Will Kreider finally shine under AV? (Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)
So hockey has actually begun. The preseason games are underway and we’ve seen the preseason roster already begin to dwindle. So, what’s next? The Musings is of course.
When hearing Alain Vigneault discuss the potential of Chris Kreider being used in front of the net it gave a small but significant insight into his different mindset compared to John Tortorella. Vigneault looks at Kreider as an opportunity, not necessarily as a rookie who has to earn his stripes. There was merit to Tortorella’s approach (he was after all successful as Rangers HC) but trying to use players in a variety of scenarios will surely help maximise a players potential and the teams overall success.
Martin Biron: surely the only choice as the back up to the Rangers. Whether he’s more expensive than Hedberg or not, he’s arguably the best back up in the league and over a full season he’ll surely get opportunity to prove himself again.
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When will McIlrath be intimidating NHL forwards?
The Rangers drafted Dylan McIlrath 10th overall in 2010 and ever since, media and fans have been waiting for his arrival. While McIlrath is now completely healthy and at Rangers camp looking to make the team there doesn’t appear space in the defensive unit even though his style is an absolute need.
The Rangers are blessed with a strong top four when Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto are all fit and able. With Anton Stralman a solid depth option it leaves a whole raft of ifs and buts to scrap it out for the 6th and 7th defensive spots. McIlrath will be fighting it out with Aaron Johnson, Danny Syvret, Justin Falk, John Moore and even the likes of Stu Bickel for a roster spot.
The problem here is not ability. John Moore aside, McIlrath has much more upside than any of the other options who are realistically in the frame for the top six. McIlrath needs game time. The Rangers top four will eat up the vast majority of ice time and given his lengthy absence last year the last thing the Rangers want to do to with McIlrath is curb – or stall – his development by offering up five or six minute cameos.
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Is Derek Stepan going to be in camp?
Training camp is here, the hockey world is back full time and the Rangers have what appears to be a significant amount of questions as they enter first camp under Alain Vigneault. Let’s hit the musings to open the season.
Derek Stepan: Over his first three years in the league he outscored highly rated youngsters such as Jeff Skinner and Evander Kane. He deserves a significant pay rise; it’s a lot harder to produce in a market such as New York than outposts such as Carolina or Winnipeg. That said, I’m in Sather’s corner; you do not give up your strong negotiating position. However, there has to be a comprise. Stepan is a smart kid; he should not risk his immediate future by missing camp.
Johan Hedberg – he should be cheap, knows the division but indirectly he is a huge acknowledgement by the organisation that – as is the case with Biron’s current situation – if the organisation loses Lundqvist or Biron then there is a huge vacuum of talent at the goaltending position. No one internally is anywhere near the NHL level.
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The Rangers prospects need more seasoning
Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo are clearly ready for more demanding challenges. With four goals in two games, Lindberg has continued his offensive production from Sweden and at this stage is well beyond the average prospect considering his experience in the SEL. Kristo too – being older, physically ready and with a senior world championship under his belt – is clearly a hot candidate to make the Rangers while key players such as Ryan Callahan continue their injury recoveries.
However, Traverse City is also useful to point out deficiencies in the prospect pipeline and while not as exciting to fans it’s just as important. The Rangers have shipped ten goals in two games. They were clearly outdueled in net against the Hurricanes and the defense has come up short in both games.
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A goaltender actually worth his salary: The King
Corey Crawford got $6m per year long term? I think it’s clear at this stage that Henrik Lundqvist is going to get a serious pay rise. Some goaltenders are products of great teams (Crawford, a good but not great goalie may be exhibit A here) and some are great goaltenders who make teams better – a la Lundqvist. Unless he signs a team friendly deal Lundqvist will easily walk away as an 8m player.
Traverse City I: My intrigue is squarely focussed on Danny Kristo and Oscar Lindberg. Really need to see these guys dominate at this level. They’ll need to if they think they stand a chance at getting immediate shots at the NHL level.
Traverse City II: It will also be very important to see guys such as Conor Allen and Tommy Hughes and how these guys cope with the step up in competition. The Rangers need to start bringing through the next wave of defensive prospects when you consider the potentially uncertain futures of Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman. Without being able to get their hands on college guys such as Brady Skjei it’s important that the Rangers can develop players themselves.
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Oscar Lindberg – top prospect. Traverse City bound?
Why the delay? Why the mystery? As Traverse City looms close the Rangers are yet to announce a roster despite clubs such as the Minnesota Wild doing so well in advance. While the Wild’s roster is headlined by top pick Matt Dumba, the Sabres, Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings have also all announced rosters for the annual prospect tourney. The Rangers are curiously quiet.
