5 Things to watch this 2016 New York Rangers preseason
Training camp has officially opened after a disappointing first round exit. During the offseason we have seen a trade, a handful of RFA and UFA signings, plus the additions of Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich. It all shapes up to make this the most intriguing preseason in awhile.
What to watch for?
Every year, I like to highlight 5 things that will likely have a huge impact on the upcoming season. I can tell you right off the tip of my stick blade, not a single one of them has anything to do with Henrik Lundqvist. Appreciate what you have in him Rangers’ fans, because you won’t see the likes of him again in the near future.
Here we go…
1. How Will Alain Vigneault use Dan Girardi?
“I do believe that after a summer where he was able to get as far as a mental break, physical break, being able to heal his body,” AV told Rick Carpiniello recently, “Everything that I’ve seen so far, all the indications not just what I’ve seen on the ice and in the gym but how he is conducting himself, real positive attitude is giving me every indication.” That statement alone tells me that AV still believes Girardi will play a prominent role in the top 4 on defense.
The Rangers play 6 exhibition games before their October 13th opener at home against the Islanders. Pay close attention to how Girardi is used in the final two exhibition games (Oct 4th NYI, 6th PHI), because that’s when most of the regular lineup will start to materialize and play. Where you see Girardi lining up, which will likely be with Ryan McDonagh, will tell you exactly how AV intends to use him this season.
2. How Good Is Jimmy Vesey?
To me there was no better player at Traverse City than college free agent, Jimmy Vesey. He scored 5 times and collected 7 points, and he did so with all eyes on him. Now I understand that isn’t the same pressure or competition he will be facing in the NHL but it was an excellent sign.
My expectations for him this preseason will be a continuance of that high level of performance. He will be facing other teams prospects and hopefuls trying to make their respective squads, so he should still do very well. If not, I will temper my expectations but right now I believe Jimmy Vesey could be the Rangers first Calder Trophy Winner (rookie of the year) since Brian Leetch in 1988-89.
3. Pavel Buchnevich Expectations
To be honest, I felt that this kid was likely being set up for failure. While he is a very talented offensive player, he is still very raw. Also going against him is his size, he is VERY THIN (176lbs). While he didn’t have an issue in the KHL, the smaller NHL rinks could eat him alive against some of the biggest and meanest defensemen in the world.
However, I believe the player that benefits the most from the Rangers signing Vesey is Pavel Buchnevich. The pressure to exceed expectations is now off on the kid. The 21 year old can surprise ala Anthony Duclair, when all eyes were on Kevin Hayes two years ago.
My belief is that he may struggle out of the gate but could still put up a 15 goal, 30 point season with the right linemates. I also expect AV to bench him and scratch more times than people will like, but remember this isn’t about THIS SEASON for Buchnevich, it really is about the next decade for him in Rangers Blue.
4. This will be the Rangers best four line team since 2013-14
I think overshadowed by the trade of Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad, the retention of all 4 RFA’s and the signing of Jimmy Vesey, are the depth moves Jeff Gorton made. Michael Grabner is not Carl Hagelin, so don’t view him as such. What Grabner brings is excellent speed to the 3rd or 4th line that will give the opposition forechecking fits. While I highly doubt he will come close to 20 goals, 15 on this team is a more than reasonable expectation.
Now to the additions of Brandon Pirri and Josh Jooris. Both will be able to bring it, even with limited ice. I expect Jooris to be the opening 4th line center while Oscar Lindberg heals up. Pirri who has a one way deal is going to be a lock for a 4th line spot and also has the offensive ability to move up to a third line role should injury strike.
Nathan Gerbe may also be helpful as an extra forward down the road, but right now I do not see him dressing for opening night. A 4th line with Pirri, Jooris and Fast sounds amazing to me. When Lindberg returns it will be even better. Jooris will likely end up as the extra forward.
Tanner Glass? Likely starting in Hartford, but since this is the last year of his contract, it is very possible he will be claimed off waivers.
5. Brady Skjei, Dylan McIlrath and Nick Holden
I think we can all agree that McDonagh, Girardi, Marc Staal and Kevin Klein are the Rangers top 4 on the blue-line to start the season. That means that Skjei, McIlrath and Holden will complete the Rangers 7 D. The latter two will be battling for the 6th spot as Skjei’s brief stint last year and his obvious top 4 talent are a lock to be in the lineup day in and day out.
Sadly, McIlrath will still be scratched far too often and likely be suiting up for games against the Flyers, Devils and Islanders primarily. AV talks well about “The Undertaker” but you still get the sense he will likely want to lean on Holden’s veteran experience with Skjei.
Vigneault has already set it up as such by highlighting the “stiff competition” on the Rangers right side. “If Dylan plays on a regular basis in the NHL it will be because defensively he is real dependable,” he said. When I add this up, I can’t come away with any other conclusion on how he will be used other than sparingly.
There you have it…My 5 keys! Tell me what you think in the comments section below.