5 Things to keep an eye on when New York Rangers training camp opens

Vigneault looks on (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

Vigneault looks on (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Rangers enter the 2015-2016 season after their 3rd Eastern Conference Final appearance in 4 years. Talks of the Rangers window to win closing have been greatly exaggerated by many hockey pundits. This team is still very capable to win it all and it will start when training camp opens. Here are the top 5 things to keep an eye on going into September.

NYR preseason schedule via NYR website

NYR preseason schedule via NYR website

5. Rangers Bottom 6

Emerson Etem, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass, Viktor Stalberg, Dominic Moore, Jarret Stoll, and Oscar Lindberg are 8 names vying for 6 spots (and a reserve for a total of 7). Let’s lock in Etem, Miller, Fast, Moore and Stoll on the third and 4th lines based on what they did last year and past reputation.

oscar lindberg

oscar lindberg

The real battle here is between Stalberg, Glass and Lindberg. While many are eager to see what Lindberg can do, he must be nothing short of spectacular in camp to beat out the two veterans.

I believe Lindberg starts the season in the AHL and will be the first call up if both Glass and Stalberg struggle in October. Any injury to a forward will also get him the nod too.

Note: Lindberg will need to pass through waivers due to age (23) and 2nd NHL contract. This would most likely mean Tanner Glass or Viktor Stalberg would most likely start in Hartford.

4. Chris Kreider‘s Mental State

Chris Kreider Photo:Jim McIsaac-Getty)

Chris Kreider Photo:Jim McIsaac-Getty)

We all are aware of what Kreider said he was going to do this summer. Aside from working out he was going to see a sports psychologist to help him find that next level. If you don’t recall, you can read that story here.

Alain Vigneault recently spoke about Kreider and believes he will have a great season. Per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:

The forward has the tools to be the Rangers’ next 30-goal scorer.

“I expect great things from him this year,” coach Alain Vigneault said.

Kreider scored 17 goals in 66 games as a rookie in 2013-14 and 21 in 80 games last season. He scored seven goals in the playoffs. He should maintain his top-six role and appears to have figured out how his physical style of play can work in the NHL.

Kreider is the Rangers’ fastest player and needs to be able to mix his speed, skill and power to add to his repertoire.

 

3. The Future of the Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi Pairing

McDonagh and Girardi (Getty)

McDonagh and Girardi (Getty)

This is the first full season with Keith Yandle on the Rangers blue line and you can fully expect him to get more ice time. Could a pairing of Yandle and McDonagh be seen as the Rangers #1 pairing in the near future?

While there is plenty of speculation that Yandle will be gone next summer when he is a UFA, I wouldn’t be so sure. The Rangers gave up one hell of a prospect in Anthony Duclair to acquire him and that will at least mean the Rangers will look at him long and hard this season.

Girardi, who is getting a little older and has some more wear and tear on his body because of his playing style will most likely see a reduction in playing time. Whom will he play with will be interesting and maybe dropping him to the 2nd pair with Marc Staal could allow the latter to join the rush a little more.

This may not be the most important thing going into camp but it is certainly something to keep an eye on all season.

 

2. Kevin Hayes as a 2nd Line Winger

Kevin Hayes at NYR practice (NYR)

Kevin Hayes at NYR practice (NYR)

There should be little to no talk about Hayes at center. Now that the Rangers have Jarret Stoll on the team and Oscar Lindberg ready to play at the NHL level, Hayes should use his big size and hands on the right wing with Derek Stepan.

Will he be able to handle it? We think so and more. Keep your eyes on Hayes folks, he can easily be one of the top 5 Rangers in scoring this season. If Hayes is used on the PP regularly, 25 goals and 50 points is a real possibility.

 

1. Mats Zuccarello‘s Return from Brain Injury

Mats Zuccarello injury (SN)

Mats Zuccarello injury (SN)

The smallest guy on the team was probably the biggest reason the Rangers didn’t repeat as Eastern Conference Champions. His loss in game 5 against the Penguins in round 1 was most likely the top reason the Rangers didn’t win it all last season.

How will he respond after a fractured skull, bleeding on the brain, loss of speech and feeling in his body? This is the #1 thing to look for in camp.

If Zuccarello is skating around on the outside and isn’t involved in the dirty areas of the ice, he and the Rangers are in serious trouble. Remember he is signed for the next 4 years at 4.5M AAV. That will be a real issue if he is a shadow of himself going forward.

Did I get it right? What are you looking for this training camp? Let us know and comment with the FullTilt Hockey Network community below.

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