Though the Rangers certainly can’t replace core players like Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin flawlessly, the organization does have substantially more quality depth this year. Whereas last season New York was forced to call-up the likes of Kris Newbury, Benn Ferriero and Brandon Segal when AHL reinforcements were needed, the 2013-2014 Blueshirts have as many as 10 decent substitute options. Emergency fill-ins like Micheal Haley and Brandon Mashinter – who both played several games last season – are still available, but they’ve been joined by a host of near NHL-ready prospects and a surplus of proven veteran depth forwards.
The delayed re-signing of Derek Stepan, the ongoing negotiation stalemate with Henrik Lundqvist, the new coaching staff and the impressive play of top prospects got more attention during training camp, but improved depth may prove to be the story of the season.
Though the new logjam made it awfully tricky for youngsters like Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo to make the squad, it will pay off in the long run and it’s very possible that each of those players will get a shot on Broadway at some point this year.
Even in a shortened 48-game season, New York dressed 33 different players last year. While who makes the opening night roster is a hot topic of conversation in September, it’s really irrelevant in the grand scheme of a season and exhibition games and training camp are equally important for determining how many extra serviceable bodies a team has entering a season.
There are already injuries to two critical top-six wingers and we all know New York has been beset by other costly injuries in the past. There will surely be more of those, an unforeseen in-season trade or two, and a couple of players that looked great in camp but couldn’t carry it over to the regular season. Those are issues that every team has to deal with, but New York is positioned very well this season to stomach those kinds of hiccups.
And even if New York just needs an injection of a specialty skill, the Blueshirts probably have it waiting in the wings. Need a great penalty killer? Darroll Powe is waiting. Struggling on faceoffs? Oscar Lindberg is an ace. Lacking toughness for a game against the Flyers? Haley is still around. Not enough speed in the lineup? Chris Kreider has plenty of that.
Improved depth won’t help the Rangers score on the power play, rejuvenate Brad Richards or accelerate the team’s adaptation to Alain Vigneault, but it could still be invaluable.