Burning questions facing New York Rangers training camp battles

New York Rangers hockey is back!

The doors officially opened on the 2022-23 season with the start of training camp today. In total, 66 players have been invited to partake and show the organization what they can do.

Players are currently doing their medicals and some media in preparation for the new year. On-ice sessions will begin tomorrow at the MSG Training Center. Check the full schedule here.

Of course, there are always some burning questions regarding the lineup that training camp tends to address. After getting to Eastern Conference Final last season, the roster is pretty set but there are three areas that warrant some examination.

Let’s dive in by listing all the extra invites and the expected battles for the few open spots the Rangers have.

Who will be the first line New York Rangers RW?

alexis lafreniere
Apr 11, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13). Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers top six will have a new look compared to last season with the departures of Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, and Frank Vatrano via free agency.

In their place will be new second line center Vincent Trocheck, who signed as a free agent on July 13. The question that needs to be answered is which youngster plays first line RW, Alexis Lafrenière or Kaapo Kakko?

Lafrenière, 20, had a solid sophomore season by scoring 19 goals and totaling 39 points in 79 games. In the postseason, he showed that his game could find another level as he picked up his physical play. That led to an additional 9 points (2G – 7A) in 20 playoff contests.

At season’s end, the 20 year-old acknowledged that with both Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin occupying the top two left wing slots, his best chance is to move to the right side.

“I want to play in the top six eventually, that’s my goal,” Lafrenière said. “I want to watch them and learn from them but hopefully next year I can play in the top six.”

Kakko, 21, had a really difficult 2021-22 season simply trying to stay on the ice. He missed 39 games due to three separate injuries but posted 18 points in the 43 matches. Kakko added 5 points in 19 playoff contests.

Although those aren’t big numbers, Kakko played a complete game and was strong on both sides of the puck. There’s no doubt the big Finn impressed in the first playoffs of his NHL career.

Despite being scratched for the final game of the Eastern Conference Final, Kakko didn’t pout.

“I like to play here,” Kakko said. “I think [the scratch] gives me more motivation. I want to show I’m better than that. You should put me in the lineup because I’m a good player.”

In the end, I believe Lafrenière will win the job as the top line RW based on having played with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider last year.

How will the bottom six look?

new york rangers vitali kravtsov
Apr 6, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Vitali Kravtsov #74 of the New York Rangers is checked by Marcus Pettersson #28 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Madison Square Garden on April 06, 2021 in New York City. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers bottom six is going to be an interesting storyline to follow throughout camp. Three players we know will be on either the third or fourth lines are Filip Chytil, Barclay Goodrow, and Ryan Reaves. That means four sports are somewhat open.

Overall, 41 forwards have been invited with the expectation many of them will be cut and sent to either the AHL, Europe, or their respective Junior team by the end of the week.

Here’s the list with those expected to keep for a roster spot in bold:

  • Sam Alfano
  • Maxim Barbashev
  • Sammy Blais
  • Easton Brodzinski
  • Jonny Brodzinski
  • Ryan Carpenter
  • Will Cuylle
  • Cristiano Digiacinto
  • Adam Edstrom
  • Turner Elson
  • Tanner Fritz
  • Julien Gauthier
  • Tim Gettinger
  • Jayden Grubbe
  • Karl Henriksson
  • Dryden Hunt
  • Zach Jordan
  • Patrick Khodorenko
  • Ryder Korczak
  • Vitali Kravtsov
  • Ryan Lohin
  • Bryce McConnell-Barker
  • Brennan Othmann
  • Lauri Pajuniemi
  • Matt Rempe
  • Austin Rueschhoff
  • Gustav Rydahl
  • CJ Smith
  • Adam Sykora
  • Bobby Trivigno
  • Jimmy Vesey (PTO)
  • Alex Whelan

Of the 32 forwards competing for the four spots up front, only 11 of them truly in contention in my opinion.

The reality is that Sammy Blais, Vitali Kravtsov, and Ryan Carpenter are coming into camp from the perspective of that’s their job to lose.

When you look at who may win the job as the extra forward, Dryden Hunt and Jimmy Vesey seem to have the upper hand due to having NHL experience.

That leaves Will Cuylle, Brennan Othmann, Bobby Trivigno, Julien Gauthier, Jonny Brodzinski, and Gustav Rydahl fighting to win a job by playing well above expectations.

The Rangers are unlikely to carry 14 forwards due to salary cap reasons, so here’s how I see the forwards shaking out.

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadAlexis Lafrenière
Artemi PanarinVincent TrocheckKaapo Kakko
Barclay GoodrowFilip ChytilVitali Kravtsov
Sammy BlaisRyan CarpenterRyan Reaves
Jimmy Vesey
New York Rangers forwards

Who will be the 6th and 7th defensemen?

zac jones
Feb 27, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Zac Jones (6) skates with the puck in front of Vancouver Canucks center Matthew Highmore (15) during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The defense for 2022-23 is going to look very much like it did last season. Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, and Braden Schneider are all a lock on the right. Meanwhile, Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller make up the top four on the left side.

That leaves the left defense open on the third pairing, along with the 7th defensemen position.

The Rangers invited an additional 13 defenseman to training camp listed below:

  • Matt Bartkowski (PTO)
  • Ty Emberson
  • Zach Giuttari
  • Libor Hajek
  • Louka Henault
  • Blake Hillman
  • Zac Jones
  • Luke Martin
  • Matthew Robertson
  • Brandon Scanlin
  • Hunter Skinner
  • Jarred Tonardi
  • Andy Welinski

Coming into offseason, the expectation was for Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson, and Libor Hajek to battle for those two spots. The signing of Matt Bartkowski to a PTO provides the Rangers with a little extra veteran insurance on the left side to go with Jarred Tinordi should the youngsters not pan out.

Here’s a look at the projected defense.

Left DefenseRight Defense
Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox
K’Andre MillerJacob Trouba
Zac JonesBraden Schneider
Libor Hajek
New York Rangers defense

And in goal….Igor Shesterkin

The New York Rangers have invited way too many goalies to camp, but they’ll need them for all the easy scrimmages.

Igor Shesterkin is the unquestionable starter for the Blueshirts with veteran Jaroslav Halak as his backup. It will be interesting to see Louis Domingue push Halak for the backup role, but I see it as him solidifying himself as the third string.

Here are the rest of the goalie in camp:

  • Talyn Boyko
  • Parker Gahagen
  • Dylan Garand
  • Ofof Lindbom
Igor Shesterkin
Jaroslav Halak
New York Rangers goalies

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Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at YardBarker, and MSN. Features have been linked on Sportsnet, NBC, TFP, NY POST, NEWSDAY and more.