As the schedule shows, the Rangers play their first game of the tournament in just four days time against the Carolina Hurricanes who boast a few high profile prospects such as Elias Lindholm, Ryan Murphy, Victor Rask and – as standard procedure dictates – they also feature a guy named Sutter.
The Wings will feature prospects such as free agent signee and former Ranger target Danny DeKeyser while the Sabres – defending champs – boast at least 4 NHL first round draft picks including Mikhail Grigorenko.
The Rangers should be heading to Traverse with a strong, deep line-up with many players looking for spots with the Wolf Pack but a few perhaps trying to force their way into the NHL reckoning. You can find the schedule here. The Rangers head up against the ‘Canes, Sabres and now-new-rival Columbus Blue Jackets.
Can Staal get back to his dominant old self?
It’s hard to count on a player that hasn’t played a full season since 2010. It’s hard to rely on a player that has been told he’ll never truly be 100% again. It’s also hard to know where to begin with a player who has seen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi (by necessity) pass him on the depth chart. Marc Staal is a luxury. It’s this fact that should make Rangers fans giddy with excitement.
In the 2012/13 regular season the Rangers were 11th overall in goals against despite just half a season from Staal, an underwhelming season from Girardi, a yo-yo like year from Del Zotto, all the while incorporating John Moore into the line-up and enduring re-treads such as Roman Hamrlik. In short, the Rangers defense was in a giant state of flux last season and they still were around the top third in the league.
The season before, Staal again only played approximately half the year and the Rangers were second in the league defensively. A lot has to do with John Tortorella’s system but also the players at his disposal. If the Rangers can count on Marc Staal playing twenty minutes plus per game the Rangers will possess a dominant defense this year, especially if Alain Vigneault’s approach generates more puck possession. If Staal is back close to full strength the Rangers may have the best top four defense in the league.
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My name is Rick Nash. I am very good at hockey.
The quiet season is well and truly underway but that doesn’t mean the hockey world is standing still. Let’s have a look around the league and have an impromptu musings shall we?
The Capitals signed Mikhail Grabovski this week and it’s a good move. They needed to add some talent and he’s a solid center. It’s incredible to think the Leafs bought a player out less than 18 months after giving him a long term extension. With losing Mike Ribeiro the Caps were in danger of going backwards, Grabovski helps a lot for $3m.
I keep reading that the Rangers are in danger of losing Derek Stepan? Calm down folks. There is no urgency here. He has no negotiating power and it would take an over-the-top offer sheet for the Rangers not to match. The lack of a new deal is no indicator of the importance Stepan has, merely that it’s not a critical priority.
My first prediction for the new season: With one year as a Ranger under his belt, with a full camp, Rick Nash will top 40 goals. In a new system that should give him more offensive zone starts there’s no reason Nash shouldn’t reach that number again. If Nash is healthy and has support from his line mates he should reach that figure. He was close last year (on pace for 39). With Callahan and Hagelin missing to begin, he’ll be needed more than ever.
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The Rangers would love the Dallas Stars version of Brad Richards to return.
Perhaps the smallest but most intriguing piece of news that has come out of Ranger land in recent days is that of Brad Richards already spending significant time on the ice ahead of the up coming season. Last season Richards wasn’t prepared (at all) for the abbreviated, condensed season and it showed all year long. The Rangers did fine without a strong season from Richards but it goes without saying that a well rested, fully functioning Richards makes the Rangers much stronger and more dangerous.
The fact Richards has been skating for the best part of a month is fantastic news. It indicates he is aware of the necessity of being in top shape in a critical juncture in his career and it indicates he’s willing to do whatever it takes to rebound. Barring an MVP like season it is likely Richards is heading into his last year as a Ranger but a good year for Richards means he could make himself attractive to other teams. The free agency market is not looking strong next summer and a 70+ point season from Richards would likely give him another chance to cash in.
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Money or success?
We knew this time was coming. Rangers’ fans knew that as the team’s window of contention began to open so would the period come where multiple essential Rangers would approach contract negotiation time. It leaves the Rangers in a sort of crossroads over the next twelve months.
With Derek Stepan still unsigned, Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan all approaching free agency, the absolute core of this team – Rick Nash aside – is in need of new deals. Whether the Rangers can afford to pay the going rate for all these players is questionable. Brad Richards’ uncertain future, the impending free agency of Anton Stralman, and a potential career year –in a contract year– for Derick Brassard also play roles in the questionable financial future for the Rangers.
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