Matthew Brenner, Contributing Writer
With the NHL preseason coming to an end and the regular season right around the corner, the New York Rangers are ready to begin the 82-game season with high hopes that this year will end better than last year did. After losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, the focus immediately shifted to the free agent frenzy, and which players would stay and which players would leave. While fans can still expect to see the core Rangers players like Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mats Zucarello, and Chris Kreider, there have been changes in both the offseason as well as in training camp that are sure to impact the Rangers this season.
The offseason brought with it many changes to the Rangers roster; most notably the losses of Forwards Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin, along with Backup Goaltender Cam Talbot who signed with the Edmonton Oilers. Without Hagelin and St. Louis’ speed, many are wondering how the Rangers can continue to be one of the league’s fastest teams. The signings of Emerson Etem and Viktor Stalberg help the Rangers to regain some of that lost speed while also adding a much-needed element of physicality to the offense. Along with Etem and Stalberg, the Rangers acquired six-year veteran and Stanley Cup Champion, Jarett Stoll. The gritty and speedy winger can help fill out the Rangers fourth line, and gives the roster some depth.
With the loss of Talbot, the Backup Goalie position was wide open, and it quickly became a duel between young prospect, Magnus Hellberg, and last year’s Stanley Cup Champion, Antti Raanta. The Rangers eventually assigned Hellberg to their AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack, and Raanta won the backup spot.
Although the young Goalie prospect didn’t make the team, this preseason saw two other Wolfpack players, Defenseman Dylan McIlrath and Forward Oscar Lindberg, finally make the cut and earn a spot on the roster. McIlrath, drafted by the Rangers in the first round in 2010, has played sporadically for the Rangers but bad decision-making and inconsistent play has kept him from earning a spot on the team. Despite his past, McIlrath had a strong training camp and preseason in which his tough and tall frame proved more valuable than the scoring abilities of Raphael Diaz, the other defender that McIlrath was competing with for a roster spot. Lindberg has only played one game with the Rangers but has impressed the coaching staff with his fast two-way play, scoring a goal against the Devils in one of their four preseason victories. With Lindberg earning a spot on the team, he finally has a chance to play at the highest level with fellow Swede, Jesper Fast, both of which played for the Hartford Wolfpack.
Now that the roster is set and the players no longer have to worry about being cut, they can begin to practice as a team and build chemistry. The Rangers finished the preseason with a 4-1-1 record and appear to be in midseason form.
The offense should look very similar to last year’s with some minor changes to the top two lines. The first line is expected to be Nash on the Left Wing, Brassard at Center, and Zucarello on the Right Wing. The second line from left to right will be Kreider, Stepan, and Kevin Hayes. After Hayes’ impressive rookie season, his move to the second line will combine his strength and scoring touch with Kreider’s speed and Stepan’s excellent play making abilities. The third line will consist of Stalberg, Lindberg, and J.T. Miller with Stoll, Dominic Moore, and Fast rounding out the fourth line. Etem and Tanner Glass are the extra Forwards that will fill out the roster.
Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will continue to be the team’s top defensive pair. Marc Staal and Dan Boyle, along with Keith Yandle and Kevin Klein, will be the second and third defensive pairs, respectively. In their last preseason game, starting Goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, made 39 saves and led the Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins. With Lundqvist and the rest of the team ready to go, the Rangers look to take their preseason success and translate it into a win against the Chicago Blackhawks in their first game of the season on Wednesday, October 7 at 8 p.m.