The Rangers future starts tomorrow with an eye on key lineup battles

The Rangers will officially open training camp tomorrow with a roster focused on the years to come. That doesn’t mean this is a throw away season by a long shot either. With an aging yet still remarkable Henrik Lundqvist in net, expectations are still there to compete at a high level.

Coach Quinn wants commitment

NY Post

David Quinn will be starting his first season in the NHL as a head coach behind the Rangers bench. His expectations for himself and his team are high and he wants all his players to come to camp committed to putting in the hard work everyday.

“I want to see who is ready to compete, who is ready to play fast, who is willing to get their nose dirty, who is going to the net, who is defending at the net, who is ready to be physical. Those are all the things you need to have success.” – David Quinn via NHL.com

Part of that commitment has to be physical conditioning in order to be one of the hardest working teams in the league. Quinn has stated on several occasions that he wants to be a team that plays a high tempo possession game with the puck, and hounds the opposition like crazy without it. What the Rangers may lack in talent and experience in some areas can be compensated for by relentless work.

Don’t believe me? Just look back to those Rangers teams when John Tortorella took over with young players like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. Those “black and blue” Rangers outworked the opposition nightly. It helped turn the franchise around and led them to an Eastern Conference Final in 2012.

All Eyes on Training Camp Battles

Make no mistake about what this camp is for. It is all about the young players and the future. Yes, we know that Hayes, Zibanejad, Zuccarello, Kreider, Skjei, Staal, and several other veterans are guaranteed spots on the opening night roster. Still, a look at the training camp roster reveals key battles that need to be watched closely

Top Forward Battles

NY Rangers

We all know that Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil will be on the roster but we aren’t certain of what lines and how much playing time they will receive. Both Kevin Hayes and Mika Zibanejad are rightfully the top 2 centers on the team, but will Hayes slip down to a 3rd line role in order to give Chytil more top 6 minutes? The longterm thinking would say yes, but given that Hayes signed just a one year “show me” deal, the Rangers need to know what they really have in him. That goes double if the intent is to trade him at the deadline.

As far as Andersson goes, we know that he can play center but will likely start on the wing, possibly 3rd line. Things get interesting with players like Vlad Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner also vying for spots  in the top 9. Throw in Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast and the picture gets cloudier quick.

Finally, I expect Brett Howden to make this team as the 4th line center and be given every opportunity to move up. There is also the possibility that Michael Lindqvist and Ville Meskanen may open up enough eyes to force the Rangers into an early season trade to make room for them too.

Log Jam on Defense

Hajek (Doug Westcott)

Brady Skjei, Marc Staal, and Kevin Shattenkirk are penned in to the opening night roster. That leaves 4 spots open to fill out the starting lineup and 7th defenseman positions. The battles will be fierce and one of these 3 veterans will certainly be making the team:

Adam McQuaid, Brendan Smith, and Frederick Claesson

Of the three, I expect newly acquired McQuaid to make it into the starting lineup with Claesson as the 7th defenseman. Smith looks like the man most likely to be traded before the season starts.

It gets real interesting with the final two spots, where a host of very young and talented blue liners will be looking to make a huge impression on Quinn. They are:

Neal Pionk, Libor Hajek, Tony DeAngelo, John Gilmour, and Sean Day

Of all the names mentioned above, Pionk is the safest bet to be on the ice opening night. Ultimately, the last spot will go to either Hajek or DeAngelo with Hajek the most likely to win out. That means the Rangers could be packaging up DeAngelo in a trade as soon as possible since he is no longer waiver exempt.

The King and the Captain

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Regardless of who the Rangers choose to back up Lundqvist this season, a substantial dose of the King is expected. The minimum will be between 55-60 games and that number could rise substantially if the Blueshirts are in the playoff mix. As far as the back up battle goes, keep your eye on Alex Georgiev and Dustin Tokarski. In the end, I expect Tokarski to win out just so Georgiev can play more in Hartford.

When it comes to naming the next captain, Quinn is in no rush and believes that player will emerge soon. My two leading candidates to assume the role, Chris Kreider and Kevin Shattenkirk. CK20 had a life changing injury last season and any questions about maturity or dedication are out the door. When it is all said and done, Kreider is the next C.

The Most Important Camp in Ages

Vitali Kravtsov is coming. That means this camp and season are extremely important for a number of players, including Pavel Buchnevich. Number 89 needs to take that next step and solidify himself as a vital cog for the Blueshirts. He has all the talent in the world to do it and a future filled with him, Kravtsov, Chytil, Andersson, Howden, Pionk, and Hajek is exactly what this rebuild is all about.