Bursting into the room and tossing grenades is not his style.
But the Blueshirts new bench boss did provide some intriguing nuggets Wednesday that shed some light into his thinking and what can be expected during training camp and, perhaps, the start of the 2023-24 regular season.
“Obviously an exciting day for us,” Laviolette said. “Getting here and having the entire group at camp, 58 players, had a meeting at 8 o’clock this morning and it was good to get everybody together for the first time.”
So, let’s take a look at 3 Rangers takeaways from Laviolette’s media availability Wednesday.
Alexis Lafreniere will begin camp at right wing
Yes! A solid first decision by Laviolette.
“He’s going to play some on the right side,” he revealed. “That’s not to say he won’t move back to the left, but he will be on the right to start camp.”
Lafreniere needs to be tested in a top-six role and given an extended opportunity to play with the most talented forwards on the roster.
With Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider deservedly logging major minutes on left wing, the only way to give the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft his opportunity is by shifting him to the right side. In the big picture, it’s likely best for the Rangers if Kaapo Kakko and Lafreniere are the top two right wings.
The Kid Line’s had a nice run but let’s see which of three, including center Filip Chytil, is ready to handle a consistent top-six role. And speaking of Chytil, if he earns full-time second-line minutes, he could still have one of Kid Line mates riding shotgun.
And what of Blake Wheeler? Start him on the third line. He’s a veteran who’s played every role out there and can move up and down the lineup. At 37 years old, the former Winnipeg Jets captain doesn’t need to be standing in the way of either Kakko or Lafreniere pushing into the top six.
Laviolette didn’t talk about how long Lafreniere will skate on the right side. But it should be an extended look, as in well into the regular season. The caveat here is that the 21-year-old, coming off an NHL career-high 39 points last season, must show he deserves the opportunity and grows comfortable on his off wing. That should be a low bar to clear. He is a former first overall pick, you may have heard.
So, good on Laviolette for starting camp with this bit of news. Now let’s see Lafreniere do something with this chance to grab more playing time with the best forwards the Rangers have got.
No reason to change Rangers leadership group
Laviolette shared that he’s been in contact with Rangers captain Jacob Trouba often since replacing Gerard Gallant as coach. He and Rangers assistant Phil Housley coached Trouba with the United States at the 2014 World Championships and there appears to be a good relationship in place.
As such, Laviolette said there won’t be any changes in the Rangers leadership group. This will Trouba’s second season as captain and he proved worthy of the role last season, leading with thunderous hits to wake up his teammates on occasion, as well as his words in the dressing room.
Again, a change in captain or alternates was not expected. No reason to blow things up just because there’s a new coach in town. And, again, that’s not Laviolette’s style.
“I had a lot of really good conversations with Jacob Toruba,” he stated. “I thought that was really important. And from there the leadership group… I’ve talked to the captain and the assistant captains and I don’t foresee any changes.”
Laviolette comes to the Rangers with an open mind
One thing that stood out is that the new coach is open to trying new things and will be experimenting in training camp. And that goes past moving Lafreniere to right wing.
Speaking specifically about the top four on defense, but about the roster in general, Laviolette said, “You can understand there’s some success there, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try something different as well, and see how that looks.”
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox? Maybe. Maybe not. Ditto for Trouba and K’Andre Miller.
“I’m inclined to try something new,” Laviolette hinted.
He added that he’ll have one set of lines the first day of practice and will change them the next. He wants to see with his own eyes who plays best with whom.
“I want to be wide open coming in here with what I see and evaluate it from that standpoint,” Laviolette affirmed.
Seems like the right play by the new coach.