New York Rangers storylines as training camp enters final week

The New York Rangers are entering their final week of camp with two preseason games remaining. On Wednesday, they will faceoff against the Devils in New Jersey and conclude their exhibition schedule against the Boston Bruins on Thursday at the Garden.

Coming out of the offseason, the storylines centered around new head coach Peter Laviolette and how he would handle the Blueshirts’ younger players. Another was focused on Alexis Lafreniere after signing his two-year bridge deal and if he could take the next step.

Now that we are getting closer to the start of the 2023-24 campaign, here are the latest Rangers storylines.

Related: Inside Rangers Training Camp

New York Rangers’ Peter Laviolette true to his word

NHL: Preseason-New York Rangers at Boston Bruins
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When Laviolette was hired, there were mixed reviews on his handing of young players with the Washington Capitals. Apparently, many Caps’ fans felt he did a poor job developing any of their prospects and was too reliant on aging veterans.

At his introductory press conference, the new head coach made it a point to talk about getting young players more opportunities with the Blueshirts.

“Those young players need an opportunity to grow and in the framework of a team, everyone wants to feel like they’re contributing,” Laviolette said. “These conversations will take place and those opportunities will be there for [Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko] to grab that ice time and push.”

So far, Laviolette has been true to his word, as both Lafreniere and Kakko have played top-six minutes in camp. Furthermore, prized prospects Will Cuylle and Brennan Othmann are still with the team in the late stages of the preseason.

Each player has been given a lot of ice time to show what they can do, and one could possibly make the team’s opening night roster on October 12.

Alexis Lafreniere okay at best

On August 23, one of the questions surrounding Lafreniere was answered. The first overall pick from the 2020 Draft signed a two-year extension with an AAV of $2.325 million, ending months of worry and speculation about a trade.

The 21 year-old is now entering his fourth NHL campaign and everyone is hoping for a breakout season. In 2022-23, he registered 16 goals and 23 assists for 39 points in 81 games mostly as a third-liner with limited to no power play time.

This season, the organization is commited to seeing Lafreniere get top-six minures, but as a right wing. To date, Lafreniere has been okay at best as he tries to transition from his natural left wing position.

“I had conversations with him about playing the offside and he expressed to me that he’s comfortable with that and looks forward to that opportunity,” Laviolette revealed. “I’m looking forward to giving it to him to see what he can do.”

While Lafreniere seems predestined to start the season as a right wing on one of the top two lines, they’ll need more than just the one assist he’s mustered through three preaeason games.

Erik Gustafsson winning 6th spot on defense

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The Blueshirts added 31 year-old defenseman Erik Gustafsson to lineup with a one-year deal for $825,000 on July 1 improving depth on the blue-line. They also extended 22 year-old defenseman Zac Jones to a two-year extension with an AAV of $812,500.

That setup a battle for the the sixth spot on defense, starting opposite Braden Schneider on the third pair. Despite Jones’ best effort, Gustafsson came into camp as the favorite and proceeded to win the job posting three points (1 goal, 2 assists) in three games.

Gustafsson and Laviolette were already familiar with each other before camp opened. Last season, the Caps brought in the veteran on a one-year deal and Laviolette was impressed with his overall game. In particular, he cited Gustafsson’s ability to breakout of the d-zone and willingness to compete for pucks which shined through in this camp as well.

Will the Rangers trade Zac Jones?

So where does that leave Zac Jones, who was taken in the third round of the 2019 draft?

In a recent interview with Forever Blueshirts, USA Today’s Vince Mercogliano explained that Jones would make the team because he’s no longer waivers exempt. The Rangers are unwilling to risk placing him on waivers and losing him for nothing when they could trade him.

“I absolutely believe that a trade is a possibility when it comes to Zac Jones,” Mercogliano said. “I don’t think that there is any clear path for him into the lineup unless an injury happens or [Erik] Gustafsson completely falls flat.”

A clear sign that the Rangers may be looking to trade him will be if they opt to start the season with 8 defenseman on the roster.

One thing fans should understand is that Jones will not fetch the same return as Nils Lundqvist, who was a highly touted first round pick.

Last season, Jones played with the Blueshirts recording 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points in 16 games. When it became clear that he would not be getting consistent playing time to develop his skills, the Rangers sent him to their AHL affiliate. In 54 regular-season games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Jones picked up 8 goals and 23 assists for 31 points.

Health of Filip Chytil

Filip Chytil has spent the better part of six seasons slowly emerging into the scoring threat many expected after being selected 21st overall in 2017.

Over the past few seasons, Chytil has learned to use his 6-2′, 204 lbs frame to his advantage. By better protecting the puck and using his size to get into prime scoring areas, it led to a career year in 2022-23. The 24 year-old netted 22 goals and totaled 45 points in 74 games, but believes he’s primed for more.

“I know that I can score goals. I had a lot of chances, I didn’t score many of them and I scored over 20 goals (last year),” Chytil said via NY Post’s Mollie Walker. “I worked all summer on my shot, on scoring and I believe it was just a good start for me last year. I need to build up on that and be even better. I have confidence in myself and in my abilities. It’s going to be fun.”

Unfortunately, Chytil been out since the Rangers first preseason game on September 24 with an upper-body injury. That’s raised some concerns if he may miss the start of the season.

“I hope not,” Laviolette said Monday. “He’s out there skating (on his own). I’m hoping he’s ready. I don’t think it’s a long thing but we want to make sure he’s healthy going into the season.”

Chytil once again did not participate in practice on Tuesday, which makes him unlikely to play in either of the final two preseason games. Whether or not Chytil plays is irrelevant, just so long as he’s ready when it counts next week.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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